"Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision, or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal: Great leadership works through the emotions" (Daniel Goleman et al 2004)
What exactly do your emotions have to do with leadership? Haven't we all been taught from early in our careers to leave our emotions at home and not bring them with us into the workplace?
Despite the introduction of Goleman's concept of emotional intelligence into many frameworks of leadership, the workplace remains for many, a place where leaders are expected to stay focused and productive regardless of what emotional turbulence they may be experiencing.
This can work some of the time, but certainly not all the time. Leaders are human beings who have the instinctive need to express themselves physically, mentally, emotionally and dare I say it? Even spiritually.
Throughout history and in cultures everywhere, the leader of any group is the one person to whom others look for assurance and clarity especially when facing uncertainty and threat. The leader acts as the group's emotional guide. Individuals earn their place as leader because their leadership was emotionally compelling. They demonstrate the ability to drive the collective emotions towards the positive range of enthusiasm and energy, thereby enabling performance to soar.
The dictionary defines a leader as someone who guides, influences and inspires others. Take a moment to think about who you would define as a great leader? A role model who guided you to make the best decisions, who inspired you to be the best you could be, who was always there offering support and challenge in the right mix, someone who spoke to your soul? Get a clear picture of that person in your mind's eye. Now, shift your attention inside, how do you feel? If you feel happy, energized, confident and appreciated then the chances are your role model was leading from the heart.
Leading from the heart requires a willingness to look within, and to have developed a greater level of self awareness than most. It requires that we as leaders know ourselves and how our emotions have a fundamental impact on our behavior and decision making and ultimately on our people. It requires developing a leadership presence, so that we can be there for our people, recognizing others' emotions and managing relationships effectively. If we can't manage our own emotions then how can we inspire positive emotions in others?
This greater level of self awareness opens up the way for a powerful more intuitive approach to leadership. Intuition is the essential leadership ability to apply not just technical expertise but also life wisdom when making business decisions. It can be challenging for many leaders to embrace this amidst the plethora of hard data and analytical driven decisions usual in many organizations. However, according to neurological research, attuning to our feelings helps us to find the meaning in the data which leads to a better quality of decision being made (Damasio 1994)
The fundamental task for you as one of today's leaders is to enable both people and performance to flourish, thus it seems to follow that exceptional leaders need to catalyze good feelings in those they lead. This premise was reinforced recently when I was coaching a CEO of a retail chain, who's primary goal was to improve the sales of the poor performing stores and bring them into line with stores who repeatedly outperformed their budgets. Further investigation revealed that the atmosphere of the stores was having a considerable effect on customer spending. Those stores with upbeat moods invariably had sales executives interacting with customers, enabling customers to have an enjoyable experience and feel that the store was a "nice place to shop". The research demonstrated that in these stores, sales assistants were more inclined to please customers, generating more repeat visits and word of mouth advertising. Interestingly, it was found that the store manager was crucial in creating the emotional climate that impacted sales assistants and ultimately improved sales. When the managers were confident, optimistic and enthusiastic the moods rubbed off on the sales staff and ultimately the customers. This transference of mood was found to have transferred directly from the senior team, to the regional team, to the store team, store staff and ultimately the customers. So leaders throughout the organization needed to be made aware of their impact on sales!
Our people want us to recognize our own moods so we can recognize theirs. They need us to notice their pain and to validate their experience, even when we don't agree. So take the time to listen actively beyond the words that are spoken. Confirm others' emotions by paraphrasing what they are saying and respond authentically from your heart with a simple action of a smile, some encouragement or listening for a little while longer.
Take the time to get to know yourself and notice others. Practice engaging your intuition, and balancing this with the analytical approach to facts and figures when making business decisions. Notice how your interactions will become deeper and more fulfilling, for you and those around you as you practice leading from the heart.
Jayne Warrilow is founder and CEO of 2 international companies: the Max Coaching Academy and Max Executive Coaching. Jayne specializes in working with senior executives across the globe combining a flair for strategic thinking with a passion for harnessing the clients own intuitive power. She has over 15 years coaching experience and is passionate about coaching as the singular, most effective path for individualized leadership development. She enjoys guiding coaches towards their learning edge so that when they step into the unknown with their client, and allow their intuition to step forward - the results are simply staggering. Her research is offering new insights into leading cross-culturally. For more info visit
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