In my previous blog, Compassion Fatigue, I talked about our emotions driving our decisions and the sense of urgency needed to make change. I explored the difficulty of sticking with it when we get frustrated, bored, anxious, or feel depleted.
To lead change, we must recognize the power we have that helps us control the feelings that might sway us off course. This power to make a difference is well-honed by healthy, strong leaders. Like any other strength, it must be exercised and used often to remain effective. It is the power to look at the big picture, to envision a long-term goal, to imagine a better tomorrow. It is also the power of self-reflection and understanding the role of emotions. Rather than giving in to emotions or suppressing them, the true mark of one who can lead the change, is the ability to bring skill, analytics, and strategy alongside emotions to stay the course. When I can manage my own emotions, I am stronger at leading others.
Managing our emotions begins with self-awareness. If you have not seriously worked on your self-awareness, I highly recommend it. I’ve been doing this work for years through spiritual direction, coaching, therapy, leadership workshops, and various assessment workshops on personality styles, decision making, conflict management, need for inclusion, etc. The depth of learning from self-reflection is endless and every step makes us stronger, healthier, better leaders.
Most of us can recognize quickly when we are frustrated, impatient, angry, disappointed, or hopeful. However, it can be quite difficult to acknowledge and articulate the hard feelings instead of suppressing them, or to own them without blaming yourself or someone else for causing them. Let’s look at one exercise that will sharpen the skill of emotion management. Begin with mindfulness – quietly paying attention to your surroundings, yourself, your body, where your feelings settle. Practicing mindfulness regularly builds a skill that can be called upon when you need it most to mindfully regulate your emotions. Practice when your feelings are less intense and you will soon be able to use this method when your feelings are more intense.
Mindfully recognize your feelings and name them out loud. I’m mad! This scares me. I’m feeling frustrated/agitated. It might sound strange at first, but give as much detail as you can about the emotion you are feeling. Not what caused it or who you are angry at, but specifically what the anger feels like. Resist the urge to add judgement on yourself or others. Take several deep breaths and simply recognize the feeling. Physically, where does it settle in your body – your stomach, your neck and shoulders? Just feel it. If your mind shifts to blame, resist it and breathe deeply. Remind yourself that it is ok to feel this way. It makes sense and it is natural. It is just a feeling, part of what makes you human. Continue to breathe through it. As the intensity lessens, you can start to analyze.. Try exploring the facts around the situation that caused the feeling, keeping judgement and blame suspended. This practice helps you control your emotions and helps you add logical thinking to your emotional experience.
Managing emotions and reducing the temptation to blame others or shame oneself is critical to leading change. This skill alone will help you gain or maintain a leadership role within a system as you become a less anxious presence. You become a grounding point, something stable within a system that is unstable. This awareness and self-management is the first step in being aware of the whole emotional system around you and in being able to help others manage their emotions. Recognizing and working with the emotion within a system builds capacity for bringing about intentional change.
Check out my next blog post on Leading in an Anxious System.