Myths and Assumptions about Emotions

When leaders communicate, they often focus on message clarity and overlook its important emotional component. Many cling to assumptions about expressing emotions.

Emotional leadership is the spark that ignites a company’s performance, creating a bonfire of success or a landscape of ashes.” ~ Daniel Goleman, Harvard Business Review, December 2001

To generate excitement, leaders need to master their emotional expressiveness. But most leaders demonstrate resistance.

They cling to long-standing assumptions about showing emotions:

  • It’s unbecoming
  • Undermines authority
  • Reveals a lack of control
  • Conveys irrationality
  • Indicates weakness and vulnerability
  • Isn’t masculine (and is, therefore, too feminine)

Men in leadership positions don’t want to come across as dictatorial, angry or moody. Their female counterparts avoid showing emotions because they believe it plays into stereotypes about women being high-strung.

Does Your Head Overrule Your Heart?

In business, leaders are highly respected for sharp minds, to the extent that we frequently ignore and squelch our emotional voices. But even the most analytical personalities experience emotions.

Peter Bregman addresses this issue in “Don’t Let Your Head Attack Your Heart,” a July 2014 Harvard Business Review blog post:

“We are trained and rewarded, in schools and in organizations, to lead with a fast, witty and critical mind. And it serves us well. The mind can be logical, clear, incisive and powerful. It perceives, positions, politics and protects. One of its many talents is to defend us from emotional vulnerability, which it does, at times, with jokes and quick repartee.

The heart, on the other hand, has no comebacks, no quips. Gentle, slow and unprotected, an open heart is easily attacked, especially by a frightened mind. And feelings scare the mind.”

It’s no wonder that leaders become entrenched in a comfort zone of data, facts and ideas. But safe isn’t always smart. Truly inspirational leaders express their emotions and are quick to pick up on others’. Most, however, avoid expressing their feelings, fearing they’ll appear weak or out of control.

In the work I do coaching leaders, many still cling to the idea that emotional expressiveness is seen as weak and ineffective. Many women leaders struggle with this as do members of minorities, for fear of being judged harshly.

What do you think about this in your organization? I’d love to hear from you; you can contact me here.

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