Leadership and emotions

Is a leader supposed to show emotions?

To answer this let look at what emotions are. If you “google it” you get results such us:
  • a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one's circumstances, mood, or relationships with others;
  • a conscious mental reaction (as anger or fear) subjectively experienced as strong feeling usually directed toward a specific object and typically accompanied by physiological and behavioral changes in the body;
  • an affective state of consciousness in which joy, sorrow, fear, hate, or the like, is experienced, as distinguished from cognitive and volitional states of consciousness;
  • a mental state that arises spontaneously rather than through conscious effort and is often accompanied by physiological changes; a feeling: the emotions of joy, sorrow, reverence, hate, and love.

emotions_transmitterSo emotions are “we” and we consciously or unconsciously show them. Emotions are chemical reactions between specific combinations of the levels of the signal substances dopamine, noradrenaline and serotonin. Emotions can likely be mediated by pheromones… so there seems no way to hide them. Often, one of the reasons we don’t show emotion is because we are not even aware or we mingle what emotion we have. In most situations when we are angry, frustrated, or upset we suppress it or “by mistake” mix it for some other emotion. And we tend to hide them when we want to stay in control or look strong. Well, in reality, doing so diminishes our control and weakens our capacity to lead. And we end up not saying what we mean or not meaning what we say.

On the other hand, there’s a gender bias around showing emotion. In my previous work environment about showing emotions I have seen a double standard: men get labeled tough, passionate, or open, women get labeled bitchy, hysterical, or weak. Why?

emotionsAt the end of ’90-ies Daniel Goleman unveiled his influential theory about “emotional intelligence”. He pointed out that EI determines a leader’s success more than conventional measures such as intelligence or expertise.

From then on more and more research proved that the ability to understand and manage the self moods and emotions contribute to virtuous leadership in organizations. Do leaders lead projects? No, they don’t. They lead people, and they get good performances out of people not tools. Therefore, remarkable leaders establish a deep emotional connection with followers or co-workers. It is their own level of emotional intelligence that allows them to create and nurture these emotional relationships that have proven to be of effect million times.

So, the answer to the opening question is definitively: YES! Would you add something from your experiences to the topic – if so, please comment.


  1. Brilliant Post. each point is noteworthy. thanks for sharing. I have become a regular reader of your blog.

    1. Thank you Sridhar for positive feedback and follow. I'll try to show different points of leadership in future as well...

  2. Jaro,
    I believe the only way to be an authentic leader is to show emotions. Of course you need to be strong when you need to be, considerate when you need to be and caring when required. But demonstrating you are human is a long way from demonstrating weakness. To show vulnerability is to have great strength and it is an important virtue of a leader. People really connect when they believe they are connecting with the real person. I know I would prefer to follow a leader who I really knew and understood. Pete

    1. Peter, great thoughts. I liked the most: "demonstrating you are human". Thank you for sharing them.


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