“It’s tough at the top”, or so they say.
It is not only tough. It’s invigorating, infuriating, exhilarating, frustrating, defining and lonely all at the same time.
The range of emotions a leader feels spans the whole range of basic emotions; love, joy, surprise, anger and sadness.
When a leader is setting the goal, clearing the path and providing the resources to get there, the leader shows determination to succeed despite the barriers put in front of them, rather than fail because of the barriers. Emotionally they appear composed, and optimistic.
When those plans, despite the barriers encountered, show signs of success, the emotional state may change to pride, satisfaction, surprise or simply, relief.
When a leader sees results delivered by their subordinates exhibiting capacity that the subordinates thought was beyond them, the emotions may turn to exhilaration and jubilation. The feeling is beyond a sense of pride and more akin to self actualisation on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.
Leaders have defining moments. These moments are like an “ah-ha” moment magnified many times over. It is a moment when against their previous practice and the advice of others they take a personal risk because they are doing what they believe is right. When, in twenty-twenty hindsight others see it as right their character becomes defined.
Defining moments create conviction. Conviction creates an emotional stability, an aura of assuredness and hope.
Leaders who have conviction also often show an unbridled passion for what they do.
There are times however, when things to do not go well. The emotions tend towards anger, irritation and frustration. For example, when a budget submission for a tactic considered critical to implementing the strategy does not get approved. Or when the sales pitch that would transform the organisation’s business fell at the last hurdle.
Other times, the emotions may belong more to the sadness family of emotions. People who have been coached and counselled in an attempt to allow them to realise their potential may be let go, causing disappointment. Poor decisions may be made by the leader causing feelings of regret.
At some time or other all leaders feel lonely. As if they are the only one who can see the vision and understand the strategy to get there. Or they may feel they are the only one who has the energy to drag the rest of the organisation towards the vision and therefore, feel a sense of isolation bordering on sadness.
On rare occasions, internal or external events may well cause emotions of alarm or shock to surface.
Not only do leaders experience this wide range of emotions themselves, they also transfer these emotions to their followers.
In his book, “Handbook of Work Group Psychology”, JM George writes, “Leaders who feel excited, enthusiastic and energetic themselves are likely to similarly energise their followers, as are leaders who feel distressed and hostile likely to negatively activate their followers”.
A leader’s sad expression is likely to make them appear less effective and followers observing a sad leader feel less enthusiasm and more fatigue.
In research by Joyce Bono and Remus Ilies published in the Leadership Quarterly in 2006, it was shown that “…leaders emotional expressions play an important role in the formation of followers’ perceptions of leader effectiveness, attractiveness to leaders and follower mood”. It also showed that “…the behaviour of leaders can make a difference in the happiness and well-being of the followers by influencing their emotional lives”.
Given that leaders do experience the whole range of emotions and those emotions do affect their followers directly, leaders have an additional burden. That is, to hide some of their negative emotions.
It is important to allow negative emotions through some of the time, but not when it counts against the persistence and insistence of reaching the goal and the consistence in the approach and values required to get there.
Hiding emotions is a difficult task. Feeling like one is always “putting on a show” can be wearing. It always helps then, to have one or more confidantes to whom you may show the whole range of emotions as a means of releasing the pressure.
Leading is tough. It is tough emotionally. It can be lonely. Attracting people whom you trust and respect not only makes the tasks of leadership easier to handle, but the emotions too.