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No More Stiff Upper Lip – The Greatest Leaders Embrace Their Emotions

Leaders who embrace their emotions create trusting environments where employees can take calculated risks, suggest ideas and voice opinions.
Leaders who embrace their emotions create trusting environments where employees can take calculated risks, suggest ideas and voice opinions.
  • Being aware of our emotions at work is an advantage
  • Leaders who embrace their emotions encourage trusting environments
  • Self-awareness is key to being resilient during difficult times

How often have you been told to leave your emotions at the office door and to not let yourself be overwhelmed by your thoughts and feelings? Probably several times – but why?

Traditionally, we have been taught not to associate our emotional side with our professional environments. Phrases like “its just business” and “its nothing personal” have become commonplace in professional environments – and particularly in senior positions where leaders who express their feelings are typically perceived as weak, and any show of emotion is a liability instead of an advantage.

Yet, emotion plays a big part in our everyday lives, and from time to time we are all confronted by the nature of our emotions in the workplace. Stéphane Dubreuille, Director of executive education at NEOMA Business School, and Lara Hinton, CEO and founder of Hinton Partners, say that managers have finally started to realise that fighting your feelings at work is no longer effective.

“When our mood becomes too difficult to manage, we can quickly become overwhelmed. This can have a negative impact at work because emotional overload impacts decisions, which not only affects us, but our colleagues too” says Dubreuille.

In recent years there has been a shift in what people deem as acceptable and even encouraged regarding our emotional behaviour at work. This is especially true from a managerial point of view. According to Dubreuille and Hinton, emotions are now perceived to be real factors in how we encourage teamwork and productivity in the workplace, and they can also be powerful resources for leaders. This is because emotions can serve as messengers – they can give us important information about our needs or actions we can take.

Renowned business coach Melody Wilding agrees with Dubreuille and Hinton, and says that anger can indicate that you have passion to fight for something, and frustration can be a sign that you need to be more flexible with your approach. Instead of acting on these emotions negatively, Wilding suggests that you should think about why you feel these things, and take positive action as a result.

Many people also feel overwhelmed at work, which can signal that your priorities are not in order, and that your energy is being spread too thin. Instead of letting this affect your overall performance, it is important to re-evaluate how you’re spending your time so you can feel more in control.

If you are a manager, it is even more important to learn how to understand your emotional state in order to make the best possible strategic decisions, whatever the conditions in which you find yourself. Dubreuille and Hinton claim that managers who show their emotions to a certain extent can be much more approachable, and can encourage their team to communicate and feel more relaxed about expressing their feelings. This can be especially beneficial for quieter members of the team, who may benefit from having a manager who is more open with their feelings.

“Leaders who embrace their emotions encourage trusting environments, where employees feel comfortable to take calculated risks, suggest ideas and to voice their opinions. In such safe environments, working collaboratively isn’t just an objective, but it gets woven into the organisational culture as whole” says Dubreuille.

Being more aware of your emotions as a manager can not only be a great way of bringing together the team, but it is also key to being resilient during difficult times. Resilience is a key quality to have within the workplace because being resilient allows an individual to adapt and continue to progress even after a difficult period of time at work. According to French psychiatrist, Boris Cirulnik, “Resilience is the ability of a body to resist pressure and return to its original structure. In psychology, resilience is the ability to live, to succeed in developing in spite of adversity”.

To develop this trait, Dubreuille and Hinton suggest that managers must take the time to reflect on situations, and to learn from their previous reactions. Learning how to practice this behaviour as a leader of course takes time and improves with experience, but as long as a leader remains aware of their emotions, success will follow.

“It is important that managers understand how the characteristics of a state of mind can be linked to actions that will create a sustainable business environment that grows in a healthy and permanent way” says Hinton.

Good managers know that there can be a lot of power within their emotions, so by learning how to identify, understand and manage them, they can also go on to teach those they manage how to do the same. Dubreuille and Hinton advise that rather than thinking about emotions as something to control, managers should think of them as something to understand so they can ultimately respond to situations in more empowering ways.

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