Emotional Expressiveness for Leaders

  • 5 mins read

“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, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, Primal Leadership (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013)

How well do the leaders in your organization express their emotions? What about you? Do you appropriately articulate your feelings? Do you use emotional expressiveness to persuade and inspire others?
Leaders are responsible for their organizations’ energy levels. While research has demonstrated a strong link among excitement, commitment and business results, many leaders stumble at emotional expressiveness. They hesitate to express both positive and negative emotions in an effort to maintain credibility, authority and gravitas. Consequently, they’re losing one of the best tools for achieving impact.

Emotional Intelligence

“The role of emotional maturity in leadership is crucial.”

~ Kathy Lubar and Belle Linda Halpern, Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate and Inspire (Penguin Group, USA, 2004)
MBA programs don’t teach emotional expressiveness, although professors often address emotional intelligence as an important leadership quality.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your – and others’ – moods and emotions, and it’s a critical component of effective leadership. Leaders at all organizational levels must master:

  1. Appraisal and expression of emotions
  2. Use of emotion to enhance cognitive processes and decision-making
  3. The psychology of emotions
  4. Appropriate management of emotions

Every message has an emotional component, so leaders must learn to articulate and express their feelings. Mastering this objective inspires your team in five essential domains:

  1. Developing collective goals
  2. Instilling an appreciation of work’s importance
  3. Generating and maintaining enthusiasm, confidence, optimism, cooperation and trust
  4. Encouraging flexibility in decision-making and change management
  5. Establishing and maintaining a meaningful organizational identity

Leaders create authentic relationships by expressing interest in their people and showing empathy. They must also learn to express their emotions publicly.

Myths about Emotions

When leaders communicate, they often focus on message clarity and overlook its important emotional component. To generate excitement, they need to master their emotional expressiveness.
But most leaders demonstrate resistance. They cling to long-standing assumptions that showing emotions:

  • Is unbecoming
  • Undermines authority
  • Reveals a lack of control
  • Conveys irrationality
  • Indicates weakness and vulnerability
  • Isn’t masculine (and is, therefore, too feminine)

Men in leadership positions don’t want to come across as dictatorial, angry or moody. Their female counterparts avoid showing emotions because they believe it plays into stereotypes about women being high-strung.

Does Your Head Overrule Your Heart?

In business, we’re highly respected for our sharp minds, to the extent that we frequently squelch our emotional voices.
Peter Bregman addresses this issue in “Don’t Let Your Head Attack Your Heart,” a July 2014 Harvard Business Review blog post:
We are trained and rewarded, in schools and in organizations, to lead with a fast, witty and critical mind. And it serves us well. The mind can be logical, clear, incisive and powerful. It perceives, positions, politics and protects. One of its many talents is to defend us from emotional vulnerability, which it does, at times, with jokes and quick repartee.
The heart, on the other hand, has no comebacks, no quips. Gentle, slow and unprotected, an open heart is easily attacked, especially by a frightened mind. And feelings scare the mind.
It’s no wonder that leaders become entrenched in a comfort zone of data, facts and ideas. But failure to show emotions makes leaders far less effective. Without recognizing our feelings, our ability to make wise decisions is impaired.

3 Basic Techniques

Lubar and Halpern offer three guidelines for developing expressiveness that inspires others, influences change and drives business results.
1. Generate Excitement
Creating excitement begins with showing enthusiasm and fighting the urge to suppress it. You’ll deepen your bond with others by revealing your humanity and vulnerability.
Anger, frustration and pain, when properly expressed, also bring us closer to one another. Never forget, however, that expressing emotion has a powerful effect, so think before you emote.
2. Put Nonverbal Cues to Work
While the words you choose play an important role in your message’s emotional impact, research tells us that facial and body cues may be even more significant.
Albert Mehrabian, a professor emeritus of psychology at UCLA, conducted studies that revealed:

  • Words account for only 7% of a speaker’s impact.
  • Vocal tone is responsible for 38%.
  • Body language trumps them both at an astounding 55%.

Despite these game-changing findings, most of us spend 99% of our time on crafting language when planning a presentation – and a mere 1% on how we’re going to convey our message.
You lose credibility when your face and body send different messages. You may not even be aware of your “tics”: unconscious movements or gestures that are out of sync with how you truly feel.
Speak from your core values to achieve alignment. If you’re struggling, consider hiring an experienced executive coach. The challenge is too important to ignore. Your overall leadership presence ultimately determines whether you’re perceived as a strong candidate for promotion.
3. Find and Express a Passionate
Purpose-Leaders generally try to explain or relay information. This very act lacks energy, passion and/or tension. Instead of using dry, colorless verbs to convey your point, substitute action words that carry emotional intensity.
For example, don’t “make an announcement to explain upcoming changes.” Instead, “challenge people to make some adjustments” or “overcome obstacles to success.” Focus on what truly matters: your passionate purpose.
Connect with your inner passions by asking yourself:

  • What am I fighting for?
  • What do others want?
  • What are the obstacles?Use your answers to choose verbs that capture your passionate purpose.

Never forget that every human interaction – from meetings and presentations to memos and face-to-face conversations – involves needs and desires, real or potential conflicts. These pivotal moments are opportunities to change minds and influence behavior. Your goal is to identify the desired change or problem to be overcome and invest it with energy and passion.

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