Show Your Emotions: It’s Not Business, It’s Personal


by Kevin Watson



How many leaders still keep their emotions in check, believing business to be business, not personal?

For those of you who have seen The Godfather, the phrase “it’s not personal, it’s business” will be very familiar. I’m guessing that anyone dealing with frustrated and angry customers will have heard this, too.

When dealing with people, it’s easy to take things personally and we can draw comfort to think of it as only business as this enables us to detach, inoculating ourselves from the emotions.

Yet, this can and does lead to a complete lack of empathy for people.

An organisation, no matter how well designed, is only as good as the people who live and work in it.Dee Hock

An Outdated Belief

This is experienced best with customer service roles but may also play out in the relationship between leader and team.

Those leaders that hold the belief that it’s all about business, make little or no time to engage with the emotional side of the people in their team.

How many times have you heard a leader say something like this: “When I’m at work, I’m at work and do not bring in my private life“.

Long ago in a bygone age, managers were taught, told or simply assumed that it was best to keep a distance, assuming a role that focuses strictly on business.

That has shifted since the advent of authentic leadership, but I suspect (or know!) that there are managers who still don’t engage with their emotions at work, let alone with the emotions of their team members!

Maybe it’s a male thing? – oooh, bit contentious 😉

Well, having mostly worked with women in my career I’ve come across a fair number who assumed what may be seen as a macho trait, perhaps in the belief that it’s the way to survive, or simply following the example of their male role models.

Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.Kathleen Kelly

An Alternative Belief

So, I’d like to offer an alternative belief.

I can’t take credit for it as it comes from the film, You’ve Got Mail.

Joe Fox, the character played by Tom Hanks, is talking with Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan’s character) after playing his part in closing The Shop Around the Corner. The dialog goes something like this:

Joe Fox: “It wasn’t…personal.

Kathleen Kelly: “What is that supposed to mean? I am so sick of that. All that means is that it wasn’t personal to you. But it was personal to me. It’s personal to a lot of people. And what’s so wrong with being personal, anyway?

Joe Fox: “Uh, nothing.

So, next time you think it’s only business, consider this thought.

An organisation in its simplest form is a person or group of people intentionally organised to accomplish an overall, common goal or set of goals.

If this is the definition of an organisation, then surely business should be personal!

Call to Action

Get to know the people you work with.

Get to know your customers, too.

For as Kathleen Kelly says “Whatever else anything is, it ought to begin by being personal.” – right?


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About the Author

Kevin Watson

Kevin is a highly experienced Leadership Coach and acts as Consultant to several boards of global organisations, as well as local business owners. He is passionate about making a difference by enabling and encouraging leaders who want to create and sustain meaningful change in themselves and the organisation.



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