How a leader responds during their most difficult moments will ultimately define their success. Emotionally competent leaders are aware of their feelings when experiencing fear, anger, loss, or frustration and choose actions that align with their core values. The ability to effectively navigate uncertainty, complexity, and change for themselves, their teams, and the organization is an essential leadership skill set.
The best leaders demonstrate a high degree of emotional awareness and regulation that enables them to bring their best selves to charged and complex situations.
5 Practices Of Emotionally Competent Leaders
1) Understand Emotional Triggers
We all have situations or behaviors that trigger our negative emotions. Understanding situations at work that cause you the most frustration, anger, or anxiety allows you to be prepared for how to best respond during those situations. The Leadership Development Institute’s research found that the most common behavioral triggers for negative emotional responses in the workplace were perceiving others as unreliable, unappreciative, micro-managing, abrasive, hostile, overly analytical, aloof, self-centered, or untrustworthy. Which of these behaviors are your “hottest” triggers for feeling negative emotions?
Another way to become aware when your negative emotions are triggered is to understand how your body reacts when encountering a threatening workplace situation. As physical signals are tangible, they tend to be easier to recognize than being aware of your emotional state. Some of the most common physical responses when experiencing negative emotions are a clenched jaw, shallow and increased breathing, a rapid heart rate, a sinking feeling in your stomach, a flushed face, and an increase in sweat. What are the most common physical indicators that you experience when you are feeling negative emotions?
2) Pause Before Action
Great leaders resist the natural urge to react immediately during difficult situations and use their emotions to inform their actions instead of letting emotions define their behaviors. Every leader has experienced moments at work when they have acted in a manner that causes them to look back with regret and remorse. A leader’s negative emotions signal that they are seeing the world through a distorted lens. When we encounter high-stress situations, our advanced thinking processes like strategic thinking, trust-building, and compassion automatically shut down. Our instinctive brain tells us it is time to fight, flight, or freeze.
Taking a short time to Pause is a hard thing to do, especially in the heat of the moment because our mind tells us to react when we feel threatened. Pausing allows leaders to regain their balance and perspective before choosing their best actions that align with their values and goals.
3) High-Level Of Emotional Awareness
Leaders who develop the ability to identify and label their negative feelings become less stressed, which allows them to think more clearly and creatively when finding constructive solutions. Research clearly shows those who are the quickest to recover from distress are the people who can identify their feelings and put those feeling into words. As scientists like to say, naming an emotion helps you tame it. Below are three ways to identify and label your negative emotions.
- Talk to a trusted friend about how you feel
- Identify and write down your feelings
- Go somewhere where you can say out loud what you are feeling
The chart below can help leaders learn to be more precise when labeling their emotions.
4) Long-Term Orientation
Emotionally competent leaders do not blame circumstances or conditions for their behavior. During challenging interactions, a leader can establish a long-term orientation by aligning their “in the moment” intentions to their goals and values, which helps them to:
- Shift the focus off barriers and towards what they hope to achieve
- Choose actions that represent their values
- Live in harmony with their larger purpose
- Not react to temporary negative emotions
Taking the time to answer these simple questions enables leaders to bring their best intentions to their most difficult situations.
- What are my long-term goals for this person or group of people?
- What are my best intentions for my next interaction with this person or group of people?
- What are the behaviors that you would like to demonstrate during this situation?
5) Learn From Experience
An ongoing practice of reflection is essential for leaders to evolve and grow their emotional competence. Research shows that practicing reflection increases a leader’s capacity to demonstrate emotional intelligence, social skills, and learning agility. Rolfe et al.’s (2001) reflective model is a simple approach for reflections because it centers around asking three short questions: What? So what? Now what? This practical approach provides a framework to assess previous behaviors, make meaning of the experience, and decide what the experience means for future action. Below are some example questions for you to use to customize your reflection process:
WHAT? – What happened? What did you notice?
SO WHAT? – What worked / What didn’t? What are the connections between this experience and previous experiences?
NOW WHAT? – How will you do things differently or the same next time? What will you do to move forward?
Successful leadership in today’s business environment requires advanced abilities in emotional competence. The good news is that through practicing these skills and ongoing reflection, we can continually grow our awareness of our emotions and learn to choose behaviors that align with our values and goals.
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