Bad News for Buttoned-Up Leaders
"Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us. When we try to explain why they are so effective, we speak of strategy, vision or powerful ideas. But the reality is much more primal. Great leadership works through the emotions.” ~ Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, Primal Leadership (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013)

Most of my emotional intelligence-based executive coaching and mindful leadership development clients are highly intelligent, but struggle in their ability to inspire people emotionally. They bring challenging workplace incidents to our coaching conversations, and ask for feedback on how their communication could be more effective.

We often discuss how great leaders have conversational intelligence. They build trust and get extraordinary results by integrating emotion into connected conversations. We
practice telling stories that connect with people’s hearts and minds breaking the habit of influencing by logic and reason alone.

Emotions at Work

Failure to show emotions makes leaders far less effective. Without recognizing our feelings, our ability to make wise decisions is impaired.

Feelings are often suppressed and go unexplored. We also ignore them in our peers, employees and customers. We assume everyone feels as we do.

In truth, every human interaction is emotionally charged — especially at work. You can try to ignore this reality, but do so at your own peril. Your moods, both positive and negative, are ultimately contagious. Expressing your emotions may make the difference between inspiring employee commitment and perpetuating a culture of ennui.

3 Basic Techniques

Lubar and Halpern offer three guidelines for developing expressiveness that inspires others, influences change and drives business results.

"The role of emotional maturity in leadership is crucial.” ~ Kathy Lubar and Belle Linda Halpern, Leadership Presence: Dramatic Techniques to Reach Out, Motivate and Inspire (Penguin Group, USA, 2004)

1. Generate Excitement

Creating excitement begins with showing enthusiasm and fighting the urge to suppress it. You’ll deepen your bond with others by revealing your humanity and vulnerability.

Anger, frustration and pain, when properly expressed, bring us closer to one another. Never forget, however, that expressing emotion has a powerful effect, so think before you emote. Always wield emotions with thoughtfulness.

Unfortunately, we must address one important caveat: It’s wise for women and members of minority groups to proceed with caution. Like it or not, these groups continue to walk a tightrope between showing authenticity and playing the conformity game.

Yes, we’ve come a long way, but the road to success remains strewn with unspoken rules and hidden prejudices. If you own your emotions and feel completely comfortable with them, you’ll likely be fine.

2. Put Nonverbal Cues to Work

"What makes presence is not just the clothes you wear, the words you speak or how you think. Rather, presence requires alignment between your mind, body and words — to walk the talk, you need a simultaneous focus on all three levers: mental, skill and physical. Your presence is an interconnected system of your beliefs and assumptions, your communication skills and your physical energy.” ~ Amy Jen Su, Own the Room: Discover Your Signature Voice to Master Your Leadership Presence (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013)

While the words you choose play an important role in your message’s emotional impact, research tells us that facial and body cues may be even more significant:
  • Body language and confidence level shape your message’s impact.

  • Tone of voice radiates clarity, energy and passion (or lack thereof).

  • Actual words have the least effect on communication impact.

Albert Mehrabian, a professor emeritus of psychology at UCLA, conducted studies that revealed:
  • Words account for only 7% of a speaker’s impact.

  • Vocal tone is responsible for 38%.

  • Body language trumps them both at an astounding 55%.

Despite these game-changing findings, most of us spend 99% of our time on crafting language when planning a presentation — and a mere 1% on how we’re going to convey our message.

You lose credibility when your face and body send different messages. You may not even be aware of your “tics”: unconscious movements or gestures that are out of sync with how you truly feel.

Speak from your core values to achieve alignment. If you’re struggling, consider hiring an experienced executive coach. The challenge is too important to ignore. Your overall leadership presence ultimately determines whether you’re perceived as a strong candidate for promotion.

3. Find and Express a Passionate Purpose

Imbue your words, actions and stories with passion and authenticity. Every time you want to communicate a message, incorporate specific, dynamic verbs that characterize your intentions.

Leaders generally try to explain or relay information. This very act lacks energy, passion and/or tension. Instead of using dry, colorless verbs to convey your point, substitute action words that carry emotional intensity.

For example, don’t “make an announcement to explain upcoming changes.” Instead, “challenge people to make some adjustments” or “overcome obstacles to success.” Focus on what truly matters: your passionate purpose.

Have you ever noticed what happens in a conference room full of people when a speaker starts telling stories? People sit up straight and lean toward the speaker. They put down their smartphones, stop texting and begin to pay attention.

Effective storytelling goes beyond the conference room. The minute your boss tells you a personal story, you listen intently because you’re gaining a glimpse into his or her true passions.

Telling stories helps you express yourself naturally. You needn’t be an accomplished or trained speaker to come across as genuine and interesting. When you tell a personal story, your voice, body and emotions work in concert to create authenticity. You generate emotional responses from your audience, touching both head and heart — a far cry from relying on PowerPoint presentations and ordinary bullet points.

Connect with your inner passions by asking yourself:

  • What am I fighting for?

  • What do others want?

  • What are the obstacles?

Use your answers to choose verbs that capture your passionate purpose.

Never forget that every human interaction — from meetings and presentations to memos and face-to-face conversations — involves needs and desires, real or potential conflicts. These pivotal moments are opportunities to change minds and influence behavior. Your goal is to identify the desired change or problem to be overcome and invest it with energy and passion.

You can develop the qualities of positive leadership by working with a professional coach. The investment is well worth the reward: your ability to influence the future, your career and your personal-development capabilities.

Are you working in a company where executive coaches provide leadership development to help leaders put emotionally expressive leadership skills into action? Does your organization provide executive coaching for leaders who need to be more conscious, and tap into the intrinsic motivation of followers? Emotionally expressive leaders tap into their emotional intelligence and social intelligence skills to create a more fulfilling future.

One of the most powerful questions you can ask yourself is “Am I an emotionally expressive leader who inspires individuals and organizations to achieve their highest potential, flourish at work, experience elevating energy and achieve levels of effectiveness difficult to attain otherwise?” Emotionally intelligent and socially intelligent organizations provide executive coaching to help leaders develop more positive teams.