Leadership Distinction #22: Emotion

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Leadership Distinction #22: Emotion

Leaders must balance their ‘old’ and their ‘new’ intelligences

A radical theory about human psychology and emotion emanated from the world’s first known psychology lab at Harvard University in the late 19th century. Radical because it was so counter-intuitive. And despite being challenged for nearly 150 years because of its seeming implausibility, it remains valid to this day. You probably don’t know this theory. But as a current or aspiring leader perhaps you should.

The lab’s founder and intellectual guiding force, William James, resolved that contrary to what we presume, we do not cry because we are sad. Rather, we are sad because we are crying. We do not smile because we are happy; we are happy because we are smiling. 

Notwithstanding how interestingly counterintuitive this well-tested theory is, your response may still be: “so what?”.  Well, the so-what factor is that the emotions we experience are like brain-body impulses for which the wiring draws deeply from the ages. We may think of this as our old intelligence – our survival signaling apparatus.

But operating alone, without our newer and more ponderous reasoning powers in the mix, our survival-spurred emotions would have us in a pretty volatile state of behavior. And if there’s one thing a leader learns, if he or she is to be followed, is that an overly emotional posture just won’t cut it. But on the other hand, nor will one of robotic rationalizing.

To lead you must learn to deploy in balance our old and new intelligences. Granted, we’ve come quite a ways from when we were trained to deny or suppress the emotions we felt if we were to get ahead in business. But you still need to reason your way through the emotions that surface. Doing so will make you wiser. Being wiser is bound to make you smile. And as we now know, that smile will actually make you a happier leader.

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