The Emotions of Leaders

Think about the most admired and respected leaders you know... Now ask yourself what is it that makes them stand out from the rest?

Whilst I am sure their list of accomplishments are as impressive as they are extensive, a more likely reason is we admire and respect because they have connected with us at an emotional level.

So can anyone become an admired and respected leader, and where do I start? The good news yes. Everyone has the ability to develop emotional skills. Lets look at 5 key skills that will have an immediate impact on you and those around you.


1. Self Awareness

Self awareness is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence, as it revolves around recognising the emotions that you experience, identifying the feelings associated with them, and understanding what you think and do as a result. More importantly, it is about recognising that we have the power to control our emotions, and not be controlled by them.

So, how can you develop self awareness?

  • Keep a journal and reflect on your experiences. What transpired, how did you feel, and how did you react.
  • Conduct an honest self-assessment of your strengths and limitations, and ask others for their feedback.
  • Complete a personality or behavioural assessment to discover your values, skills and abilities.

Plutchik's Wheel of Emotion


Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotion is one of the most influential classification approaches for general emotional responses, and a fantastic tool to help us understand and link feelings to emotions.


Positive Feelings Emotions Negative Feelings
Optimism Anticipation + Joy Disapproval
Love Joy + Trust Remorse
Submission Trust + Fear Contempt
Awe Fear + Surprise Aggression
Disapproval Surprise + Sadness Optimism
Remorse Sadness + Disgust Love
Contempt Disgust + Anger Submission
Aggression Anger + Anticipation Awe
2. Self Confidence

The ability to be decisive and make sound decisions despite uncertainties and pressure, or voice views that are unpopular and go out on a limb for what is right are important skills for leaders in times of change. 

So, how can you develop self confidence?

  • Be Prepared: Know all there is to know about yourself and your job, your people and their job, your competitors and the industry.
  • Body Language: How you hold yourself often reflects how you act. Positive badly language promotes confidence.
  • Never Give Up: Don't succumb to mediocrity and accept second best. Success in times of adversity boosts confidence.
3. Empathy

The ability to understand or feel what another person is experiencing is a critical skill of leaders. Empathy does not mean you should change your decisions because of how others might feel, it does however mean you should make an effort to look at things from their perspective.

So, how can you develop empathy?

  • Active Listening: Don't just listed to what people say, listen to how they say it. Take the time to learn more about others.
  • Express Yourself: Be fearless in the way you express your feelings. Make an effort to share how you feel with others.
  • Other People's Shoes: Make a conscious effort to look at issues from the perspective of others.


4. Self Control

The ability to manage disruptive emotions and impulses is an important skill that allows leaders to stay composed, focussed and positive even in the most trying of moments. Self control does not mean being polite and refraining from speaking your mind, it does however mean knowing when and how to express yourself.

So, how can you develop self control?

  • Eat Right: Ensure you have a healthy balanced diet with slow burning carbs. The brain burns glucose when exerting self-control. 
  • Exercise: As little as 10 minutes a day can help to release neurotransmitters that make your brain feel soothed and in control of your impulses.
  • Sleep: The brain’s ability to control impulses is nil without glucose, and a lack of sleep diminishes the brains ability to absorb glucose.


5. Optimism

The ability to operate from hope of success rather than fear of failure, and persist in pursuing goals despite obstacles and setbacks is often what separates good leaders from great leaders. Optimism promotes self confidence and risk taking, and spreads like wild fire when nurtured.

So, how can you develop optimism?

  • Foster Positivity: You are only as good as the company you keep. Surround yourself with positive people.
  • Be Realistic: Keeping things in perspective helps prevent things from being blown out of proportion.
  • Positive Reinforcement: Feed your optimism with positive reminders. Display statements that inspire hope.

Whilst there are a host of other emotional skills highly effective leaders display, these are 5 that we believe have the biggest impact on ourselves and those around us. 

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