September 24, 2019

Emotion can make you a better leader

by Wendy Ryan in Leadership

Many of us hear from other leaders, team members, even our families that we need to stop being so emotional, both at work and at home. The reality is that emotion is part of being human, so we can’t entirely avoid experiencing and expressing it.

We all experience emotion a bit differently. Some people’s feelings and expression of them are more intense while others are more moderate. And how strongly you emote depends on the situation, your past circumstances and even what else has happened to you so far that day.

Everyone is emotional, but everyone in their own way. Whatever your set point when it comes to leading and emotion, you benefit from building those skills so you can use it appropriately everywhere from the boardroom to the kitchen table.

There are three primary components associated with emotional intelligence that we benefit from paying attention to at work: self-regulation, social awareness and empathy.

Self-regulation means when you’re experiencing an emotion you are able to moderate your reaction. Social awareness refers to how well you decode interpersonal dynamics and social cues and adapt your behavior accordingly. With empathy, you’re able to walk in someone else’s shoes – understand what they may be feeling and to share your understanding with them and others as appropriate.

Your reactions to adversity or success as a leader is amplified for everyone around you – especially as you move up the leadership ladder. Leaders who lose control in spectacular fashion always negatively impact other people and teams. Yelling, throwing chairs, pounding tables, breaking things–those types of overreactions are the most obviously inappropriate yet they still happen in some workplaces.

More common lapses in emotional control include: refusing to speak to someone or make eye contact, rude gestures, derisive snorts and eye rolls. Unfortunately, the impact of these lapses on others is still very negative. Our brains react similarly to these actions as they do to physical threats – fight or flight.

Controlling our emotions as a leader helps us to make good decisions under pressure and maintain a long term or big picture perspective instead of succumbing to tunnel vision. When you “see red” all the blood that was in the thinking part of your brain goes into the lizard part of the brain. We need to interrupt that pattern.

Pausing to think about what may be causing us to feel the way we’re feeling is one of the most effective pattern interrupts I know of. Our emotions provide insights to our thoughts. If we can stop and think, What was I thinking that could have triggered this reaction? we may learn something important about ourselves that we can leverage to be more effective.

If how we’re reacting is out of context or proportion to the situation, this is a data point that we shouldn’t ignore. We need to pay attention to it so we can figure out what is really bothering us and work to resolve it. Our emotional reactions are telling us something all the objective data in the world cannot predict on its own.

Our goal shouldn’t be to eliminate all emotions from the workplace. We can’t create sustainable conditions for success through an army of strictly rational or robotic leaders and team members. We need to both listen to our guts and tune into the datastream we’re receiving from our emotional responses if we want to become better leaders.

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