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  • Sandra Künzler

You aren't at the mercy of your emotions

Emotions are complex, and hence often misunderstood or ignored. Today, emotions are more important than ever. In 2016, the World Economic Forum added emotional intelligence to its list of top 10 workplace skills for 2020. Emotions are often professionally side-lined and rarely acknowledged in the workplace. Yet, emotions are omni-present and influence every aspect of human behaviour. In the past we learned that emotions happen to us; they are an inner uncontrollable beast which must be tamed by our rational and logical mind. A trigger provokes a reaction, and this reaction causes emotions and physical responses. This simplistic and outdated view of emotions encourages a victim mindset where we’re inherently helpless to resist our emotions. Neuroscience research has challenged these key beliefs with a new theory of emotions. Lisa Feldmann Barrett, a psychologist and neuroscientist and the author of "How Emotions Are Made"argues that you aren't at the mercy of your emotions, but your brain creates them.


This provides us with a completely new perspective, not only in our personal life but also when it comes to emotional intelligence in leadership.


How do you picture the "perfect leader"?

You might picture someone who never lets his temper get out of control, no matter what problems he's facing. Or you might think of someone who has the complete trust of her staff, listens to her team, is easy to talk to, and always makes careful, informed decisions.


Let's have a look at why emotional intelligence is so important for leaders – and how you, as a leader, can improve yours. Daniel Goleman shaped a completely new term with his book "Emotional Intelligence". Suddenly, in addition to "IQ", "EQ" seemed to play a role - even more: it was discovered that people have very different intelligences.


Emotional intelligence or EI is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and those of the people around you. People with a high degree of emotional intelligence know what they're feeling, what their emotions mean, and how these emotions can affect other people. Emotional intelligence describes therefore self-management and self-awareness on the one hand and competencies and skills in dealing with other people on the other.


There are five key elements to emotional intelligence:

  1. Self-awareness.

  2. Self-regulation.

  3. Motivation.

  4. Empathy.

  5. Social skills.

1. Self-awareness

The realistic assessment of one's own personality, i.e. the recognition and understanding of one's own feelings, needs, motives, and goals. Being self-aware when you're in a leadership position also means having a clear picture of your strengths and weaknesses, and it means behaving with humility.


2. Self-regulation

Self-control is the ability to influence and control your own feelings and moods through inner dialogue. With this ability, we are no longer simply at the mercy of our feelings but can influence them constructively. Leaders who regulate themselves effectively rarely verbally attack others, make rushed or emotional decisions, stereotype people, or compromise their values. Self-regulation is all about staying in control.


3. Motivation

Being able to motivate oneself means being able to continually develop motivation and enthusiasm from within. This ability is especially helpful in times when a project becomes difficult or when things go differently than planned. Those who are able to motivate themselves will always find the strength to carry on and also have a higher frustration tolerance, i.e. the ability to withstand frustration and still carry on.

Self-motivated leaders work consistently toward their goals, and they have extremely high standards for the quality of their work.


4. Empathy

Empathy means the ability to empathise with the feelings and views of other people and to react appropriately. It is about perceiving and accepting fellow human beings in their being. Acceptance does not automatically mean approval. To accept other people means to approach them with respect and to have an understanding for their actions and thoughts.

For leaders, having empathy is critical to managing a successful team or organization. They help develop the people on their team, challenge others who are acting unfairly, give constructive feedback, and listen to those who need it. Pay attention to body language, perhaps when you listen to someone, you cross your arms, move your feet back and forth, or bite your lip. This body language tells others how you really feel about a situation, and the message you're giving isn't positive! Learning to read body language can be a real asset in a leadership role, because you'll be better able to determine how someone truly feels.


5. Social Skills

Social competence means, for instance, the ability to establish contacts and relationships with other people and to maintain such relationships in the long term. Leaders who do well in the social skills element of emotional intelligence are great communicators. They are also good at managing change and resolving conflicts diplomatically and know how to resolve conflicts between their team members, customers, or vendors. Leaders who have good social skills also know how to praise their team, when its earned.


To be effective, leaders must have a solid understanding of how their emotions and actions affect the people around them. The better a leader relates to and works with others, the more successful he or she will be.


By reading this, you have probably already gained a first impression of the extent to which you yourself possess or do not possess the individual abilities that belong to emotional intelligence.

To find out how far your emotional intelligence actually stands, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How well do I know myself? Do I know how I react in certain situations and why this is so?

  • Can I influence my moods myself?

  • How well can I deal with aggression, anger, joy, affection, and other feelings - with myself and with others?

  • What about my communication skills?

  • Can I express myself clearly and make myself understood? Am I able to listen attentively to other people?

  • Can I deal well with other people?

  • Can I motivate others? Do I enjoy working with other people?

  • Can I give orientation to others?

  • Do I have leadership qualities?

  • Am I popular with other people?

  • Do others enjoy being with me?

All these questions are only intended as food for thought. If you know what lies behind emotional intelligence, you will know what is important and you can then ask yourself the crucial questions to find out where you might still have deficits.


Even though researchers have discovered that there are apparently genetic predispositions for a strong expression of emotional intelligence, emotional intelligence can still be learned and systematically developed. Here are a couple of tips on how to train EI.


  • Find out, who you really are. What are your values, motifs, who and what has shaped you?

  • Acknowledge the personality of other people. We are all different. But being different does not automatically mean being "better" or "worse". The better you manage to accept that other people see the world differently than you do, the easier it will be for you to recognize their point of view. And in doing so, you will enhance your emotional intelligence. Emotionally intelligent people do not find other views or perceptions threatening, but interesting - yes, they see them as a chance to learn something.

  • Study people and get involved with the issues that move them. Read the life stories of other people. Discover yourself and others.

If you are interested in learning more about yourself, your values, motifs, and behaviour, you might want to read my blog post about the Reiss Motivation Profile®.



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