Warm. Funny. Sincere. Motivated. Deeply invested.
Those were a few of the words I would’ve used to describe Tendai (his name and some details have been changed), a senior leader at a global manufacturing company, after we met to kick off our coaching engagement. He was on a succession plan for the C-suite and was looking to strengthen his executive leadership skills.
However, when I spoke with several of Tendai’s colleagues and direct reports to gather their impressions of him, they painted a very different picture. They described him as careful, calculating, and reserved. Several of his peers questioned his intentions, assuming he was playing office politics when he failed to reach out to them on key issues. His team was impressed by his effectiveness, yet unsure of his motivation. To most, he was a mystery.
It may sound as though Tendai has a split personality, but I see this kind of situation in my coaching work frequently. Leaders craft such a solid professional persona that they fail to be themselves, unintentionally quashing the emotional qualities that build followership, and leaving their peers and direct reports scratching their heads.
It’s easy to see how this happens. In most organizations, being a good employee means projecting a calm, unflappable demeanor. We never want to lose our composure, so we develop strategies for keeping a professional face on. Who among us hasn’t spent a few car rides home yelling a tirade to an invisible boss or coworker? And remaining dispassionate can be an asset. However, that same carefully crafted exterior falls flat when, as leaders, we need to build engagement and enthusiasm.
You and Your Team Series
Becoming a Manager
- Anthony K. Tjan
- Carol A. Walker
- Steven D’Souza and Diana Renner
As part of my research for my latest book, The Inspiration Code, I commissioned the Harris Poll to survey 2,000 U.S. adults about what communication behaviors inspired them. A top-cited behavior was that the inspirational person said what they meant and spoke with authenticity. I also talked with hundreds of professionals about what inspires them, and emotion came up repeatedly as the gateway to authenticity. If people don’t see your true emotions, then they can’t see you.
In fact, emotionality is necessary for inspiring others. As soon as you make the transition to manager, rather than avoiding emotion, you should harness it. This doesn’t have to be an abstract exercise. Here are three straightforward ways I’ve coached clients to achieve emotional resonance.
Set Your Intention
Before important conversations, speeches, or meetings, consider: What is the emotional takeaway I want to impart? It might be excitement, gravity, or fun, for example. Remember that emotions are contagious, and leaders in particular have a strong influence on the team’s mood or group affect. If you want others to feel that emotion, then you need to express it. And keep in mind that if you don’t deliberately set the emotional tenor, it will happen by accident. If you show up tired and distracted, those are the emotions you’ll be telegraphing.
Use Emotional Language
The words you use to express yourself add to the emotional tone. Make an effort to match what you’re saying with the emotions you want to convey. Be careful not to sanitize your language in an effort to make your message more palatable — your message will likely end up sounding vanilla and bland. Pepper your talks with straightforward words that signal the tone you’re trying to set.
Consider these examples of emotions and words that help convey them.
- Confidence: powerful, assured, proud, significant, ready
- Joy: inspired, amazed, grateful, exhilarated, enthusiastic
- Anger: disappointed, let down, irritated, regretful, frustrated
- Urgency: critical, behind, anxious, missing out, eager
Employ Emotional Appeals
You can also use emotions to make appeals. If you consider emotional appeals the work of unsavory salespeople, think again. All leaders need to persuade people to take action. Robert Cialdini identified six principles of persuasion that can be used in any setting. Here they are, along with some examples of how new managers can turn them into rhetorical frames that appeal to people’s emotions:
- We like people who are similar to us: “I consider this team family, and I’ll do whatever I can to represent us.”
- We reciprocate behaviors: “I’ve been glad to make client introductions for you, and now I’m hoping you’ll make an introduction for me.”
- We aim to be consistent: “You’ve said you’re open to creative ideas, so I have one to run by you.”
- We respect authority: “This message comes directly from the CEO, so it’s a priority.”
- We want more of something when it’s scarce: “If we don’t launch our product now, customers will reallocate their year-end budgets.”
- We take action when others are doing so, because there is social proof: “Everyone in our market is advertising this way.”
Using emotions to win hearts and minds is far from new (in fact, Aristotle’s rhetorical triangle featured three equal elements: logic, credibility, and emotion), but for today’s leaders it’s more imperative and trickier to navigate. But I believe that the rise in online (and experientially intimate) platforms such as social media, blogging, and video have created expectations that we know our leaders to a greater degree, and in deeper ways.
And with organizations being geographically and culturally dispersed, managers frequently lead people whom they rarely see face-to-face. They need to let their teams know their priorities, motivate behavior, and inspire commitment — all from a distance. Audiences need to clearly see what emotion the leader is trying to convey.
One last point: There’s an important distinction between true and false emotion. Inauthenticity is easy to suss out, so doing any of the above in a false way is likely to backfire. The best way to connect on a deeper level is to be transparent about the emotions you’re currently feeling. You’re not acting — you’re emoting.