Leaders must develop greater fluency and agility in the language of emotions if they want to connect people to a vision or inspire them to action
When I speak to diverse audiences across the globe, I notice certain patterns in the way leaders try and connect with the crowd while on stage. The Japanese speakers often heavily rely on charts and graphs and speak in quiet tones. The Americans are often excited and as informal on stage as they are off the stage. The British often observe careful form and the Indian speakers often tend to extoll the audiences to a higher purpose. Of course, there are exceptions and generalizations beyond a point serve no purpose. However, these differences did get me thinking. Is there a universal formula for the way leaders can connect with their audiences and constituents? One that would work anywhere in the globe and enable the leaders to connect and influence with the people around them irrespective of the diversity they encounter?
Leaders must develop greater fluency and agility in the language of emotions if they want to connect people to a vision or inspire them to action. They must develop emotional agility to leverage the privilege of the platform that leadership provides them. I define emotional agility as the skill a leader has to tap into the right emotion at the right time for the right purpose. One can think of it as a specific subset of emotional intelligence, which taps into a larger domain of the management and regulation of emotions.
Leadership is not just about management of information but also management of emotions.
How can we acquire and display emotional agility? Here are three tips that can help you with that:
Learn more about yourself: Like most things in leadership, the fluency begins with self- awareness and discovering what’s our own level of comfort in dealing with emotions – that of self or others. Some of us are more expressive and willing to be vulnerable in the moment, while others hide behind personas by adopting masks that prevent people from seeing the real you. Needless to say, the former have an edge in being emotionally agile but even for the latter it is a skill that can be learnt. In this day and age of flat structures, the emotional accessibility of the leader help connect them with the people they lead.
Learn more about the culture you seek to influence: Different cultures deal differently with emotions. While smiling at or greeting a stranger on the streets maybe common in some western countries, it may be seen as an intrusion and met with distrust in some Eastern ones. In Japan, for instance, customer service representatives had to be taught to smile by holding pencils between their teeth as traditionally smiling was equated with the attempt to hide something! Casual banter from senior leaders may be acceptable in the US, but is not so common in China. So the context of the expression of emotion matters.
Learn to be a great storyteller: Given my work on corporate storytelling, I have come to the conclusion that there is a strong correlation between great storytelling and emotional agility. Being a good storyteller requires you to go beyond the knowledge of story structures, formulas and scripts to the wisdom of which story to tell, when to tell it and to whom. Stories harness emotions like no other expression. When immersed in stories, we experience a safe space for connection and so adding storytelling to your repertoire increases your emotional agility. As Christina Baldwin put it – Words are how we think but stories are how we link.
Logic may lead us to a conclusion but it is emotions that move us to action. All the data in the world will be of no help if you cannot connect with your tribe at an emotional level. LeaderSHIFT, at the end of the day, is not about getting people to follow you but rather to engage and participate in the agenda that helps create the future.