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Real Men Shed Tears: Why It's All Right to
Crying Like a Leader
Real Men Shed
Tears: Why It's All Right to Cry
There is a story in Herodotus about Xerxes. The Persian king is on a plateau proudly scanning his million-man army as it marches toward Greece. Suddenly, the emperor bursts into tears and exclaims, "They will all be gone in 100 years." I wonder if he wasn't a little embarrassed in front of his generals. I also wonder if the lugubrious emperor wasn't a man in his 50s.
I crossed the 50-yard line myself recently, and as though I were going though a kind of "maleopause," I sometimes find myself choking up at peculiar moments.
I was recently writing a piece about Joe Frazier and his monumental first fight with Muhammad Ali, and, the next thing I knew, my keyboard was awash in tears. I have the utmost respect for Mr. Frazier's courage in the ring, but it seemed odd to be weeping over Smokin' Joe.
I was a fanatical sport parent and pushed one of my sons very hard in football. He had some significant success, but in the end was too small to succeed at the Division I level. My son is thriving and is now at peace with his football past, but all I need to do is recall the hours we spent practicing together for my face to steam up and the floodgates to open.
Though men don't talk about it much, I don't think I'm alone in my middle-age crying jags. An Army colonel acquaintance who was also a professor needed only to start talking about his former students to get a catch in his throat.
Another friend, a college administrator, would find himself in the middle of a meeting and suddenly his eyes would be seepingabout what, it was hard for him to say. Stoically, he would go on, but some people were unnerved by his display of raw emotion.
Though he is well past the half-century mark, former president Bush began sobbing inconsolably in an address to the Florida House to mark the end of his son Jeb's tenure as governor. He did the same when he was on "Larry King Live" with his daughter.
Then, this past winter, there was the fiftysomething John Kerry choking up as he hit the words "home" and "Vietnam" in his speech to the Senate.
In truth, we men don't know what to say or do about these emotional squalls. When tears started visiting me at awkward times, I would try to hide them, even from my wife. There was a part of me that wanted to laugh as I wept, which in itself was something to cry about.
The philosopher Soren Kierkegaard wrote "there is nothing worse in life than to begin to think of your own emotions as drivel." Crying over a feeling that does not seem all that serious or sad is certainly an invitation to think of your emotions as a form of silly intoxicationor drivel. But recently I had a weepy episode that made me think that these psychological cloudbursts were not just random hormonal storms.
Not long ago my wife and I moved south from Minnesota to accept teaching positions for a year in Florida. Our sons, who are both in their mid-20s and off on their own, stayed up north.
To me, it felt like the beginning of the end of intimacy with our children. The first few months we spent in Florida I was drowning in a muddle of emotions that I could not seem to make sense of.
Then a few weeks back, I awoke in the middle of the night, feeling as though I were in a canoe heading toward Niagara Falls and, of all things, weeping for my mother, who had passed away five years earlier.
Hearing my moans, my wife sat up. "What's the matter, hon? What is it?" I was blubbering like a 6-year-old.
"NothingeverythingI miss my mom," I choked out. "Ah," my wife sighed, putting her hand on my neck, but her palm seemed only to massage in the idea that some time in the not-too-distant future, one of us would disappear and whichever one of us was left would probably feel like a ghost. It was nothing to laugh about. It seemed to me that there really was a monster under the bed of life.
Women might know this better than men who were raised on John
Wayne and then Clint Eastwood movies, but a good cry can make for a
sounder sleep. My sobbing episode was a sentimental education. It
helped to make clear that the move had opened the deep sluices of
grief, that my tears for my boyhood idol Joe Frazier and my football
past with my son were tears over the passing of time, over the fact
that my life was running through my hands like water.
Source: Gordon Marino, www.msnbc.msn.com/id/20217419/site/newsweek/?GT1=10252
Crying Like a Leader
The four-star general all 6-foot-3 and 240 pounds of him was scared. Not of the battlefield.
After all he led the US coalition of troops from 30 countries to victory in the Persian Gulf War in 1991.
No General Norman Schwarzkopf was scared of even more than the demands of war when he became the first US general in 46 years to win a major war.
In fact he was scared of those armed and even those UNARMED-who seemed less than human, especially when you looked them in the eye: They couldnt or wouldnt cry.
Frankly, any man who doesnt cry scares me a little bit, Schwarzkopf admitted to Barbara Walters on ABC televisions 20/20 program in March 1991. I dont think I would like a man who was incapable of enough emotion to get tears in his eyes every now and then. That person scares me; he s not a human being.
Yes, generals cry, Schwarzkopf asserted. General Ulysses S. Grant cried when he learned of Lincolns death. General Eisenhower wiped away tears when he saw the planes take off on the eve of D-day knowing he could be sending most of them to their deaths. And the Commander-in-Chief, President Abraham Lincoln wept when he visited the injured soldiers during the Civil War.
The most effective leaders know that their tearsrooted in empathy and grounded in a well-developed emotional intelligenceare part and parcel of their humanity.
Leaders realize that expressing their humanity (crying) and connecting to the feelings and concerns of others (relationship building) is the crux of leadership.
In fact, a study at Penn State said tears in a man are a sign of honesty and another study reported in the Journal of Psychology of Men & Masculinity found that football players who cried had higher levels of self-esteem that gave them a competitive edge on and off the field.
Real men cryWITH others.
In fact the most authentic criers first see their own tears in the other persons eyes observes Reverend Forrest Church in his book Lifecraft: The Art of Meaning in the Everyday. Small wonder that man is the only animal on earth that cries.
No Pity Party
The tears of a leader are shed for what is significant to others whats pithynot whats a pity. No leader ever throws a Pity Party.
Theyre too busy turning the spotlight on their followers.
Theyre too busy streaming their tears and the tears and fears of their followers into a river of mutual caring and comfort filled with a collective trust in the present and hope for the future.
Theyre too busy focused on letting down their personal guard and letting their followers get in very close, so close that the followers can see themselves in the leaders eyes and the leader can see himself or herself in the eyes of their followers.
Consider Barack Obama on November 7, 2012, the morning after winning re-election as President of the United States of America.
The President teared up thanking his volunteers and campaign staff at his Chicago campaign headquarters while focusing on their feelings more than on his own. There were no national television cameras in that room. This was to be a more personal, more intimate. let-down-your-hair moment of triumph that he clearly earned. Yet Obama quickly turned the spotlight on his followers.
Even before last nights results, I felt that the work I had done in running for office had come full circle because what you guys have done means that the work that Im doing is important, Obama said, wiping away a tear.
Then choking up, he added:
Im really proud of all of you. The most important thing you need to know is that your journeys just beginning, Obama said. Youre just starting. And whatever good we do over the next four years will pale in comparison to whatever you guys end up accomplishing in the years and years to come.
Maybe even become a president or a four-star general who cries.
Like a leader.
Desert Storm hero General Norman Schwarzkopf once said, "I don't trust a man who doesn't cry." Reference 1 Reference 2