Business Perspectives

Emotional savvy a trait of great leaders

Business has a long tradition of ignoring emotions in favor of rationality. Feelings are dismissed as messy, dangerous, weak and irrelevant to day-to-day operations. But a growing body of evidence reveals that feelings in business are tied to high performance. And psychologists, neuroscientists and behavioral economists now agree that leaders who fail to understand how emotions drive actions will ultimately fail.

Emotionally savvy leaders leverage feelings in a way that increases employee engagement and performance. According to research conducted by Daniel Goleman, a company's emotional climate can account for as much as 30 percent of job performance. And those at the top are most responsible for creating the company climate.

Additional studies, along with my personal work experience, suggest three areas of emotional management that lead to success.

First, cultivate a deep and abiding sense of purpose. Influencing others to join a cause greater than making a profit or creating good products or services increases engagement, leading to higher profit. Give your employees reasons to believe in your organization and its values. Discuss with them the things that you stand for and why. Help them envision the role that the organization plays in the lives of employees, customers and your community. This will help them form powerful emotional connections to their work.

Second, articulate a clear and bold vision. The "new normal," which includes continuous change and lots of ambiguity, can be traumatic. Paint a compelling picture of the future that motivates them on both a head and heart level, and pulls them forward through uncertainty. When you lead change, employees must trust that you have a clear destination in mind and that you are committed to steering through uncharted territory in order to make progress toward your vision.

Third, create a positive culture. Your employees expect you to foster a constructive culture of trust, collaboration and excellence. This means you need to be adept at reading, interpreting and speaking to the emotions present among individuals and teams as you shape the culture.

Finally, develop your own emotional awareness. The best leaders have the ability to understand and express their emotions and feelings appropriately and effectively.

Workplace statistics show that fewer than 30 percent of employees are truly engaged. People inherently desire to identify and bond with their leader. Yet they instinctively defend their own interests and exercise caution before fully engaging and committing their careers and livelihoods to anyone. So your goal is to develop an atmosphere of trust, transparency and understanding. This is best achieved when you are perceived as emotionally astute. When you combine this with giving your employees something they can believe in — a cause greater than the common good — they engage both hearts and minds and automatically increase performance.

It's your job to provide hope while alleviating fear — not by denying it, but by predicting it, being honest about it and normalizing it through open communication. Honestly address why your company can no longer cling to the status quo. Workers' emotional desire for security will motivate them to accept changes that initially cause them to recoil. To make a clear case, focus on emotional benefits. Make sure your message is clear, simple, heartfelt and aligned with your company's current emotional climate.

As Lou Gerstner, former CEO IBM once said; "Leadership isn't something you do writing memos; you've got to appeal to people's emotions. They've got to buy in with their hearts and bellies, not just their minds."

Never forget that the human side of business consumes most of a company's operating costs. Failure to be emotionally adept is counterproductive — perhaps even suicidal.