Monday, September 13, 2010

The Secret Great Leaders Know About Emotion

I used to believe my emotions were a weakness, and I’m sharing this information with the hope you can avoid the painful lesson I had to learn.
Do you believe your emotions are weaknesses you must suppress to succeed? What if I told you that your emotions were not an obstacle to success but a critical ingredient in your success?
I believed my emotions were a weakness, and the results were ugly.
About two years ago, I read a couple of books that explained my problem and what to do about it. The first was Executive EQ and the second was Leadership: The Inner Side of Greatness.
Here are some of the secrets in these books:
Great leaders accept their feelings and allow themselves to feel their feelings fully. That’s right! They allow themselves to feel their fear in all its intensity. They don’t try to suppress it or step around it or deny it. They don’t fight it. They accept it and feel it. A great leader doesn’t believe something is wrong with him when he feels a particular feeling. Wow! What an eye opener! Tiger Woods feels fear too! He knows that denying his feelings leads to physical and emotional exhaustion. I never knew that. I thought I was a freak for feeling the things I felt.
Great leaders know the difference between conscious emotional action and impulsive emotional re-action. Some might call this emotional maturity. When children feel angry they may hit people or break things. This is an emotional re-action. Some of us don’t know how to stop re-acting impulsively to our emotions and it carries into adulthood. When we feel a particular way, we re-act negatively or we channel one emotion to a different emotion and re-act incongruently. For example – a man may feel that he cannot re-act to his sorrow, so he channels his sorrow into anger and re-acts violently instead. It is impulsive re-action most people think of when they imagine an emotional person.
Great leaders feel their emotion, name their emotions, and act on them. For example: A great warrior will feel her fear in battle, understand that she is afraid, and interpret it as a message to act with courage. A Native American friend once told me, “In my culture, we are taught to trust our feelings. We do not shun feelings. We understand they are messages from nature that we need to take action. Feelings are messages from the spirit world.”
Great leaders trust their intuition. Intuition is the art of knowing without reasoning. Great leaders know that intuition is the shortcut to making great decisions quickly. We can all access our intuition if we learn to listen to our hunches. As a child, I solved complex math problems correctly using only intuition, and the teacher punished me for cheating and told me what I was doing was impossible. I had no desire to write out pages of work to solve a problem that I already knew the answer to. After that, I gave up on math and my intuition. I learned the lesson my teacher was teaching. It took me almost thirty years to unlearn that lesson.
Great leaders broadcast positive emotions. Great leaders have learned to use their minds to feel and broadcast Love, Hope, Desire, Sex Appeal, Confidence, Joy, Trust, and Faith to other people. Watch the great speeches from MLK to Steve Jobs. How do they make you feel? Where do you think that comes from?
Great leaders do the seemingly impossible using imagination combined with positive emotion. They create a novel, a piece of artwork, a political movement, a military victory, an invention, or a great theory, by first imagining it in detail while feeling positive emotions like passion, love, and faith. Without intense focused emotions, there would be no world changing creations.
My Story
When I was child, people told me I was overly sensitive. Since the second grade, I believed I had an emotional birth defect that I had to overcome.
I’ve always felt that I was able to walk into a room and sense other people’s feelings. If someone was secretly angry, I could feel it. If someone was genuine, I could feel it. If someone held resentment or hate, I could feel it. If someone was full of love, I could feel that too. This whole situation seemed insane and voyeuristic. I don’t mean that I knew how other people felt; I mean that I actually felt their feelings. So if someone was talking to me while feeling afraid, I felt afraid too.
At some point I realized, that boys aren’t supposed to feel that way. I began to suppress and deny my emotions because I believed they were a weakness. So in order to control the re-actions which revealed my emotions, I suppressed and denied my sadness, fear, or any other emotion that could lead to a socially damaging re-action.
The results of this method of self-denial were devastating. I turned into an emotional black-hole, devoid of empathy, with all my denied emotions manifesting in destructive actions (substance abuse, criminal activity, violence) and psychiatric issues (depression and panic attacks). My wife once described me as “completely black and empty on the inside.”
My experience is an extreme example. But I believe most people suppress their emotions to some degree. Suppressing your emotions won’t solve your problems because emotions will always find a way to manifest. But there is a solution.
Your emotions are your strength, not your weakness. It just depends upon how you think about them.
To be great, learn to feel great.

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