Emotional Life of Leadership Matters Deeply To Performance

emotions, Goleman, leadershipEmotions…those pesky things that keep showing up. For many leaders, they are to be contained or masked but not really spoken about, particularly those emotions that reveal fears or vulnerability. Yet, in much of the most recent leadership development literature, there are exhortations to be more authentic, more human. At the very least, be better understood so they don’t adversely affect the leader’s performance as well as the behavior of  the employees/ followers.

What we’re beginning to learn about emotions and performance

While it’s true that psychological research has connected emotions and behavior, there has been some insights gleaned from neuroscience.There are neurochemicals that affect how positively or negatively we view things and act. Edward M. Hallowell writes about how feelings of disconnect and reconnecting are tied into certain parts of the brain. Our neocortex, amygdala and hormones like cortisol and dopamine not only influence our behavior but also our physical health.

Leaders’ expression of emotions infect their employees/ followers

There’s a  saying that “if mama ain’t happy, then nobody is happy” which points out how influential a leader’s mood can be. There have been studies done in which strangers can “infect” each other with their mood without even speaking one word. If you’re familiar with Daniel Goleman’s work on emotional intelligence, then you know he has been talking about this concept for a number of years. More recent studies are able to point to how leaders influence their followers’ emotions and consequently their engagement. As Goleman identified in 2001, even if a leader is masking his/her feelings, they are still communicated. It seems that whether the leader is feeling calm, anxiety, exhilaration or anger, there is an impact on the employees.

When we believe our emotions are facts, we handicap ourselves

In a Harvard Business Review article, Susan David and Christina Congleton wrote about how leaders “stumble not because they have undesirable thoughts and feelings—that’s inevitable—but because they get hooked by them, like fish caught on a line.” In cogntive-behavior therapy, this is called emotional reasoning. But we do it all the time. Sometimes it’s positive because it reinforces our confidence and ability to perform. Other times, well, it results in attacking oneself for being inept.

Could the disconnect workers feel be related to how their leaders manage their emotions?

In the 2013 State of the American Workplace survey produced by Gallup, it was discovered that 70% of workers are disengaged. Some of that is a result of how they are led. According to David and Congleton, there is a need to develop emotional agility which is recognizing “…your patterns; label your thoughts and emotions; accept them; and act on your values.” By developing these behaviors, leaders are able to perform well and inspire others to follow suit.

With all of the leadership development literature pointing to raising emotional intelligence, what keeps leaders using dominance and fear?

What are the implications for performance if we learn more about how the brain works?

What responsibility do followers have to manage their response to the leader’s mood?

How does mindfulness support developing emotional agility?