Navigating leadership brings a unique set of challenges and opportunities. A young executive, Sarah, faced complaints from her team who described her as dismissive and devaluing. She was initially blindsided and defensive yet, as do excellent leaders, she focussed on improvement–learning that how leaders make people feel, is essential to retention, culture and ultimately profit.  As frontrunners in your field, you know strategies to build your team, yet there is something preventing the desired outcome. What is getting in your way?

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Failure to emotionally connect with your team members makes “lonely at the top” inevitable and creates a culture vulnerable to disconnection, dissatisfaction and lack of cohesiveness. On the other hand, positive connection with your team, brings an entirely new level of positive, productive, and happy relationships.

Rather than focusing solely on strategies to improve interactions, a new approach called Self-Nurturing Therapy or SNT targets the part within you–the part that carries fear of vulnerability and acts as a gatekeeper to allowing meaningful emotional connection with others.

How SNT Enhances Leadership

Leaders learn to change their relationship with vulnerability rather than attempting to eliminate it. SNT encourages leaders to engage with their emotions, building resilience and capability. This emotional strength translates into better communication, sharing of creativity and a more effective leadership style.

Self-Nurturing Therapy is a process that teaches how to soothe your vulnerable part–specifically your inner child–and learn to thrive in relationships. Here are seven steps that leaders can practice now to enhance their performance:

Julie Gowthorpe, PhD, RSW, is a public speaker and author.

1. Get to Know Your Inner Child: Give your young self the attention she should deserves. By acknowledging and soothing early wounds, leaders can reduce reactive response styles.  Sarah, for example, discovered that her reaction of dismissiveness, was a self-protective reaction rooted in a childhood of bullying. Sarah’s inner child was so anxious that the corporate strategies she had learned to communicate with team members were being interrupted by her emotional state. To reduce reactivity, create a timeline of your life, identifying experiences where you felt shame or vulnerability. Knowing where your self-protection emerged reduces reactivity in interactions with others.

    2. Create Emotional Awareness. Leaders are taught the importance of communication but in the absence of understanding your emotions, interactions will fall flat. To resolve this, reflect on what earlier experiences taught you about other people. Do you see others as trustworthy and safe, or risky and uncertain? Did safe people support you when bad things happened or could you only count on yourself?  Sarah identified that years of suffering bullying left her feeling alone in her journey. She realized that interactions elicited fear that they would disappoint and an immediate internal reaction to keep conversations short and direct so they would end quickly.

    3. Create a Soothing Mantra. Negative early life experiences that are left unprocessed, don’t evaporate. Instead, the inner child holds them tight, a reminder to never put yourself at physical or emotional risk again. There were things that would have been helpful to you as a child that you never received. Practice acknowledging and accepting emotions from your early years. Start by asking yourself “What does my inner child need to hear when she is worried?”  You’ve got this, or That was then, this is now, offer reassurance and empower a secure response.

    4. Think of Your Inner Child as Your Gatekeeper. Excellent leaders have a business gatekeeper, to ensure they are insulated from risk of overscheduling or losing focus. Your inner child is the gatekeeper to how much you allow yourself to emotionally care and invest in relationships. As a competent adult, you hold capability to assess those trustworthy enough to be part of your inner circle. Write a list of people who have shown integrity and take a moment to acknowledge them. Notice how your interaction improves when you assure your gatekeeper that you are safe, secure and confident in your ability to assess others.

    5. Purposefully Value Your Feelings. What did your child-self need to cope during difficult times but was denied. For some, like Sarah, it was knowing they were safe while for others it was hearing, “You’re loved”. Good parents value what their children need and feel. As an adult, you can self-deliver what you need. Rewire negative thought patterns rooted in your early experiences with positive messaging. Were you taught to believe that other people’s wants and desires were more important than your feelings?  Tell yourself, “You matter”. Were you taught to believe that harmony was more important than caring for yourself? Know, “You. Matter”.

    6. Thrive Emotionally at Work. See team members as worthy of having a meaningful relationship with you. While your inner child tries to protect you from caring too much, it disrupts the soft skills that make good leaders great. Communication without empathy and understanding is risky for leaders. Instead, practice curiosity about what people are experiencing and, equally as important, what emotional response these interactions evoke within you. Use open-ended questions: “How was your weekend?” rather than “Hope you had a good weekend”. Leaders that know their people, receive increased investment from them and a willingness to go the distance when asked.

    7. Learning to Tolerate Emotions Requires Practice. If you have a loud inner child determined to protect you from vulnerability, showing them that you’re taking the lead requires practice. Avoid becoming frustrated with yourself and instead respond with self-kindness. It’s been a journey to achieve your leadership goals and you are constantly growing. Mastering comfortability with emotions leads to joy for self, high performance teams and requires practice. Integrate reflective journals, conversation with trusted friends and meditation or yoga to support you through this rewarding process. Celebrate the moments when you notice emotions, feel the discomfort and remind yourself, “Hey, I’m okay!”

    In summary, leaders who engage in SNT experience numerous benefits that enhance their effectiveness and happiness in their role. By healing past traumas and fostering present-moment awareness, leaders can create a positive, empowering environment that drives organizational success.

    Author: Julie Gowthorpe, PhD, RSW, is a public speaker and author.  In addition to her private practice, Gowthorpe contributes her expertise to podcasts, magazines, and broadcast; including her own popular regional radio morning show “Turn Up Your Emotional Intelligence”.  Gowthorpe has spoken at numerous professional and academic conferences and served as an association Director.  For more information on her forthcoming book, I Hate People, visit: