Do you ever wish you could shut off the tap to certain emotions?
You know the ones I’m talkin’ about? Those pesky feelings which are the opposite of fun to experience. Sometimes we don’t understand them. Other times they lead us to react in a ways we would rather not.
Last week, I found myself in a situation which led me to examine emotions more closely in the context of the workplace.
Staring somewhat apprehensively down the barrel of a busy working week, I was also dealing with some pretty tumultuous emotions on the personal front, like sadness and anger.
Assuming the staunch ‘business as usual, suck it up and just get on with it’ stance, I initially opted (as we do) to just forge ahead in my professional life, tempted to totally shut out and ignore the storm that was raging inside me.
Fortunately the nature of coaching means it’s easy to switch off from external personal dramas when you are coaching someone. Listening completely and being fully present is vital. Ironically, it gave me a much needed temporary rest from the turmoil I was embroiled in.
But, it also led me to consider the relationship between emotions and effective leadership.
Is attempting to abandon or ignore emotions in the workplace a good thing?
Research and collective wisdom says no. A growing body of literature suggest that moods and emotions play a central role in cognitive behaviours and processes*. Translated this means – ignore them at your peril if you are a leader.
Rather, being aware of emotions at play in ourselves and in others is a vital first step in emotional intelligence.
Mastering the art of emotional intelligence, or the ability to effectively understand and manage our emotions (and to recognise them in others) is an infinitely valuable leadership skill.
Here are 4 reasons why improving your emotional intelligence can help you be a better leader:
1. Issues get resolved quicker. If we ignore emotions they tend to come out anyway. And often in less helpful or constructive ways.
Have you ever snapped at someone at work when you weren’t actually upset with them, but had had a fight with your spouse that morning? Have you ever noticed someone demonstrate impatience when actually, they are in fact, fearful? Noticing and attending to emotions means you can deal with what’s really going on and then move forward.
2. It raises awareness. In ourselves and others. People who understand their emotions are ruled less by them, less buffeted by these sometimes stormy waters. They are also able to look at themselves more objectively. And it raises our awareness that even difficult and uncomfortable emotions can be our friend.
As the infinitely wise Pema Chödrön has said, “…feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are.”
3. It fosters empathy. Empathy paves the way for deeper understanding, better relationships, and ultimately more effective leadership. It helps us to relate to others more successfully, and to lead without excessive judgement or preconceived stereotypes getting in the way.
4. Self regulation. Being aware of our emotions can help us to respond rather than react, a subtle yet pivotal difference. This self-regulation helps us to avoid making hasty decisions, or exert behaviours we may later regret after acting on impulse. It’s ironic that giving our attention to emotions diffuses the negative energy they can cause if we do not. It can develop better decision making skills, clearer thought, and a deeper sense of integrity.
Becoming more aware of emotions at play in our organisations, being comfortable with them and learning how to express them in a constructive way is important for anyone on their leadership development journey.
So, what did I do last week to manage this flurry of emotions and still bring my best self to those I work with?
I sought professional supervision on how to manage this whilst still being in a position to bring value to my clients.
I recognised I wasn’t having a great week, asked myself what I needed and was kind to myself. For me it was exercise, chats with my best pal and a glass of wine.
So the next time you (or anyone) scoffs at ‘getting all touchy feely’, you can say to yourself that feelings are neither good nor bad. They just are. It’s how we look and respond to them that makes it so.
*Reference: (Jennifer M. George, “Emotions and Leadership: The Role of Emotional Intelligence,” Human Relations 53, no. 8 (2000): 1027- 1055.)