Maybe There's No Crying In Baseball, but Truly Great Leaders Do Cry
“There’s no crying in baseball!!!” Shouts Tom Hanks after his character so famously berates one of the female baseball players in ”A League of Their Own.” Socially, crying is associated with qualities of weakness, hysteria, femininity, being “emotional,” unstable, dumb, and irrational. Yet, there is nothing really wrong with crying; it is a human phenomenon, and just one way in which we express ourselves. For the most part, traditionally, women get a pass on crying during certain events like at weddings and graduations, at the movies, and while listening to a song in the car. But then again, we do not see too many women in leadership roles. Assigning crying as deemed “appropriate” for women is a socially constructed idea. Crying, in reality, is just an expression of one’s emotional state. No matter your gender, you are a human being with feelings and the capacity to cry.
Today there is more awareness and acceptance of the qualities that make us human, and our demands on leadership are changing. We are living in a time where “we the people” will no longer accept leaders who lack self-awareness or the ability to be confident in their own vulnerability. We want to know that our leaders genuinely care for our well-being and for our future. The days of slick suites, big talks, and who can be the loudest in the room are gone. Today vulnerability is the currency, and people are celebrating their authentic selves more than ever. So it’s no wonder that leaders like Secretary Hillary Clinton, President Barack Obama, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Sheryl Sandberg and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have sat confidently in their own vulnerability and have delivered memorable moments that were marked by their human response of crying. They all know that words are meaningless when there are no true emotions behind them.
In 2012 President Obama appeared before the American public to address the nation during the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. As I watched him speak on television I saw something I had never seen before: the President of the United States cried as he offered us his frustration, anger and sadness. As I watched the President I felt the impact of his words through the full expression of his emotions. I was moved to tears. Of course, one can argue that mass shootings are devastating in nature, but I have to admit that over the years I have become quite numb to hearing the standard official address, “Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.” One can even argue that when children are the victims it might be easier to cry, and maybe so, but it’s been almost 6 years, and I still remember the tears flowing down the President’s cheeks like it was yesterday.
Somehow, watching a leader cry makes us feel more connected to them as people. They remind us that they bleed and feel just like us. It turns out that our brain is actually hardwired by mirror neurons to recognize the intentions and emotions of other humans communicated through body language, facial expressions, and actions. In other words, mirror neurons let us cry when we see others cry, and feel the emotions associated with the action of crying. So if you are making a speech, and you start to feel a lump forming in your throat as you speak of a personal moment, know that you are about to make an emotional impact on your audience! Go ahead and cry because you won’t be the only one in the room who will need a tissue.