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The Emotional Key to a Better Leadership Style

The Emotional Key to a Better Leadership Style

Leading with Emotional Intelligence and Owning Your Feelings

Yesterday I was picking a business colleague and friend up from our local train station. After battling the morning rush traffic which was an emotional feat in itself, I got to the station only to discover there were major building works. I managed to get into a space at the side of the station which had lots of car parking spaces but had big “no parking” signs because they belonged to a local hotel.

I had arranged to pick my friend up from the pick-up point at the front of the station, and I was already late. Therein lay my dilemma. I didn’t have his mobile number to hand, I couldn’t get to the front of the station, and if I had driven away I had no way of letting him know what was happening.

Acutely aware he would be wondering where on earth I had got to, I decided to jump quickly out of the car and wave to him to signal where I was. I got out of my car door, went onto the path, my friend spotted me after a couple of waves, and as I turned to go back to the car about 2 metres away there was a private car parking attendant writing out a ticket. “You have got to be kidding” I said. He smiled eerily and said “no, you’ve left the car unattended, you can see the signs”, as he proceeded to stick a ticket on my windscreen. Completely astonished, I watched helplessly as he proceeded to take photographs of the empty car no doubt to back up his ticket.

Years ago I would have reacted badly to the sense of injustice, anger and frustration of being so unfairly treated.  At this stage in my life I simply managed to say with great disdain “I don’t know how you sleep at nights”. We then got into the car and left.

I managed to forget about the incident until last evening when I came upon the ticket in my handbag. The emotional annoyance and frustration came rushing back, and the sense of injustice made me look to see what right of appeal I had to the ticket. Awareness of my dislike of the parking attendant made me pause and think about why I disliked him. Of course it was my interpretation of the event which made me dislike him and the perceived hassle I felt I now had by pursuing an appeal. I knew I could interpret the events in a number of ways. He was only doing his job; he must need the money badly; I did not know what pressure he was under to “catch perpetrators”. Of course I had choices about how I would respond too. It might just be easier to pay up and to learn the lesson for next time.

One of the most annoying habits for others I have learned over the years of developing self-awareness is my understanding of the power and responsibility of owning my emotions, and the ability of others to do so also. My kids do not appreciate me rationalising their anger with others when I suggest they may look at the situation in a different way, a vital key to emotional intelligence.  They want to blame others; after all it makes them feel better. And it does for many of us.

We do however always have the power to choose how we will react or respond to any situation. In an extreme example Victor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist and holocaust survivor, recounting his experience in the concentration camp said

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Viktor’s story is amazing, he chose to see his guards and captors as imprisoned as he was himself, and honed his emotional intelligence to the degree that he incredulously could even see the good in some of them.

Even in one of the most gruesome events in history Viktor was aware of the knowledge that he could choose how to interpret his experience.

Understanding one’s power to choose one’s reaction to what is happening is one of the key’s to great leadership, as well as emotional intelligence.  You only have to read about the hardships faced by Ghandi, Mandela and others like them to know that these great leaders possessed well developed emotional intelligence, which should be included in more leadership development programmes’.

At work too, being able to choose one’s response when you feel angry, scared, anxious or even gloriously happy is essential if you are going to navigate your way through and win hearts and minds. That’s not to say you never show your feelings, or become a sterile shadow of your real self; it means you choose when it is appropriate to act on with emotional intelligence about how you are feeling. In the sage words of Aristotle

“Anybody can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose, and in the right way – that is not within everybody’s power and is not easy”

The reason it’s not wise to act on one’s feelings or emotional reaction, always, is because they are often inaccurate.  As human’s we can misinterpret the simplest of things. An employee goes off sick after they’ve been asked to do something differently. You assume they are emotional and angry, when actually you find out they’ve been suffering from depression since their mother died. An employee raises a grievance and you feel threatened and angry with them because you think they are out to get you, until you discover that they have very difficult circumstances at home and no one has taken the time to understand them. Even when the evidence overwhelmingly justifies the way we feel, we can always still choose a response.

The trick is to use your emotions like a guidance system. They are simply giving you some information about what you are experiencing.  Sometimes taking action on emotions is the right thing to do, and sometimes it’s not. As a leader, emotional awareness is a key to making win/win decisions, taking charge of difficult situations and tapping into your intuition. If you let your emotions take charge of you, then you can blindly forge into situations and create irreparable damage.

In my own journey, owning my emotions and not blaming others for how I feel is and was one of my toughest lessons.  Honouring feelings, while choosing an appropriate response is the key to owning emotions. It is only with this knowledge that you can reclaim your personal power, both in life and as a leader.

