Leader, how are you feeling?

Author Henley

Published 17.6.2020


For us Finns, it is difficult to express our feelings and we tend to be fact-based leaders. However, right now is a good opportunity to learn how to lead emotions. Due to the coronavirus epidemic, we are living through difficult times – emotions are storming and leaders’ ability to lead their organisation’s emotional climate is emphasised. According to research, the atmosphere among the personnel has a direct impact on a company's renewal and financial success.

In Finland, our ability to lead emotional climate cannot be taken for granted. According to my recent research, Finnish leaders emphasise rational thinking during crises and try to regulate emotions. However, emotions can provide valuable information to leaders. Properly led, emotions increase energy and help people to focus on the essentials.

During crises, leaders create scenarios and build alternative strategies. Their agenda may include digitisation of services or renewal of product portfolios. The focus is on changes, which is good. However, renewal is hardly possible if people get exhausted or lose their confidence. Therefore, it is important to take emotions into account – to help people cope, trust, renew and innovate. This is a prerequisite for successful crisis management.
Thus, it is worth investing in leading emotions. Each of us can learn them, and I encourage leaders to start a personal change journey towards accepting, recognising and leading emotions.

Accepting emotions

Developing emotional skills starts with your own attitude. It is essential to accept that human beings are more than rational thinkers – even when working. All kinds of emotions belong to human life, and tough situations like crisis bring them to the surface. Do you give yourself and others space to express negative feelings such as insecurity, disappointment, fear or sadness? Or do you turn your eyes away, or change the subject? Are you in the opinion that at work everyone should be positive?

I encourage leaders to perceive emotions with an open mind and curiosity. In the current uncertainty with COVID-19, it is important to listen to your team’s concerns and fears. You can lead both your own and others’ feelings, but only if you allow expressing emotions first and if you are attentive and open to them.

Recognising emotions

Also the recognition of emotions starts with yourself. What leaders do not recognise in themselves, they are unable to identify in others. Recognising emotions is a great way to regulate them – emotions that are raised into awareness reduce impulsive behaviour, while suppressing emotions can cause unpredictable reactions and lack of emotional control. When emotions are expressed and discussed, the organisation can steer energy towards the right things.

Recognising your own feelings is like learning a new language. It takes practice and courage to use these skills. It allows you to name emotions, describe them and have a dialogue with them. This kind of reflection develops emotional intelligence that strengthens connection with other people as well as increases confidence and a psychological safety. To develop your emotional ‘language skills’ you also need the ability to understand the emotional language of others and to express emotions verbally.

Leading by example

Emotionally skilled leaders take responsibility for their own feelings. They do not pour their own anxiety or worries on the organisation nor burst out their emotions unfiltered. They understand that emotions are contagious and that is why they pay attention to their own communication and words used.

Emotionally skilled leaders set an example to their organisation on how to accept one’s emotions. They also dare to show their vulnerability. They are genuine but not impulsive. They dare to say that they do not know something. And they tolerate criticism and negativity around them as these also provide them with information and signals.

The leader’s example of accepting and recognising emotions as well as expressing them constructively is important, especially in times of crisis. The executive’s emotional communication is like an anchor for the team. A balanced and professionally communicating leader creates trust and psychological safety among the team members and motivates them.

In leading the organisation’s emotional climate, it is worth setting goals high, as a strong emotional atmosphere offers companies a significant competitive advantage. Customers, stakeholders, and personnel benefit when emotions are allowed to be shown, used, and channelled into renewal and growth.