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Power Your Leadership With This Exercise to Increase Your Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence is one of the many important leadership competencies a senior manager can develop.

The ability to understand emotions and stay aware of your emotional state is an important part of your leadership development.

Here are two questions to ask yourself:

Are negative emotions getting in the way of you being an effective leader?

Could repeated feelings of anxiety, frustration, irritation or detachment be impeding your leadership?

Today we will explore where these limiting emotions come from, their impact on leadership, and I’ll share an exercise to help retrain your mind away from them.

Feelings are important

To begin, ask yourself, what do great leaders FEEL?

What do we feel like when we are really leading?

And, why is that such an incredibly important question?

I believe that leadership is a LOT about feelings.

It’s a lot about your own feelings as a leader, and it’s a lot about the feelings of those you are leading, or hope to provide leadership to.

For those of you thinking that I’m overstating the role of feelings, please hang on.

By the end of this article you might reconsider.

You may even be placing your own emotional life, and those around you, as a rather central consideration in your leadership.

Reactive tendencies and the emotions they produce

First, an important context-setting fact.

Bob Anderson and Bill Adams have made a watertight case for the idea that our “reactive tendencies” actually take our leadership strengths off the table.

They show a strong statistically inverse relationship between our reactive tendencies and the demonstration of leadership.

The extent that the reactive tendencies of complying (being overly accommodating, passive and pleasing), controlling (being overly perfectionistic, driven and bureaucratic) and protecting (being overly remote, distant and critical) flavour our everyday experience, the less leadership we are likely to show.

That’s right!

The more that reactive tendencies are apparent throughout our day, the less leadership we offer.

AND, the demonstration of leadership is strongly positively correlated to every desired business metric you can imagine – growth in revenue, profit, reduction in costs, and less people turnover to name a few.

Leadership is not only the right thing to do, it pays!

Now, how does all that connect to emotions?

As you can probably guess, living in our reactive tendencies comes with a particular emotional life.

When we are in our reactive “mind” certain kinds of emotions tend to predominate.

Can you guess which ones?

While this is not an exact science, the reactive tendencies you tend towards can point towards which limiting emotions you might most experience.


In short, reactive tendencies come with a particular emotional signature.

While they may vary from one person to another, all these emotions are about our reactions to threat.

They drive our attention to our familiar everyday environment, and keep us on alert for potentially bad things that are happening or, more likely, that could happen.

While in this state of mind, it does not feel natural to explore the unknown or unfamiliar for potentially advantageous approaches or outcomes.

The here and now is far too threatening to take our eyes off it!

You can see how this would impede effective leadership.

So, what if you wanted to lessen these reactive tendencies?

Is it possible to do that by working with these emotions directly?

Are our reactive tendencies “emotional habits” that we have not yet shaken?

Could attendance to our day-to-day emotional patterns be a powerful way to LIFT our leadership?

Test your leadership via emotional awareness

Awareness of your emotional experience is an effective litmus test of your leadership at any moment.

The moments in your day when you tend to feel more of the emotions associated with a reactive tendency are the moments when your leadership is weakened.

Do you have a particular regular meeting that upsets or irritates you?

Or perhaps you feel these limiting emotions when you are around a particular person?

Such moments are when your impact is weakest and your leadership  can be cancelled.

Sharpening your focus on your emotional state works because these emotions are not only associated with problematic reactive patterns that cancel leadership, they also DRIVE them.

The extent to which we allow ourselves to remain in these limiting emotions, the more reactive behavioural tendencies we exhibit, the less leadership we offer, and the more difficult it can be leading our teams.

And here’s the rub.

These limiting emotions actually drive thinking that makes reactive tendencies seem like the obvious and sensible choice, even when they are not.

For example, feeling anxious will direct our mind to seek out potential threats or things that might go wrong.

At the same time, our mind becomes less open to creative, new or adventurous solutions.

In fact, our thinking follows our emotions, and it’s very difficult to think beyond our feelings.

Not only that, the more we think like our limiting emotions, the more of those limiting emotions we will feel.

The thinking and feeling builds on each other.

In his most recent book, Dr Joe Dispenza tells us that 90% of the neuronal connections between our heart and brain are going from heart to the brain! Isn’t that bizarre?

This means that it’s not our brain that is telling our heart how to beat, but rather it’s the way our heart is beating that tells our brain how to think.

Let’s bring a simple test to this idea of leadership.

Can you recall any good leaders who had a lasting, supportive, inspiring, and productively challenging influence on your life?

Can you bring an image or memory to mind?

Did you notice that she or he was not primarily in their reactive mind, at least with you?

AND, that somehow their presence enabled you feel a little less reactive?

Perhaps you experienced less fear of the unknown, and a little more hopeful or expectant about the future.

Great leaders, because they are less in their reactive mind, tend to facilitate us to come out of ours.

We therefore become less fearful and more able to explore new possibilities.

Strengthen your leadership with this exercise

Practice bringing your awareness to the limiting emotions that are associated with, and driving, your reactive tendencies.

Practice bringing your attention to them very early, so that you can catch them before they get strong, and start shaping how you are seeing the world.

We need to learn to think GREATER than our limiting emotions.

This enables us to break the thinking/feeling loop that deepens our reactive habits.

Try this little exercise:

Sit comfortably somewhere and relax.

Imagine you are on your way to work and you start to feel the familiar feelings of anxiety, irritation, frustration or detachment.

Bring your awareness to those feelings, noticing them before they get strong, and interrupt them.

Really change them. Then relax.

Now, do it again. Imagine yourself in the middle of the day going to a meeting and you start to feel those familiar limiting feelings again.

Bring your awareness to them, then interrupt them.

Change them.

Now, out of nowhere, pull up the feelings you imagine a great leader has.

Find them, and experience them.

Then relax. Now, do that again.

Feels good doesn’t it?

In doing this exercise, you are retraining your mind to lessen the feeling/thinking patterns that generate the reactive patterns which cancel our leadership.

And you are replacing those habits with feelings that are more supportive of your greatest self.

Your true self.

This exercise only takes a few minutes, but it’s a powerful method of strengthening your leadership.


I hope the above exercise gives you a way to manage your emotions, and you can see how powerful it can be for strengthening your leadership skills.

Becoming aware of your persistent limited emotions is a powerful way to get a real time test on your leadership, and understand how they DRIVE your reactive “non-leadership” moments. Those limiting emotions prompt you to think and perceive in ways that make you less like the leader you really are.

Understanding and managing which of the three reactive tendencies you favour will give you a great start towards unhooking from the unhelpful feeling-thinking patterns.

From there, you can work on them with the exercise I have offered.

What other exercises are you implementing to strengthen your leadership?



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