In coastal cities, particularly those where frequent cold fronts make landfall in the winter months, weather conditions are known to change rapidly. This happens to be true of Cape Town, a beautiful city located at the south-western tip of Africa and nestled at the foot of famous Table Mountain. Subsequently and as a result of fluctuations in the weather, a commonly-heard phrase in Cape Town amongst family members is the following: “Keep an eye on the weather as there is washing on the line” – a suggestion to be responsible for grabbing that washing and bringing it in at the first hint of rain.

The phrase keep an eye on the weather” probably originated in a nautical context, sailors having to be ever watchful for sudden changes in weather conditions whilst out at sea. This was particularly true in the days of wooden boats, with only barometers, good eye-sight and intuition as resources for sailors (they have computers that give them this information in our modern times). The point here, though, is that those sailors who had a reasonable understanding of weather patterns and potentially changing conditions would have a head-start in terms of adequate preparation before a storm. If they took responsibility for barometer reading shifts, what they saw (like cloud build-up) and intuition (what they were sensing), they could potentially prevent disaster from occurring or at least be prepared to “weather” the storm.

Some of the most important leadership responsibilities of all managers are those that relate to understanding and managing the “weather” (climate) of the office and perceiving the “internal weather” (feelings, disposition, emotional wellness) of all employees. Being sensitive to the prevailing conditions of all staff gives one a head-start as a leader in terms of knowing how to demonstrate care and to debrief emotions adequately. One of my employees came to work this morning and was unusually quiet as she diligently went about her tasks for the day. Upon arrival, I had asked her about her well-being and she had mentioned that she was fine. It was only much later in the morning, however, when she felt more at ease, that she was able to share with us that she had attended a funeral of family friends who had been killed in a motor vehicle accident during the past week. I made her some coffee and we sat down to talk through her feelings – debriefing the emotion. Once she knew that we understood how she was feeling and that we cared for her at this time, she carried on with her work with a much more cheery disposition.

It would seem that all human beings have “internal weather” (emotion) – a leader should be aware of feelings in the office and relate appropriately to them. This is called emotional intelligence – the ability to understand and control one’s own emotions and to manage the other emotions that are also present in the environment. One can’t manipulate people to share their emotional state, but within trust relationships, emotions are expressed sooner rather than later. Leaders should thus create an emotionally-conducive environment where emotion is accepted as normal and part of humanness.

Managers need to “keep an eye on the weather” of their employees – attempt to get to grips with the emotional disposition of individuals and the office as a whole. Expressing care is foundational to growing trust and maintaining a focused and productive team.