The CEO Magazine: How to leverage your emotions for greater leadership impact - Michelle Gibbings

Thank you to The CEO Magazine for the opportunity for Michelle to contribute her thoughts on why you shouldn’t underestimate the impact your feelings can have on your team. Read on to find out how to manage and use these emotions to become a stronger leader. 

When you are blindsided by changes at work, your emotions can run high. It might be a critical board director or team member resigning, your role being redesigned, a major project canceled or an important deal falling through. In all these situations, letting your emotional reaction run your thought processes and decisions can be easy.

However, this is the precise time to deliberately leverage your emotions so you have a more effective leadership impact. That won’t happen if you overlook the effect of your emotions. Here are five things you should be doing.

▶  Being able to feel and see emotions in other people is a leadership strength.

Your emotions matter. They change your physiology, perception and where you place your attention. The first step is to acknowledge the emotions. Accept them as genuine and legitimate. It can help to label the emotions you are feeling and write them down. Notice how they impact your thoughts and desired actions.

As part of this reflection, notice what you are giving attention to and what you are ignoring or avoiding. You want to challenge yourself as to the meaning you place on what has happened. In the words of Brené Brown: “What’s the story you are telling yourself?”

We all tell ourselves stories, and often there’s a gap between what’s happened and the meaning we place on that event or interaction.

It can help to consider what you can and can’t change about what is happening to determine the best options and next steps. Uncovering options makes you feel more in control and therefore, helps you better regulate your response.

If someone around you is happy, sad, angry or experiencing any other emotion, it can rub off and impact how you feel and behave, and you can have the same impact on them.

Bhismadev Chakrabarti from the School of Psychology at the University of Reading defines emotional contagion as “a set of processes, which enable us to catch another person’s emotion. Most of these processes are largely automatic. For me to experience being sad with you, I don’t need to explicitly know or work out the reasons why that is.”

Our ability to feel another person’s emotions is essential to being human. It underpins how we connect with others, as we can see a person’s emotional expressions and reactions, and respond in turn to them.

As a leader, you want to leverage this wisely by managing the impact your emotions have on others, and noticing the impact other people’s emotions have on you.

▶  As leaders, pay attention to the emotional environment you create at work so it is safe for you and your team members to talk about how they feel.

Being able to feel and see emotions in other people is a leadership strength. Without it, you’ll struggle to connect and care for your team and colleagues. You want to understand the impact your emotions have on those around you and whether they are helpful, hurtful or harmful.

Challenge yourself by considering how you manage your emotions. Does your emotional energy impact others in a largely positive or negative manner? For example, if you feel sad, frustrated or angry at work, does that change how you treat your team and colleagues?

If you let your emotions push you into ‘reaction’ mode it will negatively impact how you lead. Be conscious of this, so you can notice the ‘reaction’ and create the space you need to move into ‘wise response’ mode.

As leaders, pay attention to the emotional environment you create at work so it is safe for you and your team members to talk about how they feel. Notice the opportunities you have to support and hear others. Just like you want to feel validated and connected, so do they.

So if you are on the receiving end of someone expressing their feelings, listen to them. Acknowledge them. Hear what they are saying. See them. Notice what is said and unsaid.

It can be easy to jump into solution mode as you want to help or rescue your colleague, client or team member. You can’t, and they aren’t ready to hear your ideas on how to fix how they feel. Give them the space and support they need to find their way through the situation.

Recognize that at this point what they need is empathy, so stand beside them and be ready to listen deeply. When you do that, you are creating the space your team members need to thrive at work.

American author Dale Carnegie said, “When dealing with people, remember you are not dealing with creatures of logic, but with creatures of emotion.”


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