7 June 2024

“Leaders Never Cry”

By Birsen Çevik Akgünlü

I ended my last article with a question: “Who should show empathy to leaders?” Before I share my views on the answer, I would like to ask you a few more questions:

  • Do you think your leader needs empathy?
  • Have you ever considered the challenges your manager faces?
  • When was the last time you asked your manager how she/he is doing/feeling?
  • Or does your manager not need any of this? Is she/he a “superwoman” or “superman”?

The “Perfect” Leader

Many leaders in business are expected to behave like Superheroes. They never cry, show emotions, express fear/panic or ask for help. They are always resilient, strong, determined, undaunted and self-assured.

Superheroes must suppress their emotions and internal conflicts, hide their vulnerabilities and be resilient at all times. As perfect individuals, they also should be experts in their fields, know the answers to every question and never make mistakes.

Perfectionist Patterns

From childhood, success is defined through perfectionist behavior patterns:

  • Most of the education systems value knowing the right answers over asking questions or being curious.
  • In some exams, three wrong answers cancel out the points of one correct answer.
  • There is little focus on learning from mistakes or rewarding effort.
  • A crying child is labeled spoiled or whiny. Maturity is seen as the ability to suppress emotions and vulnerabilities.

When we graduate and enter business life, the perfectionist molds change shape and new “shoulds” and “should nots” are added to the list. As a result, we risk losing our inner voice and compass. This is what I call the 3P pit” In the words of American researcher Dr. Brené Brown, ‘Please, Perfect, Perform’.

  1. Trying to Please Everyone (Please): Attempting to make our manager, team, family, and friends happy often results in not being able to satisfy anyone fully.
  2. Striving for Perfection (Perfect): Trying to control and manage everything to high standards exhausts us, as it is impossible to oversee every detail perfectly.
  3. Effort to Prove Oneself (Perform): Alienating from our own values in pursuit of others’ expectations leaves us feeling disconnected and unfulfilled.

Personal Experience

When I was appointed to a new role in the past, I started managing a new team. I thought my leadership style, which had made me successful before, would work with this new team. However, over time, with the feedback I received from my new team, I realized that their needs were different.

It was a chance to develop new skills, but I couldn’t see it that way. I felt like a failure because I couldn’t demonstrate the “right” leadership qualities. I overcomplicated things, trying to please my team and prove myself. Whoops! I had fallen into the 3P pit!

I lost my inner voice and compass when I was trying to see myself from others` eyes as a perfect leader. I ended up in a worse place than when I started. The day I realized that my way out would be possible only by facing my vulnerability was a day full of tears but very precious to me.

Research Insights

Dr. Brené Brown has researched perfectionism, competence, shame and vulnerability for many years. Her research shows that:

  • People who embrace their uniqueness and feel appreciated experience more love and commitment. They embrace joy and pleasure and courageously face feelings of shame, anxiety, fear and vulnerability.
  • Those who strive for perfection in the eyes of others spend their energy conforming to the 3Ps, which leads to exhaustion and reduced enjoyment of life. The protective armor they wear against vulnerability also numbs positive emotions like joy.


So, who should show empathy to leaders?

  • Themselves: Embracing our differences and emotions allows us to be free and happy. We don’t need to be perfect heroes to feel valuable. By celebrating our authenticity and passions, we can be real leaders.
  • Their teams and colleagues: Perfect heroes are only in films. Regardless of age, seniority or title, everyone needs empathy.

I wish you a beautiful day where you embrace yourself and those around you with sincerity and solidarity.

Birsen Çevik Akgünlü

Edited: 06 June 2024 (Yazının orjinal Türkçe versiyonuna buradan ulaşabilirsiniz.)

Image: Freepik