Updated: Jul 30, 2022
As people and leaders we need to recognise humans can experiences a whole range of emotions; both joy and grief, even at the same time. But why are emotions so little talked about when we need to find ways to make space for all our emotions - not just the positive ones. We've all heard emotional intelligence being used in leadership development programs but we rarely see it in action in leadership circles, especially the more traditional and hierarchical structures and when there are challenges that impact on people and culture as we are seeing with the pandemic.
In mindfulness based learning and development emotions are seen like the weather and the mind is like the sky. For example today’s pink skies make me feel joyful but we’ve all seen a moody grey sky with dark clouds and felt the impending doom- this feeling motivates us to take shelter until the storm passes. In the same way emotions can inform good leadership and drive values-based action. Without understanding your emotions you will struggle to navigate the landscape with authentic leadership, ethics and the ability connect to action that is based on both personal and professional values in the organisation.
As a leader you're also responsible for other people and people are inherently emotional beings, anyone who says they are not emotional is really saying they are either disconnected from their emotional body or too fearful or angry to acknowledge their feelings of pain. In leadership you might want to help your people and rush though important steps in creating trust and safety first. Have you ever tried to fix someone’s emotions or make them better? Or try to offer a silver lining or get them to refocus on more positive ones? What are you grateful for is a common question that gets asked when someone is trying to express feelings of grief or sadness. Why is it we struggle to be with difficult emotions? Especially in the workplace where we have to get stuff done.
Pretending we’re not feeling leads to fragility and rigidity and if we don’t make space for difficult and complex emotions we perpetuate them and they just grow bigger. Psychologists call this amplification. Did you know depression is the leading disability globally? In workplaces so often I have seen a real struggle for leaders to take the time and space to be with difficult emotions whether they are related to task problems or human problems we seem to be addicted to happiness and the appearance of control and certainty. There's a whole range of emotional expression that becomes unseen and sometimes this can get in the way of leaders facilitating rich and creative learning & development experiences.
Not seeing some emotions is unhealthy in organisations, community and as individuals. We need to learn to make space for all emotions and learn from them rather than pretending they don’t exist or allowing only the positive ones to be shared and held safely. If people felt they could be emotionally real then leaders would get a lot more investment from employees and would be able to more easily create cultures of trust, connection and inclusivity. When people feel seen, they feel valued and are more likely to contribute meaningfully.
Leaders must develop emotional agility to provide structures were people can give voice and let their emotions be seen safely. Mindfulness of emotions and social mindfulness practice is a great tool to build safety, trust and connection and to work with human-centred organisation in mind. Leadership coaching firstly works with the individual leader and developing their self knowledge, awareness of emotions, values and interpersonal skills. We then expand their circle of compassion outward to empower them in facilitating the social and emotional learning that underpins wellbeing for the people they lead.
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