Emotional leadership probably triggers many different images in your mind. Enthusiastic? Unhinged? Tears? Mood swings? Passionate? Oppressive? Authentic?
Reflecting on leaders in the public eye, there are many different emotional styles of leadership. There are leaders who do not display much emotion, those who are known for demonstrating a lot of emotion, and those who control the emotional content and style of their leadership.
Why consider emotional leadership as a topic in the broader consideration of leadership? There is already a lot of commentary on emotional intelligence, executive presence, and leadership impact. Leaders with high or low emotional content in their leadership have an impact on others with varying degrees of significance. Emotions in leaders are critical as they are a major influence on the emotional response of those they lead. And the importance of emotions is well noted – in addition to impacting mental health (commitment, stability, feelings), emotions also have a profound impact on the immune system. Scientists have found that negative emotions reduce antibody levels and lower the ability of the immune system to ward-off sickness and disease. Hence, poor leadership that invokes a negative emotional response results in lower engagement and lower employee well-being.
A leader who exhibits a lot of emotion as part of their leadership, either arising from their personality or convictions, should expect different reactions. Some people may be inspired, energized, and motivated. Others may be switched off, unimpressed, or unconvinced. But is there anything wrong with showing emotions as part of being an authentic leader? No! In an increasingly virtual world, connecting on an emotional level has never been more important. Engaging hearts as well as minds is so important. Having to lead through a laptop screen instead of in-person, is stretching leaders more than ever. People need to feel valued, inspired, and connected. When the laptop screen reverts back to an email or document following an interaction with a leader, what are employees meant to feel? If they are not self-motivated, they need regular emotional sustenance from their leaders to connect them with the wider world and infuse them with energy and purpose. Now more than ever leaders need to discover the power of emotions in leadership.
Building and maintaining positive emotions is like a drug for many – a supply needs to keep on coming. Leaders are in the floodlit zone of providing emotional sustenance. A leader who just turns up without consciously or sub-consciously doing a self-inventory of personal motivation and emotional health, needs to reflect on the impact they are having. Being indifferent to the emotional legacy a leader delivers is poor leadership. Turning up with a positive mindset, a buoyant attitude, and credit in your own emotional bank account will leave a positive legacy.
What about controlled emotional leadership? In my opinion, this can go two ways. First, a leader who knows how to control their emotions, how to accentuate them, and how to suppress them appropriately, is a skilled leader. A skilled leader knows how to use emotions to motivate, communicate, and liberate others. They know how to keep disappointment or frustration in check – sharing if it is appropriate, and with a sensitivity for how it might impact others. But leaders who control their emotions so much that they come across as void of feeling, empathy, or authenticity, need to understand the lack-luster impact they are having.
Emotional leadership does not mean over-the-top exhibition of random emotions. It is the appropriate demonstration of emotions as part of communicating, connecting, and changing. Emotional leadership is above all the mark of character in a leader – appreciating that people need an emotional connection as well as cognitive. It is an aspect of leadership that has never been more critical.