Feelings Are Facts: Why Emotions Should Be a Part of Your Leadership Training

Much of the mythology about leadership encourages managers to ignore the emotional side of relationship development. Many are admonished to “leave your feelings at home.” This is high-risk behavior for two reasons. 1) It is impossible and 2) even if it were possible, it would be extremely unwise. Effective leadership training will help participants understand the connection between dealing effectively with human emotions and creating high performance work teams.

Have you ever arrived at work in the morning feeling pretty good only to become grumpy, out of sorts, and aggravated by the end of the day? Has your supervisor ever told you, “You shouldn’t feel that way”? When you get home, has your spouse ever said, “Leave that stuff at the office”? At those moments, you clearly recognize the futility of such commands. It simply doesn’t matter that your manager, or your friend, or your spouse thinks that you should or shouldn’t feel a certain way. The way you feel is the way you feel.

This is important because people make decisions based on how they feel. No matter how logical, analytical, or rational we may believe we are, at some level, we still make decisions based on emotion. Emotion is not something we can remove from the decision making process simply because we don’t believe it belongs there.

It is an inherent part of all human problem solving and decision-making. Telling employees or managers to ignore their feelings or the feelings of their team members is the organizational equivalent of saying, “While you are in this building, there is no gravity.” Such an announcement would, of course, be ludicrous. You would not design and construct a building based on the assumption that there is no gravity. That would be a highly unstable building.

It would be equally absurd to design and build a management structure based on the false assumption that emotions will not play a significant role in your organization’s decision making. That would be a highly unstable organization. Whether you like it or not, whether you think it should or shouldn’t be that way, “Feelings are Facts.” No amount of wishing, directing, or training will change that.

Leadership Training Helps Handle Emotions

What leadership training can do is help leaders learn to deal with feelings in the way that they would deal with any other facts that are important to the organization’s success. You would not want a manager of the credit department to make lending decisions without data about the applicant’s credit history. You would want them to make such decisions with due consideration to all of the facts.

Similarly, you would not want organizational leaders to make important procedural, performance, incentive, policy or personnel decisions without all of the facts. So, how do leaders learn to deal with the emotional side of human decision-making?

Leaders need to learn about the fundamental nature of organizational relationships and what it takes to make them function properly. An organization is a group of people with a function to perform in various relationships with one another. The organization will perform that function to the degree that those relationships work or don’t work.

In other words, it is the leader’s job to create the conditions under which employees are most likely to develop mature, effective, working relationships. If this doesn’t happen, the work doesn’t get done. Gone are the days (if there ever really were such days) that a leader could depend entirely on her or his technical ability to be a successful leader.

Leadership is about Relationships

leaders leadership training emotions relationshipLeaders need to recognize that the basic unit of any organization is the relationship between two people. An organizational relationship will be defined formally by organizational charts, reporting relationships, customer-supplier requirements, team membership and informally by friendship, shared values, team-spirit, and loyalty (or enmity, isolation, disloyalty, etc.).

Many leaders are reluctant to contend with these realities because they don’t know how, because they are afraid, or because they have mistakenly been taught that it is inappropriate to do so.

Typical ways of avoiding such matters include, sarcasm, over-generalizing, changing the subject, over-dependence on power (“Just do what I say.”), or dehumanizing (“This is not about you and me, it’s about the organization. You don’t matter”). On the surface, these avoidance behaviors seem simple, but in truth they add layers of complication to matters that could be easily resolved. Persistent avoidance on the part of an organization’s leaders allows problems to go unresolved until they become too big to be dealt with one-on-one. This is costly.

If a team member is afraid or resentful or suspicious, that emotion will have a negative effect on his or her performance. If unaddressed, it may also undermine the leader’s relationship with the team member. On the other hand, if that team member is confident, optimistic, alert, and full of energy and good will, he or she is much more likely to do good work, be creative, and pitch in when the team needs a little extra effort.

Leadership training should teach basic communication skills that allow participants to deal with the emotional side of their job. Such methods have been known and taught for many decades. There is nothing new, risky, or experimental about any of the basic communication skills needed to be a highly successful leader. Those skills include the ability to:

  • Distinguish among observation, inference, and judgment.
  • Fully understand the point of view of another person (including their emotions) and provide evidence of that understanding.
  • State clearly and unambiguously one’s own needs (including your emotions).
  • Resolve disputes equitably.
  • Recognize when to use which skill.

If your company’s leadership training fails to deal with this part of the equation, your organizational leaders may be poorly equipped to deal with the nuts and bolts of team members’ concerns about where they stand with you or with one another, with the day to day frustrations that come with difficult projects, with worry about upcoming organizational changes, or any number of highly charged stumbling blocks to performance. These are not issues that can be turned over to Human Resources. The group’s leader needs the skills to deal with these challenges every day.

These are the building blocks of Dr. Thomas Gordon’s Leader Effectiveness Training. These skills are fundamental and provide the foundation for other tools and methods that are useful and helpful for organizational leaders.

Learn more about L.E.T.