Emotional leadership isn’t only a topic that is pretty trendy at the moment. It’s a topic that strikes all of us. Being a leader, again and again we are in situations where we have to deal with strong emotions. Sometimes these emotions are positively connoted like joy and passion. And something they are negatively experienced, these are emotions like grief, anger, disappointment. The „negative“ ones are exceptionally challenging. Fortunately the labels „taboo“ and „unprofessional“ begin to disappear and therewith begin to offer a more differentiated approach to the topic enhancing social and emotional intelligence and simultaneously making teams, leaders and organisations more successful.
Emotional intelligence, resilience and emotional leadership – What is it all about?
It’s really interesting to see how many different terms you read across the management literature. My understanding is that resilience is the base for emotional intelligence – because resilience means the capability of resistance. How do I deal with situations I experience to be uncomfortable? How man can I bear? When you have learned how to recognise emotions and how to name them, when you understand how emotional situations in your surrounding affect you, you can use all this in your leadership. In nowadays organisations this emotional intelligence in our leadership approach is extremely important because leadership competence is no longer defined by the terms “right” and “wrong” but by doing the right things in the right situation. To be able to find the best behaviour in any situations it is very useful to understand your own emotions first, to know what you need, how you react. As a consequence you can lead appropriately.
Showing emotions – From taboo to trendy topic
We can’t ignore that everyone is talking about emotional leadership right now. It’s good and fair to call it a trend – but it is important since ever, or at least should have been. The problem is: Showing emotions and dealing with them has been a big taboo for a long time, especially when it comes to profession and leadership. Just in our western European world you haven’t been allowed to show feelings or to talk about emotions. Because the moment you reacted too emotionally was the moment you were judged to be “unprofessional”. Of course this does not include the positive feelings like joy and passion – it was always okay to both show and comment them. The taboo was only related to negatively connoted emotionality consisting of anger, sorrow, disappointment or even tears.
The more we may and must talk about change today – and change is a core topic nowadays – the more leaders and employees may start to actively deal with their emotions. Emotions are the engine for positive energy and commitment, both crucial for successful change processes. And that’s the reason why emotional leadership seems to be trendy now.
Crying in business situations – Supreme discipline of emotional leadership
Looking at the daily work of leaders you can find thousands of different situations requiring emotional tactfulness in terms of the leadership style. A classical challenge I often hear in coaching as well is: “Oh my god, my employee came to my office and started to cry!”. It’s interesting to observe how many managers and leaders have big problems with that. Reactions and comments go from “I don’t wanna see something like that in the office” to “That’s not professional, that’s just not done.”. They all have in common that they simply do not know how to react in such a situation. What you have to keep in mind is the following: Only because someone starts to cry in you presence that does not automatically mean that it has something to do with you! Many managers and leaders feel responsible at any time and always want to do something to solve and to clarify. And right here emotional leadership kicks in. Leading in an emotionally intelligent way might also mean to do nothing and to just stick to the person next to you.
It might mean to just stand the fact that an employee shows unfamiliar feelings or even cries. As an emotionally intelligent person we might also think: Something is happening here claiming the strong signal of crying. Sometimes it’s also possible to turn the situation’s effect into something positive like: Wow, the base of trust between us is strong enough that my employee dares to let him-/herself go and to show what really bothers him/her.
Emotional leadership – A chance for organisations
HR managers as well as my colleagues and employees often ask me: Who needs training in emotional intelligence? How do I recognise that this is a topic in my organisation? In this situation I like to ask a counter question: What does it cost, if I do not deal with the challenges of emotional leadership? If I do nothing at all?
Many organisations complain about the “office grapevine”, the internal rumours or about long breaks in the smoker’s corner of at the coffee table. The background of all these phenomena is obvious. When organisations do not deal with emotions officially the non-productive times are much higher. They are used to reveal all feelings and emotions appearing because that’s the only way. The other way round, if I as an employee know that it’s appreciated if I act like an emotional human being, that my managers can deal with me showing emotions, then I do not need those detours and breaks. Then I can go to my managers and colleagues and just communicate what bothers me – no matter if it is joy, something that annoys me or that hurts me.