An Open Letter to the Tin Man

“When a man’s an empty kettle he should be on his mettle, and yet I’m torn apart.
Just because I’m presumin’ that I could be kind-a-human, if I only had a heart.
I’d be tender – I’d be gentle and awful sentimental regarding love and art.
I’d be friends with the sparrows … and the boys who shoot the arrows if I only had a heart.
Just to register emotion, jealousy, devotion, and really feel the part.
I could stay young and chipper and I’d lock it with a zipper, If I only had a heart.” – Wizard of Oz

Dear Tin Man –

They say you have no heart. You rely on data, logic, and evidence in your decisions. You live in a world where everything is neutral until the data gives it meaning. To you, making meaning without data is silly. You use data to take the emotion out of important decisions — any decisions. Intuition and feelings, while interesting, aren’t as helpful as knowing where data is leading you. You’ve been successful and highly rewarded for working in this way, but you’ve also earned yourself a nickname that you’re not sure you should be proud of.

How you learned to prefer facts to feelings is something only you can know. Perhaps you were raised in a logic-based household, or learned that boys (or big girls) don’t cry. You may have been teased for showing fear — or saw others shamed for how they felt or for appearing weak, and now you equate vulnerability with weakness. Maybe your parents didn’t know how to process their anger in a healthy way, so you learned anger was bad. You were probably rewarded for the end result — the good grade, the athletic letter, the promotion — regardless of effort. In the end, the “data” counted, literally and figuratively. You also saw how people reacted to information that was contrary to what they believed and noticed data is harder to dispute and can make new ideas — or unpopular decisions — a little easier to swallow. One way or another, you found safety in the numbers.

Rest assured, you’re not alone. Data-driven decision-making is a sought after skill set these days, one that is specified in job descriptions and actively recruited for. Being labeled the Tin Man may be a sign you depend on this one skill set too often, though.

And now you’re getting feedback you don’t like — enough that you can’t ignore the data points. The list of what you do well is long, yet they say you are cold, hard to get to know, and Teflon (nothing sticks). You are smart, driven, and consistently get results, but lack empathy, passion, and connection. Every article, training session, and book on effective leadership talks about the personal side, the soft skills. And now you wonder: Are you missing out on something? Could “Tin Man” status hurt you? Can you – or should you – change? Do you have feelings at all?

Well, not to worry. “Oz never did give nothing to the Tin Man that he didn’t, didn’t already have.” (America, in their song, Tin Man)

If you think about it, I bet you can remember a decision you made or a direction you chose that ran counter to what the data said you should do. Throwing caution to the wind, you set out on a course that wasn’t proven, putting on a brave face, summoning the motivation to keep moving. If you’ve been “motivated,” you’ve had feelings — energy in motion, e-motion, that moved you to action. You’ve liked someone enough to call them your friend, or were nervous on your first date. You’ve been lucky enough to feel crazy love for a newborn child, or felt proud of one of your employees for their success. Most of us know the sadness of losing someone close to us.

The question is not whether you have feelings, but whether you trust yourself to feel them.

As a data person, you’ve adopted a belief that feelings are not helpful, have no value in decision-making, or are simply a nuisance — or some other variation of “feelings are bad.”  Whatever the details, your belief was developed as a result of your experiences. And as humans, we are wired to take action in alignment with our beliefs. Change happens from the inside out. If you want to change how you act, then you have to change what you believe. The same old thinking brings the same old results. In this case, you have to think about the value of feelings differently.

We tend to think of feelings as something that comes from outside of us; that is, that people or situations “make us feel” a particular way. That’s sort of true. Technically, no one can make you feel anything, but they can do or say things that trigger feelings inside of you. It’s all wrapped up in how the brain works, particularly the subconscious. Experiences, as memories, are grouped or categorized according to the feelings we assigned to them. When situations arise that feel like those from the past, our subconscious brings up the feelings associated with those memories. These can be happy feelings — or not so happy ones, depending on how safe we felt at the time.

Your feelings, then, come from inside of you. Feelings are information about ourselves and who we have been. They offer valuable insight about how we see ourselves and the world based on the experiences we’ve had. Feelings point us to gaps in our character. They tell us where we are confident in our abilities and where we have work to do.

I used to think the gym was the most judgmental place in the world. Getting there took an extraordinary amount of focus, courage & energy. Being there was a battle with the voices in my head. I needed to do something to find peace with the gym. I accepted that the judgment I felt came from inside of me, not from the gym. I felt vulnerable at the gym, and my self-judgment was a product of my vulnerability. Since January 5th, I’ve been working out 6 days a week at 6 am — not perfect attendance, but consistent. When I figured out what my feelings were telling me, I made a choice to be something different from who I’d been — appreciating my workouts, rather than dreading them.

Sometimes when I’m writing I get stuck. By exploring how I feel when I’m stuck, I’ve learned that being stuck is a product of fear.  And the fear has something to show me about me.

