Are emotions and leadership a good idea?


Are emotions and leadership a good idea?

I've been arguing this for some time and it's always surprised me how controversial it is to many people, but leadership is an emotional business.

We have this strange faith in the highly logical, as if life really was a mathematical equation, but we forget about how this logic is received at the other end. Even if you really believe you are highly logical or rational (you do? really??), you have to face the fact that most of the people you communicate with are not.

So... does that combination actually work?

Well no, of course not.

You can only address emotions with emotions, but they should be the right emotional response, not a reactive one.

The truth is no human being is ever highly logical or rational, we can only delude ourselves about that. But we can develop clarity through a deep self understanding of how our emotions influence us and our 'logical' decision making.

Self reflection techniques help my coaches develop these abilities.

Development of this level of personal clarity is most important in leaders because they are who we look to for direction.

Leaders need to connect with people to drive motivation for work performance. Motivation is emotional, hence it takes emotion to develop it.

The argument of "do emotions belong in leadership" is still a common one, so much so that UTS held a seminar asking the same question earlier in 2013. However we now need to ask a much better question... "how can we use emotions in leadership in a better way?"

This is a much better question because it allows exploration of what is happening out there anyway. We can now explore:

  1. The ethics of using emotions in leadership
  2. Whether it can still be authentic and based on a real concern for the welfare of others
  3. How best to develop leaders in this way and how best to support them in the process

There are some initial attempts at developing charismatic leaders going on in the world at the moment, in the US and Thailand. These are interesting experiments on the fringes of the idea of emotional leadership, and there are limited points of success at this time.

There are also some who claim to be able to develop emotional intelligence in leaders, but as I have previously highlighted in my blog, the problem with this concept is that it is so highly correlated with intelligence, so this begs the question in relation to how much you can improve intelligence.

Both of these things are problematic to say the least, but the most problematic is the first question around ethics.

Business has historically been promoted as an amoral exercise, and many business schools and MBA's still have difficulties integrating ethics in to their curricula.

But there can be no place for developing emotional leadership without also developing ethics. It's simply too dangerous.

Dr Louise Metcalf

Associate Lecturer at

Internationally published leadership expert. One of the top 100 Sustainability Leaders in the World (ABC Carbon, 2011, 2012). BA (Hons in Psych), Masters of Applied Psychology Organisational, MBA, PhD, Member APS College of Organisational Psychologist, membership of Academy of Management. Louise has decades of experience in the field of organisational psychology and general psychology. She is a highly respected leadership and change management consultant in Australia