Emotions – A Leadership Reality

Emotions: A Leadership Reality

In recent years we have learned that the heart has its own independent nervous system, which is referred to as ‘the brain in the heart’.  The Institute of Heart Math, a research centre dedicated to the study of the heart and the physiology of emotions, tells us that “intelligence and intuition are heightened when we earn to listen more deeply to our hearts”.  Also, “the more we learn to listen to and follow our heart intelligence, the more educated, balanced, and coherent our emotions become”.

Emotions are critical to business success because they drive behaviors. Companies that achieve an emotional buy-in from consumers and employees will have a competitive advantage in a world of increasing commoditization.

Business has a long tradition of ignoring emotions in favor of rationality. Feelings are disregarded as messy, dangerous, inferior and even irrelevant to day-to-day operations. In marketing and in managing, the emphasis has been on appealing to the rationality of people.

But a growing body of scientific evidence reveals that subconscious feelings drive decisions, up to 95% of which are made through the brain’s emotion centers and only then filtered into its cognitive parts. Psychologists, neuroscientists and behavioral economists now agree that leaders who fail to understand how emotions drive actions will ultimately fail.

A company’s emotional climate may account for up to 30 percent of job performance, according to case studies that Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee reviewed for their book, Primal Leadership. CEOs, they note, are responsible for creating more than 50 percent of this climate.

3 Keys to Leadership Success

Numerous studies indicate that sustainable business success depends on three key leadership areas:

  1. The greater good. Leaders must influence others to join a cause greater than making a profit or creating good products or services. They give employees reasons to believe in the company and its leadership ideals. They establish themselves as credible, trustworthy and unselfish—role models who are looking out for the group and individual performers. They ask others to join “us,” without sacrificing their “me.”
  2. Clear vision. Continual change may be traumatic for employees, so leaders must paint a convincing picture of the future that motivates and prepares people for what’s coming.
  3. Cohesive culture. Employees expect their leaders to read a situation in emotional terms and proactively foster a climate of participation and collaboration. Leaders also devote time and energy to grooming talent, as well as recognizing and rewarding good work.

Each of these leadership roles requires emotional awareness and, most importantly, the ability to express appropriate feelings effectively. Having clear ideals and beliefs serves no good if leaders cannot connect on an emotional level with those they lead.

In turn, leaders must learn how to express their own emotions. Years of education and training, with an emphasis on cognitive skills, may mean they’re far from adroit at managing their own feelings.

Because most emotions are perceived nonverbally, there may be a disconnect between what leaders say and what they actually communicate. Emotional astuteness requires an awareness of what one feels, verbalizes and conveys through nonverbal communication. Conversely, leaders must learn to read others’ emotions—individually and in groups—to ask the right questions and build trust.

Character Matters

Leaders should strive to get people on board and promote enthusiasm, but many miss the mark. Workplace statistics show that only 25 percent of employees are truly engaged.

Senior management’s goal is to develop an atmosphere of trust and generosity of spirit. When leaders give workers something they can believe in—a cause greater than the common good—they engage both hearts and minds.

From a psychological standpoint, most of us seek meaning in our lives, and many of us find it through our work. Leaders can facilitate this by communicating their own beliefs, passions and ideals.

The Leadership Trust Gap

Two barriers create a trust gap between leaders and their staff:

  1. The financial chasm that results from large pay disparities
  2. A disconnect between verbal and nonverbal communication

While there is an inherent desire to identify and bond with one’s leader, people instinctively defend their own interests and exercise caution before committing their careers and livelihoods to anyone.

No one wants to commit to the wrong cause or person, which clearly highlights the importance of leaders’ honesty and authenticity.

Pay Disparities

Pay disparities can throw a massive wrench into the trust equation.

It doesn’t take a degree in psychology to predict that envy leads to divisiveness. Such pay disparities between top leaders and their employees undermine workers’ security and sense of well-being. To make matters worse, the constant threat of downsizing and outsourcing magnify people’s fears.

This explains why employees struggle to see their leaders as invested in a shared outcome. But leaders who recognize trust-gap factors can prepare to deal with these issues by establishing an emotionally solvent, personal connection with their people.

Flailing leaders may need to engage executive coaches to help them work on their “emotional intelligence.” Employees are laboring in a harsh economy, so leaders need to learn and practice empathy, honesty and authenticity.

Nonverbal Communications

The second obstacle to overcome is the disconnect between what a leader says and actually feels. As a leader, you will experience a “say/feel” gap when your messages are incongruent with your physical expressions. In truth, facial expressions convey your feelings much more accurately than any words you say.

Research about messages estimates that 55 percent of meaning is derived from body language, 38 percent from vocal intonation and only 7 percent from the actual words.

We discern emotional content from others’ facial expressions. Studies of CEOs’ facial expressions reveal that honest and robust social smiles trump all others when one wants employees to feel hopeful and buy into goals. The worst possible expressions are dislike, especially when combined with anxiety (fear). Condescending, scared leaders will invariably cut themselves off from others.

The key here is for leaders to acquire knowledge of how congruent their nonverbal facial expressions are with their intended message.

Emotions Matter: An Action Plan

Evolution gave us feeling before thinking. Leaders must therefore quell fears before expecting employees to embrace the cold, hard facts. As Dan Hill writes in Emotionomics:

“Changing people’s beliefs is hard work: Selling them on what they already believe and feel is far easier.”

Facts are malleable, but our gut instincts are unyielding. Every leader must understand that:

  • The human side of business consumes most of a company’s operating costs. Failure to be emotionally adept is counterproductive—perhaps even suicidal.
  • Employees are the players who turn their CEO’s dreams of progress from a nuts-and-bolts strategic plan into reality—an outcome that requires emotional commitment.

The following action steps can help you achieve your desired results:

  1. Create faith in a “greater we” by establishing yourself as a leader who’s a real person—not the heir apparent to a big title, office and salary.
  2. Be more personable in your communications. Only then can you generate the emotional momentum necessary to push through change.
  3. Communicate a vision that inspires pride. Negative feelings can undo a company during a period of change, and they’re highly contagious. Become a student of nonverbal expressions and body language.
  4. Meet with employees in person, and use face time to connect with them and solicit or accept advice. Greater familiarity leads to sound relationships.

Kouzes and Posner, in their ground-breaking research of 30 years ago, which culminated in The Leadership Challenge, now in its fourth printing, identified the Five Practices of Exemplary Leadership.  The fifth – ‘encourage the heart’ – was considered a novel concept then. Now we know that a leader must not only encourage the heart by making people ‘feel like heroes’, but they themselves must come from heart to do so.

Content of this article provided by Patsi Krakoff, Psy.D.