The Importance of Emotional Leadership – Heart over Head

The Importance of Emotional Leadership – Heart over Head

Every one is a leader in one aspect or another. Be it leader at work, at home, at school, at a party, among friends, siblings, etc., etc., We are all born with some innate talent that we hardly relate to as leadership qualities. The essence of leadership as we all know is touching the hearts, minds and souls. This article is about how to do that through emotions.

We know emotions can be contagious, and it is widely believed that positive emotions are more contagious than negative. That’s why “A good sense of humor and a smile”, have the irresistible power to make ourselves to smile, changing our state of mind. Smile besides being a good social relationship has the crucial ingredient to achieve motivation and to get commitment of people as for a good professional performance.

Over the last few decades, there has been a conscious awareness that to be termed as successful, one has to have the characteristics of a leader. If I look back at my career spanning over the last 30 years, the one thing that clearly comes out is, whenever I made an emotional decision, most often the decision turned out to have a negative impact or consequence. When we talk about emotions in the workplace, we generally know that we relate them to fear, anger, ego, disrespect, criticism etc. that has negative connotation, and which leads to stress, dissatisfaction and apathy towards our colleagues, superiors and subordinates.

As Daniel Goleman outlines in his book on Emotional Intelligence (EI), EI is the ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions, and to recognize and influence others’ emotions, which is a critical leadership  skill. He says emotions are a natural part of us and emotional intelligence can be improved. Displaying Emotional Intelligence in our interactions and communication with others is a vital characteristics of a good leader. He says it is not just being diplomatic and polite; it’s about accepting and understanding a different point of view first so they can listen to us and then we can correct it.

As illustrated in Goleman’s book, the different dimensions of Emotional intelligence is shown the picture.


There is an interesting equation to Leadership, which is Head + Hand + Heart = Leadership. It is a model to help leaders develop executive presence, leadership influence, and authenticity that is used in the US military as a Leadership Requirement Model. Emotions represent the “heart” in the Head + Hands + Heart equation of leadership. This is where leaders demonstrate that they care about and can connect with others. The emotions of individuals can either activate and motivate the team, or move them to disassociate from the goal and passively comply. Leaders who engage the capabilities (hands) and intellect (heads) of their team but fail to engage their minds and emotions (hearts) will find that there’s a missing link to maximizing performance. And it’s all about balance. Effective leaders are able to strike the right balance between the Head, Heart and Hand. This will help leaders build a foundation of Trust, self-awareness, appreciations of other’s capabilities, and providing inspiration.

John Maxwell says that “The greatest gap in life is the one between knowing (mind) and doing (hand).” The doing is enabled by becoming a person of worth through our emotions (heart). The renowned leadership expert Robin Sharma says “A strong Mindset without a healed Heartset, calibrated Healthset and elevated Soulset is a empty victory”.


Leaders live in a VUCA world. Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous which is the new normal. To navigate through the VUCA, leaders need to have Vision, Understanding, Clarity and Agility, the new VUCA. What drives the leader from VUCA to the new VUCA is how the leader uses his/her emotions to drive this change.

Considering the daily challenges that the leader faces, often time the leader needs to take quick decisions based on the information they have. For that, a leader needs to be in a state of Flow. Being in that state means, there is more focus on what you are doing, thereby being more productive. If you are not in a state of flow, you are stuck. And being stuck means you are in an emotional state of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt or (FUD). And as leaders we can take the steps to overcome the emotions that are keeping us stuck.


There is a 3-step process to being un-stuck, which is 1. Recognize, 2. Reframe, and 3. Resume. First is to recognize the emotion, or being aware of its existence, and accepting it. This awareness helps the leader to pause and reflect on the situation. In order to move from feeling helpless to feeling empowered, you gain fresh insights by re-framing the situation you are in. Once you have re-framed the situation, you gain new perspective on how to manage the situation, therefore you resume to counter the situation and make it more empowering and useful. So you have moved from an un-resourceful state to a resourceful state.


In the book “Primal Leadership”, Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie Mckee describe six distinct emotional leadership styles. Each of these styles has a different effect on people’s emotions, and each has its own strengths and weaknesses in different situations. Four of these styles (Visionary, Coaching, Affiliative, and Democratic) promote harmony and positive outcomes, while the other two styles (Commanding and Pacesetting) can create tension, and should be used only in certain situations. They argue that these styles should be used interchangeably depending on the specific needs of the situation.


Emotional deficiency is a killer. Leaders should refrain from demonstrating poor emotional leadership. Otherwise, they appear in-secure, or lack empathy, they are more talk-focused and fewer people focused and they lack sufficient relationship building skills. In short, they misdirect. It is important therefore to find these leaders and coach them to change these killer behaviours.

There are several ways leaders can manage their emotions and can influence the emotions of others.

  1. Identifying the stakeholders
  2. Anticipate how they feel
  3. Acknowledge their feelings and concerns
  4. Identify what they can do
  5. Invite ideas and inputs
  6. Communicate

It is critical therefore in ensuring organizations develop emotional leaders who value not only the capabilities, skillsets, and intellect of their teams and colleagues, but also recognize the importance of engaging leaders as individuals with a wide range of heartfelt needs. These emotional leaders are so important to the business, because they effectively manage their own emotions and positively influence the emotions of others to reach individual and organizational goals.

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