Leaders face a variety of pressures and expectations in today’s corporate environment. Their responses to these pressures vary, as do the personalities behind them. Ineffective or (worse) toxic cultures are a result of leaders who respond to trials in detrimental ways. Consistently effective management requires a high inner stability, making emotional health one of the most critical attributes a leader can have to keep an organization running well.
Studies and statistics tell us the woes of employees dealing with leaders who make life difficult. The rates of disengagement and turnover attest, in part, to how leaders can make work an undesirable experience. Leaders who cause cultures to have low morale, disunity or distrust are likely to have deficient emotional health. Often this condition stresses the emotional health of everyone.
If you were to take a step back, would you be able to sense any emotionally difficult aspects of your leadership role? Would you say they inhibit your performance, or the performance of those reporting to you? If so, you may need to address your emotional health.
Anyone can allow emotions to override discernment or rational thinking. When this happens to a leader, decision making and solution generation are compromised. Emotions can get the best of a leader, and unfortunate things happen. Those who can find the proper balance of thought and feeling have the greatest advantage for managing well.
Emotional balance requires knowing your tendencies. Leaders must be cognizant of their emotional inclinations in order to address any shortcomings and correct them. This is one of the most challenging areas of leadership. In addition to technical skills and people skills, emotional skills require the deepest self-discovery. They require an accurate self-awareness that often calls for honest feedback from others. No one is the best judge of their own emotional state.
Self-awareness is a subset of emotional intelligence (EI), the ability to understand and manage emotions to maximize the effectiveness of relationships, behavior and decision making.
Although emotions can range from very positive to very negative, negative emotions—including anger, contempt, disgust, guilt, fear, and nervousness—typically interfere with effective leadership and cause unfortunate aftereffects.
To assess your emotional tendencies, note and identify emotions, primarily during moments of stress or trial. Make a habit of stepping back to identify the emotion of the moment. Patterns may appear.
Do you find yourself easily angered or openly frustrated? Do fears or anxieties tend to make you hesitate or become unable to make tough decisions? Are your relationships suffering from resentments or pessimism you can’t seem to break? How is this impacting your culture? Try to identify these emotions and identify thoughts or actions that precede them.
While we can’t control how others behave, we can control our responses. Are your responses healthy? In other words, are they adding value? Are they justified? These are all aspects of the emotional assessment in being self-aware.
Defense mechanisms of avoidance, intimidation, denial or over-delegating are a result of an emotional inability to manage situations in a healthy way. If you find yourself repeatedly resorting to these tactics, you will benefit by evaluating why you have difficulty coping with stress. Consider working with a trusted mentor or executive coach for objective feedback and support in identifying and working through issues. Make a plan to begin an improvement process.
Enduring Under Stress
Every leadership position faces stress. It comes with the territory. The key is not to let it get the best of you; emotions make stressful moments worse. Leaders can’t be optimally effective when emotions interfere with their discernment or decision making.
Once damaging emotions can be identified, the effect they have on your leadership role becomes clearer. For example, anxiety not only inhibits decisions but shows your people an unreliable trait that loses their trust. Who will they count on to lead them through stormy seas? Anger causes resentment, distrust and withdrawal in your people. Their productivity suffers under these conditions, and that feeds more anger, replaying a vicious cycle.
A key to enduring under stress is to evaluate situations as objectively as possible, step back to grasp the need for rational responses, and maintain a strong, reliable composure. Emotions are important for a leader but must be balanced in healthy proportions with other traits. In Emotional Health & Leadership, the Global Leadership Foundation asserts that positive emotions, rational thought, and gut feel have a place in discernment and decision making. Find the best ratios for each instance.
Filtering out stress and negative emotions becomes easier when trials are treated as situations requiring calm rather than reflex. The key is to get better at making thoughtful, constructive responses rather than automatic reactions. Taking responsibility for your responses requires forethought and conditioning to step back and think— before acting. These are all behaviors worth practicing and perfecting.
Leaders who rely on their proven abilities and strengths respond to trials with more confidence. They trust their skills and are not overly concerned about how others judge them. Do you find yourself worrying more about your reputation than fixing your organization’s problems? You might be under-confident, anticipating the worst, or taking the trial as a personal incrimination. Enduring under stress is enhanced by making your focus less about your personal welfare and more about the company’s.
Do you see assignments as opportunities, or burdens? Are you typically optimistic, or cynical? Do you forgive people, or hold onto grudges? Do you spend your time seeking solutions, or blame? The detrimental side of these questions is prompted by unhealthy emotions, caused by a negative mindset.
Develop a more positive outlook. Making unjustified assumptions or judgements leads to unfortunate decisions. Leaders who rely more on facts and past experiences find healthier solutions. A positive outlook is the key to the most positive results. It also inspires positivity in others.
Learning to filter negative emotions brings forth more positive, helpful ones. This creates a more inviting and engaging culture, where people and their perspectives are valued. Become an expert in your emotional state. A leader who is emotionally healthy has the most opportunity to head a healthy organization.