Get Emotional


This is an emotional blog – or should I say a blog about emotions and how they play a significant role in our life as a leader. Years ago, I worked with a client, a brilliant geophysicist, who was being asked by the organization to lead a team. His challenge is that he had a narrow range of affect (externally displayed emotions), and it limited his ability to inspire and motivate. Add to this is the dissonance created for him by any discussion of emotion. He is a scientist; emotions do not compute. Words from this song may describe how he feels:

Get a grip on yourself you know you should

I got a grip on myself and it feels good

Get a grip on yourself take my advice

I got a grip on myself and it feels nice

“Get a Grip” from the All About Chemistry album, Semisonic

Our corporate upbringing is to believe that emotion at work is awful. Emotions cloud the intellect and interfere with the objective analysis of facts, correct? We understand that excessive emotions like intense anger have tremendous power to damage the complex social relationships on which we rely. We have common misconceptions about emotions at work: it is unprofessional to bring personal feelings to work. They distort the logical reasoning process that allows you to solve workplace problems. If you show emotions at work, people will view you as weak. To work well with someone, you have to be friends with him or her, and your private concerns should never affect your performance; enthusiastic approval of employees undermines one’s authority. Some emotions are apropos for work, and some hinder us at work. Consider these stories.

George, the CEO of a large restaurant company, stood before staff in a quarterly meeting, conveying a story about exceptional contributions made by one member of their family of employees. The story was emotion-packed, and the audience drew into the emotions of the story. George choked up and had to pause the storytelling. Many people in the audience had tears in their eyes, too. The audience understood why they worked for the company.

Charlene commented disparagingly about a project on which we were working at a meeting, and I suddenly felt a rush of energy. My face flushed, and ears turned red, as I squeezed the edge of the table for dear life. Some part of me knew that this feeling was not proportionate to Charlene’s comment or intention, but something was triggered in me nonetheless, and I was ready to bite her head off.

The stories of George and Charlene are similar in that they are about emotions and different because of the outcomes. I was one of George’s employees and was deeply moved by his story; it reinforced my passion for the company – a very positive example of emotion at work. Charlene violated one of my values that when you agree with another person, you keep that agreement. She broke her agreement in a meeting, and it invoked a different kind of emotion – unrestrained, this experience would have been a negative emotional experience. Both stories were opportunities for me to learn and grow.

With the popularity of emotional intelligence, the discussion about how we leverage and engage the emotional side of ourselves to be effective leaders is becoming more common. Emotions act to motivate us and can effectively motivate others. Emotions are a part, a big part of business and leadership. Interestingly, information on leadership strategy and tactics fill the business bookshelves, while discussion of the emotional aspect is surprisingly absent. UCLA research indicates that only 7% of leadership success is attributable to our intellect, while 93% of success comes from trust, integrity, authenticity, honesty, creativity, presence, and resilience.

People make and sell the products of organizations. People manage the processes and systems in organizations. We are emotional beings. Understanding, management, and utilization of emotions is a typical leadership development course offered at organizations. Nevertheless, many leaders are still unable to deal with the emotional challenges of business; they lack emotional mastery. Emotional competencies are not analytical or “hard” skills and are difficult to teach through traditional didactic instruction methods.

I believe that coaching and emotional intelligence are inseparable. Tom Gallwey, the creator of The Inner Game, states, “There is always an Inner Game being played in your mind no matter what outer game you are playing. How aware you are of this game can make the difference between success and failure.”  

Coaching best serves mastery of the inner game. Why?

Influencing and working confidently with others to contribute successfully to the growth and performance of an organization, requires leaders to be present. They need to observe what they are experiencing in the moment and recognize what it might be like to be in someone else’s shoes. Crucially, tuning into one’s inner signals and understanding how their emotions affect them and those around them impacts performance. The design of coaching is to unlock leader’s potential to optimize their own performance. 

Master your inner game and get emotional, it’s okay.

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