I still don’t like the fact I got a parking ticket, but I know I can either choose to simply pay up and put it behind me, or I can appeal, using precious time and resources to justify my sense of unfairness. Either way it is a choice. Which one would you choose?

12 Comments
  1. Any hotel that ‘empowers’ their employees or contractors with that level of indiscretion is clearly not looking towards the future. They have a ‘big-time’ attitude.

    In business you never know where your future customers are going to come from. The most successful companies take a long-term view that can stretch back many years. I once remember the story of a Jaguar dealership that gave a six year old boy a whole day at their dealership and took him for a ride in a Jaguar. The little lad loved Jaguars and wrote to ask if he could see his favourite cars.

    Asked why they did this, the dealership said even if the lad was not a customer in say about twenty years time, the pleasure of showing such goodwill towards anyone was their philosophy. In essence, they understood the power of word of mouth. I imagine that little lad never forgot the day he had a ride in his favourite car – a Jaguar.

    It is the same for all of us – as you said. We can choose how we react to requests or situations. Calmness often wins the day and does so well into the future – forever.

    Will you choose that hotel group over the many others that are available?

    • Thanks for sharing your story, its exactly the attitude needed. I think the incident has probably colored my view of the hotel, although sometimes these things are not considered discretional and the act of parking is and was probably viewed as a black and white decision. I’m not sure I wouldn’t use it again, but if I had a good alternative, maybe! :)

  2. Emotional Intellgence is a course that needs to be run in every organisation with refreshers on a regular basis. I attended a 2 day course a number of years ago (along with my husband as we work for the same organsitaion but different areas) and it was the best course I have undertaken. I still have the workbooks and refer to them when I fell my ‘intelligence’ slipping.

    • Thanks CH, I agree it should be on the agenda, although often isn’t. Thanks for sharing your experience, it confirms to me there is a need. Thank you :)

  3. I would certainly take a punt on getting the ticket cancelled in the situation described. Two factors persuade me that way – firstly, his remark, in self justification, that the car had been left ‘unattended’ was clearly untrue, and secondly because it is a local hotel not far from home, taking the time to walk in and meet the manager face to face to make that point would be a small price to pay.
    I had a vastly different case with a railway station car park, the only time I have ever queried a ticket – most of the time I am clearly at fault! In that case, due to a change of plan, I had to leave a car for five days at a remote station, having bought a eight hour ticket! I came back to find two tickets on my car. The more I thought about this, the more I wondered why I had not had either one ticket or four? So, I sent them a mildly humerous email, asking the question, and waited for an answer that never came. The tickets were never followed up, reinforcing my ‘urban myth’ belief that if the least query is raised it is judged uneconomical to pursue the matter, at least by some organisations. Alternatively, perhaps there is a human in the process, who quietly smiles and scraps tickets at the least excuse?

    I wonder if there is a deeper point here – something about being open to pleasant surprises, and setting up opportunities for our pessimistic expectations to be overturned in our favour?

    • I agree with you Chris, I like your story better though! I think being open to pleasant surprises is a very good strategy! I haven’t had time to do anything about the ticket, but the clock is ticking! Thanks again for your thoughtful insights!

      • Ah, but you know the end of my story Christina – we don’t know the end of yours, yet…… It could be stunning….. ;-)

        • It could be if I could get the time to sort it out :). I will keep you posted Chris! Have a lovely evening.

  4. Christina
    I have a very similar story and as a trainer of emotional management I laminated the ticket and created a lesson around the circumstances. Each time I teach it I get further catharsis from the genuine recognition of students of the unfairness, bad attitude and jobs worth approach of the person who delivered the ticket. On the upside I appealed and received a condescending letter telling me I would be let off on this occasion but scalding me for allowing a vehicle that already had a just expired parking ticket on it to be there while I renewed the ticket. Hope they see sense and let you off too.

    • Thank you, that’s a great story! I wish I had thought of it :). I’m glad you resolved it well, I have to admit to having not done anything yet, simply because of domestic events and work pressures, but I think I will try and appeal. Thanks for your encouraging comments!

    • Maybe work out how much time it will take to write an appeal and work out the cost per minute if you were being paid your normal wage. Then decide if it is worth the time. Bear in mind also just writing the appeal is cathartic, and when you are successful it is even better. Having said all of that I passed the person who ticketed me as she was walked down the street and I usually say hello and smile at everyone but I could just not do it! Mhm still more work needed ,Nigel

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