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?



Beyond Leadership – What If Decision-Making Is More Than Data and Options?

leaders, decision-making, leadereshipIt is easy to forget how multilayered decision-making actually is. We are not always conscious of how our personality, culture, experience and circumstances combine when we are faced with choices. You can find, at any time, several blog posts and media reports of good decision-making and bad decision-making. (Although we hear more about bad decision-making).

Current reports

If you have been following the news lately, you are well aware that the US government has been shut down due to a major impasse between the two political parties. There was a mega-deal between two semi-conductor companies (Applied Materials and Tokyo Electron) which is awaiting anti-trust approval. Sears, an large American retailer, has sold off a number of its more successful locations to raise cash. Finally, there is an interesting review of the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Knowledge@Wharton blog.which asks if culture may have adversely affected how decisions were made.

Experience vs inexperience

One would think that more seasoned leaders would be more competent in their decision-making processes. Certainly, inexperienced leaders might miss pieces that need their attention. According to a post written by Wendy Lea on Venture Beat, there are two areas that could cloud or outright prevent the most effective decision-making:

  • Fixating on the grand vision
  • Focusing more on the valuation or exit strategy and not the product

For more experienced leaders, there are other possible interruptors:

  • Too much reliance on past experience or honed skills
  • Politically motivated factors
  • Disengaged from value system
  • Mismanaged resources
  • Inability to recognize opportunity
  • Lack of trust in self

Are we ignoring underlining influencers?

Most of the time, a leader’s focus is on the available data, question and possible choices. But there are other influences at hand which may need to be recognize. In the Knowledge@Wharton post, “Lessons in Leadership from the Fukushima Nuclear Disaster“, there is an interesting discussion that culture, a strong desire to make sure the plant got built and a lack of attention to long-standing historical records identifying the dangers of earthquakes and tsunamis. While the Fukushima disaster occurred in Japan, it raises the question when one looks at leaders in other parts of the world as well. The potential for a sort of social blindness or deafness coupled with ambition, greed, enthusiasm, desire and other emotions exists.

While there is much written about best leadership practices and leadership styles, it is clear that people continue to make lousy decisions. Fortunately not all of these decisions result in scandals, disasters or failures. However, questions remain…what if decision-making is more than the immediate data and options?

 Join us on Friday, October 11, 2013 at 5pm GMT/12pm ET/9am PT on the Twitter chat, #KaizenBiz to take a closer look at “Beyond Leadership – What If Decision-Making Is More Than Data and Options?”

What are the primary elements in the decision-making process?

When do you keep the focus on the question at hand vs when to look at larger picture?

How could culture actually set up environment for bad decisions?

How do we encourage leaders across industries and organizations to expand their self-awareness?

Bonus question: How could game theory support more effective decision-making?


Is Leadership Harder Now Than Ever?

It might be said that leadership was easy once upon a time. You told someone to do something and it was done. Of course that works better if you’re medieval royalty and there is fealty involved. Or maybe we think our leaders should be some sort of archetypal hero who will save the day.

The obvious scandals of  Lehman Brothers, LIBOR or the News Corp phone hacking  undermine authority. But it isn’t just the public scandals that are eroding our understanding of leadership. Continue reading