Sometimes reliance on data is about fear.  Data limits personal risk and gives us something else to blame (the data made me do it!) so we can avoid accountability. Using data every time can be a sign you fear failure, or you are avoiding feelings of guilt or shame. I’ve seen data used as a way to delay decisions, too, with leaders wanting to rule out every possible alternative in search of perfection.

As a leader, everything you do, don’t do, say and don’t say — it all matters. And as humans, we are all more transparent than we think we are. If you are using data as a shield, your team can feel that. They’ll feel it even if your fear is masked by an air of confidence. They won’t know what you fear, but they’ll sense the underlying motivation. And they’ll act from fear, too. Over time, you’ll have trouble with team accountability. And group-think. And analysis paralysis. No one will do anything they can’t prove first.

As a change leader, it’s true that data can help smooth some resistance. But data doesn’t heal every heartache. As straightforward a path as the data suggests it won’t prevent or cure frustration, defensiveness, or defiance. And data by itself doesn’t necessarily motivate people to action. Change happens from the inside out when we decide to think differently about ourselves and the world. Ask any medical doctor; they’ll tell you that the numbers aren’t enough to get people to change.

The bottom line:

  • There is nothing wrong with using data as a foundation for decisions. However, pay attention to your motivation. If your dependence on data is a shield for accountability, fear of failure, or avoidance of shame, you may have some work to do.
  • – Feelings are not the enemy — though you may have had experiences (and have evidence) to the contrary. Feelings are indicators. Sometimes your feelings reveal gaps. Those gaps are gifts — though at the moment, it doesn’t always feel that way.
  • – Finding the true meaning of your feelings takes practice. Practice starts with feeling your feelings — allowing yourself to notice and experience them for what they are.
  • – Change happens from the inside out. More specifically, change happens when you decide to think differently about yourself and the world.

Tin Man, you can have a heart. You already do. It’s a matter of using and showing it. And you don’t have to give up your data to do it. That is, you can be data-driven AND empathetic. You can make decisions from data AND be passionate about your decision. You can recognize intuition AND use data to prove it. You can make bold moves AND use data to guide them.

How do you begin? Well, this is the hard part. You have to bring your feelings to work and let them out of the bag. Let me explain.

You don’t have to let them all out at once. Think of it like building muscle. The first day in the gym you didn’t reach for the heaviest weight. You picked something you could handle and worked your way up. In the range of “feelings”, start with something easy — like joy, gratitude, or appreciation. Pick one and make a point of feeling it throughout the day. No one needs to know. You can walk around all day feeling a deep sense of gratitude for your work, for your team — even for the data you love so much. If gratitude sounds too new-age for you, try appreciation instead. Appreciation is along the same wavelength as gratitude, and you can find something about everything and everyone to appreciate.

Pick an emotion and practice. When you’re ready, try communicating your feelings in words. Tell someone what you appreciate; express gratitude for someone or something. Because you’ve been actually “feeling” those feelings, your words will have different impact than before. If you express appreciation for someone wihtout actually feeling appreciation, the words come out hollow somehow. Insincere.

You can practice the more “negative” emotions, too. When triggered, let yourself be angry or frustrated for a bit. See how anger feels in your body; notice whether you want to move away from it (or judge it — or judge yourself for having it). Look inside your anger and see what it has to teach you about what is important to you. We don’t get emotional about things that don’t matter to us. In fact, we rely on emotional cues from others (like our leaders) so we can make aligned decisions and choices.

As you try on different feelings, and learn what they have to teach you, you’ll come to know your own heart in a way you’ve not known before. You’ll also learn how your body responds to different feelings and you’ll know what to do (and feel more in control) when those feelings are triggered.

You have a heart, Tin Man. You just have to be brave enough to show it to others.

Build up your courage by practicing. Practice feeling. Be on purpose about it. Start with the fun, positive feelings, but be sure to do not so happy emotions, too. That way when the negative ones pop in you’ll know what they are and how to handle them — you’ll have practiced — and you’ll have more choices about when and how to share your feelings. Get curious about what your feelings are telling you about you — who you’ve been, as well as who you want to be. And then choose.

The KEY to all of this and the one thing I hope you remember: your feelings come from inside of you.  That means no one else can make you feel loved, honored, respected or successful. Only you can do that.  So lead by example. When you embrace your feelings and use them as a tool for learning, you give permission to others to learn and grow in the same way.

Leader, light the way.

Picture of Susan LaCasse

Susan LaCasse

Susan brings 25 years experience in driving change in a variety of project and leadership roles. Common to these roles were leadership development, process improvement and change management.

Susan is a student of human behavior, constantly seeking the latest in theories and tools. She also understands how organizations work. Together, she uses this combination to help her clients create positive, lasting change. Susan is a unique combination of coach, catalyst and trusted adviser.


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