Working With Emotions

As a leader you are more than a communicator.  You are a results-getter.  And since people get results you must come to know people.  And knowing people must involve working with their emotions.

By Brent Filson - 1/2009

Many leaders don’t trust strong emotions.  They feel they’re a toxic cocktail in any organization, a cocktail that isolates people, thwarts rational plans, and promotes sloppy thinking.

Haven’t you heard people say when they are in a crisis, “Let’s not get all emotional over this!”

The book Emotional Intelligence started to change people’s thinking by showing that the brain uses both reason and emotion to analyze and deal with our enviroment.  Years before that book came out, (e.g. in my interview in the premier issue of Psychology Digest in 1994), I advocated the use of emotion in leadership.  Here are ways you can make best use of emotion in your leadership.  

Trust emotion.  The function of the questions is to comprehend the emotional needs of your audience so you can motivate them to take action that gets results.  The reality of most leadership situations is grounded in the audience's emotions.  Their perception of the value you bring to them will always be linked to those emotions.  People usually react by feeling first, analyzing second.  When you understand that emotional reality, you can speak to it.  When you speak to that reality, people see you in new ways.  When they see you in new ways, they act in new ways.

Define the problem in the emotion.  Each emotion of your audience is a problem and  a solution.  When you can clearly define that problem, you are on your way to getting a solution.  Furthermore, as a leader, always try to help them solve their problems.  If you aren't trying, you are not their leader, even though you may have nominal authority over them. 

Challenge yourself.  The answers to these questions are often your calls to action.  What people feel emotional about is often precisely what you should take action on — or avoid taking action on.  Avoiding action is often powerful action in and of itself. 

Define reality.  Constantly clarify reality for the people you lead by constantly asking and answering these questions.  They will not listen to your reality until you validate their reality by continuously communicating the answers.  When you speak to what is real to people, to their emotions and what triggers those emotions, you become real to them, not a caricature of a leader, which is too easy for them to dismiss or despise.

Be confident.  View the questions as confidence-builders.  Your confidence in tackling leadership challenges is linked to your knowledge of and your ability to take action from the emotional dynamics of those challenges.

Create value.  You are not their leader until they buy in emotionally to your leadership.  They will not buy in until they see value in you and your leadership.  They see value in you when you create value for them within the context of the answers to the Needs questions.

Understand the major emotions.  These are major emotional provinces: Ego.  Greed.  Job.  Family.  Spirit. 

Emotion drives motivation.  Emotion drives motivation.  Motivated people are emotionally involved in their work and are more productive and innovative than people who aren't so involved. 

But emotion is the blasting powder of leadership.  Blasting power can move mountains but also blow up in your face.  Emotion can move audiences, but if used in a false way to manipulate a response, that emotion can turn your audience against you. Leaders must skillfully use emotion not have emotion use them.

Communicate emotion.  They must clearly understand the emotion you felt in experiencing the Defining Moment.  This does not necessarily mean that you become emotional in your communication.  The objective is not for you to feel it but for your audience to get it.  They will get it when you describe the facts of what transpired.  Communicated emotion, linked to their needs, lights the fuse of action.  You must want to communicate it!

Promote purpose: When your audience does take action, they should know exactly what they are doing and why they are doing it.  Purpose in leadership talk has three aspects: reason, feeling and awareness.  People should understand the rational justification for the action; they should have an emotional commitment to the action; and be fully mindful that they are taking action.

Speak to their emotions. Those needs, or emotional talking-points  (or the single emotional talking-point) are the major structural headings of your talk.

Validate their emotions:  In The Leadership Talk, the act of recognizing the emotional issue and agreeing on its relevancy or irrelevancy in getting Results.


1/2009© The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

The author of 23 books, Brent Filson's recent books are, THE LEADERSHIP TALK: THE GREATEST LEADERSHIP TOOL and 101 WAYS TO GIVE GREAT LEADERSHIP TALKS. He is founder and president of The Filson Leadership Group, Inc. – Celebrating 25 years of helping leaders of top companies worldwide achieve outstanding results every day. Sign up for his free leadership e-zine and get his FREE report "7 Steps To Leadership Mastery"