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Leadership masterclass: How to lead with emotional strength

Emotionally informed leadership is key to success, says Tom Howe, managing partner at The Jefferson Group

Leadership masterclass: How to lead with emotional strength

Our values and emotions significantly impact on the culture of an organisation and can manifest within external factors. Do you know what kind of leader you are? How emotionally wise is your leadership behaviour?

Emotionally wise leadership behaviours involve the ability to objectively sit alongside our emotions. Not to suppress or ignore them but to merely recognise that they are present and the positive or negative influence they might be having on our perception.

For instance, you might be driving to a meeting with a difficult client and feeling anxious, perhaps defensive. Instead of allowing this feeling to pass, you may imagine yourself in a tricky situation with them. By the time you arrive at the meeting you have created an imaginary outcome that you then seek to reinforce by turning that into a reality. Emotionally wise leadership would recognise the feeling for what it is - just a feeling - and would not allow the imagination to hijack that feeling to perpetuate it.

Tom Howe

Tom Howe, managing partner, The Jefferson Group

With that in mind, here are five key steps to help you become a more emotionally informed leader:

1. Identify your leadership style

At one end of the spectrum of leadership styles is the transactional leader whereby individuals are led by someone who sets out a reward scheme for reaching set targets. This is the least emotionally wise form of leadership as it doesn’t take the person themselves into account. The culture created here is particularly transient with little ‘buy in’ from employees.

More emotionally wise are the charismatic leaders who seek to inspire and motivate. However, ego can sometimes take over.

The transformation leader can’t help but be inspirationally charismatic, however, their belief is that the organisation as a whole is more important than the individual and they carry this through to their sense of accountability.

The most emotionally wise type of leader is the servant leader whose values and moral position defines their leadership and whose role is to ensure that all employees are flourishing whilst leading by example. However, this type of leader can be seen to be ‘left behind’ in highly commercial fields.

2. Embrace a courageous approach to emotional situations

Dealing with the emotions of others effectively requires you to deal with your own emotions first. This takes great courage. You may feel vulnerable about your emotions and feel afraid that they will overwhelm you. However, this discomfort is partly due to our culture where we have been told that feelings are a weakness.

If you deny your feelings then they will find a way out through defensiveness or anger. If you can become comfortable with your own emotions then you will stop feeling defensive when you’re scared or hurt. You will then open yourself up to someone else’s point of view.

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3. Evaluate culture fit

Making sure that you have a clear identifiable organisational culture is the first step to ensuring that you attract the right people to your organisation. Identifying the organisational values and principles and then reflecting these throughout all policies and practices is essential.

There is no point in saying that your organisation embraces diversity and then having a policy that demands uniformity. Where organisational cultures fail is where there is a culture gap between the desired culture and the reality. The right managers will ensure that this doesn’t happen.

Culture isn’t organic in its essence, it is created and constructed through the detail and this is where the right manager can excel. Once a culture is well established, an organisation should attract the right people which then ensures a more organic maintenance of the culture.

4. Identify and create preferred behaviours

Your identity stems from your early experiences, key relationships, culture and environment, and how you emotionally perceive these. However, it is not set in stone and key experiences can change your perception of yourself.

Once you begin to question yourself you allow transformation to happen as you distort your perception of yourself and allow for the potential to change. From this point it is a question of establishing who you wish to become and then identifying the behaviours you need to exhibit to make that change happen.

You need to build new neural pathways that will establish the new behaviours, so repetition is key. Be mindful that old behaviours will try and intrude until the new ones are in place so it’s important to stay motivated.

Exactly the same principles apply in the transformation of others but ethically it is vital that everyone has control over their own transformation. This highlights how key it is that the culture is right. If you want people within an organisation to adopt particular behaviours then ensuring shared values means that all parties will be comfortable embracing that change.

5. Explore the roots of your creativity

Research undertaken by NASA found that creativity dropped from 98% for five year old children to 2% for adults. Crucially we lose neural pathways that aren’t used during our teenage years and if creativity isn’t nurtured at this time then we lose our natural abilities in this area.

You can build new neural pathways at any point in time, although this needs to be done explicitly through the way that you question and empower others to think. Think about how you organise meetings and assign tasks. Allow yourself time to rebuild your creative behaviours.

Becoming comfortable with discomfort is part of this creative process as you start to embrace divergent thinking where there are multiple answers rather than convergent thinking of right or wrong. The ability to sit in the unknown is an emotional state and one that requires acceptance of risk. It helps to see this as allowing yourself to play with different possibilities.

The benefits of allowing ourselves to ‘play’ are becoming increasingly researched and we now know that it allows us to go to the edge of our emotional reasoning and consider multiple possibilities without constraints. We often become so focused on outcome when we should in fact remember that it is equally important to invest in the potential of the process.

To sum up…

By exploring the culture, people and purpose of organisations within an emotional context you can help to align your organisation with its employees. It can also help you develop a more confident leadership style with a personalised approach to stress management.

The Jefferson Group runs a series of workshops that explore the culture, people and purpose of organisations within an emotional context.

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