What Role Do Emotions Play in Leadership? More than you might think! Conventional wisdom says emotions have no place in business or leadership. This is a fallacy. Emotion-based leadership skills empower you as a maverick leader to grow your influence and increase your impact. While there is no consensus on a single definition of emotions, there is consensus that they affect our behaviour.
How Emotions Affect Behaviour
Many people still hold the long-standing belief that emotions are automatic, universal and hardwired in different regions of our brain, and therefore they are just happening to us. Latest research overturns this belief. These findings show that our brain constructs emotions by continually predicting and simulating all the sensory information from inside and outside our bodies, so it understands what this information means and what to do about it. That means that we are responsible for our emotions and moods, and we can learn to become aware of our emotional state. If we find that it’s not useful for our desired leadership behaviour, we can then shift it to the emotional state that drives our desired behaviour.
Shifting to the desired emotion does not mean avoiding certain other emotions. Each emotion has its purpose. For example, feeling fear may notify us about a potential danger as a predisposition to taking an action that protects us, such as running away or defending ourselves. The challenge is when an emotion is not fulfilling its purpose, such as feeling fear when there is no real danger, which keeps us from taking action toward an important goal or taking the wrong action.
That happened to Jennifer (name changed) the newly appointed manager of a team in a global telecom company. Because of her fear of failing in her new role as a manager, she had focused too much on results without showing any interest or concern for the needs of the people she depended on to produce the results. Her lack of care for her team, had demotivated them and she was at an even higher risk of failing in her new position. To empower more motivating behaviours she needed to shift her emotions.
Shifting to an emotion that supports a desired leadership behaviour requires becoming aware of what we’re feeling and assessing whether that emotion is helpful in this moment and if not, to shift to the emotion that is helpful. You are always in an emotional state, whether you are aware of it or not, and it is usually a mixture of different emotions. It’s this mixture that drives your behaviour, and it may or may not support the leadership behaviour you need at that moment to achieve your goal.
To create an inspiring vision, mobilise your team or coordinate effective actions, you need the kind of positive emotions that help motivate these outcomes. That’s why becoming aware of your emotions and learning to shift to the emotions that support your desired leadership behaviour is such a critical leadership skill.
The ASPIRE Leadership Model
Because there are more than 250 emotions and a person can experience a mixture of emotions at any given time, learning emotions can seem overwhelming. That’s why the ASPIRE Leadership Model focuses on the seven essential emotions for leading positive change.
The first three emotional competencies of the ASPIRE Model are empathy, compassion and interest. Empathy makes you care about and compassion makes you commit to serving people’s needs. Interest helps you then understand people’s needs and issues, and the solutions that address those issues. Empathy, compassion and interest are the emotions Jennifer had to learn so she could care for, serve and understand the needs of her team.
These first three competencies lay the foundation for the next three emotional competencies which are optimism, inspiration and trust. All three emotions are important for Jennifer to cultivate in her team. Optimism helps you envision a future in which the needs of the people you care about are fully met, and the issues related to meeting those needs are resolved. Inspiration helps you mobilize people and trust helps you coordinate effective actions to make your vision a reality.
Finally, once you are on your journey toward making your vision a reality, even the best planning may not prepare you for all the adversities that can get in the way of reaching your goals. Adversities are a normal part of life, as the example of the Covid-19 Pandemic has shown. That’s why the final of the seven essential behavioural competencies is resilience. Research shows that positivity helps to build resilience. Unlike the previous six emotions, positivity consists of a pallet of emotions, such as hope, gratitude or joy and they all can be learned.
As a maverick leader, understanding and cultivating these emotions within yourself and others is essential to change your own leadership behaviour and influence behavioural change in others.