Dealing With Feelings: How to Be an Emotionally-Aware Leader

When an entrepreneur (or executive) is more in tune with their employees' emotions, they are better able to balance the workforce, complete day-to-day work and innovate.

learn more about Meghan M. Biro

By Meghan M. Biro

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Leaders fall too easily into the trap of seeing the people who work for them as employees first and people second. Yet, it's the people who determines whether or not your company will be successful.

How can leaders better understand what drives employees and how to deal with their feelings? It isn't easy but the payoff can be huge. Being emotionally aware lets you balance your workforce to meet new challenges, get day-to-day work done and innovate. Plus, emotionally-aware leaders build engagement with employees. In turn, these employees are more committed to the organization, deliver better results, please customers and drive value, according to a report by the Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology. Fail to build engagement, and employee retention and business results will suffer.

While being emotionally aware can be pivotal to a company's strategy, it can be tricky to execute. The best leaders are aware of the emotional state and cues people are sending all the time. Decoding emotion takes an understanding of different communications and personality styles.

Related: How Young Entrepreneurs Can Rein in Their 'Toxic' Emotions

For those looking for a little guidance, here is a bit of advice.

Get in touch with your emotions. Many leaders think emotion is a handicap in the workplace, but it's actually critical to good management. Effective leaders lead with emotion. They do this by learning or using four skill sets:

  • Self-awareness: understanding their own emotional state
  • Self-management: the ability to control their own emotions and reactions
  • Social-awareness: the ability to pick up emotional cues from others
  • Relationship-management: an approach combines communications and team building with the ability to manage conflict and influence employees.

If you are aware of your emotional state, you are living in the now, connected to your feelings and less likely to let them influence perceptions of others. You'll be open to the emotional states of your employees and able to understand where they are performing well and where they're experiencing difficulty.

Identify the emotional cues you might be missing. Many people are experts at hiding their emotional states. While this skill may help them feel more in control, it can have a toxic effect on the organization, which is why it's so important to be sensitive to non-verbal and verbal emotional cues.

Related: Want Your Business to Be a Success? Set Your Employees Up to Succeed.

Writing in the Harvard Business Review, Manfred F.R. Kets de Vries talks about four toxic leadership styles, which could easily be employee behaviors with emotional cues:

  • Narcissist: These people are entitled, selfish, inconsiderate, they need attention and put themselves above the needs of others.

    Emotionally-aware leaders can spot narcissists for their self-focus, charm, lack of awareness of others' needs and self-directed world view. They'll often start every sentence with "I," redirect conversations to be about themselves, resent other's successes and scheme to discredit other employees they view as being "against" them. Try to avoid them. If you can't make sure you think before you act with these personality types.
  • Manic-depressive: An illness and a way of behaving. Manic-depressives swing wildly between moods and typically have some awareness of their condition but little motivation to change. They love the highs and blame others for the lows.

    Recognize them for their volatility, lack of insight, disruptive behavior and tendency to micro-manage yet be erratic. This behavior drives other employees away – you could end up having severe retention problems. What's the best day to talk to them? You will have to sense it out every day.
  • Passive aggressive: Probably the biggest employee cohort. Difficult to deal with since they avoid confrontation and express emotions indirectly. How to spot them easily? They suffer from low self-esteem and act passively. They may take it out on others by promising to do work, procrastinating and missing deadlines. Then they're defensive and make up excuses.

    Don't challenge them. Instead, help them find more direct ways to deal with their anger and resentment.
  • Emotionally-disconnected: Recognize them for their flat manner, inability to read the emotional cues of others and their chill. They may experience emotion as physical distress. For instance, frequent headaches or stomach aches. Drawn to hierarchy and order, this group will be less productive in an environment of change and creativity.

    Either put them in a work situation where there's lots of order and tactical work or try to help them see the links between their physical symptoms and the emotional needs of others.

Avoid the emotional traps. Emotionally-aware leaders will be on the alert for emotional traps. The rest of us, on the other hand, need to learn to spot them and adapt. The big traps I see in my consultation with clients are:

Passivity. Employees who agree with everything you say then miss deadlines and try to shift the blame drain a leader's energy, alienate co-workers and disappoint clients. Deal with passivity swiftly: Here are a few pointers.

Related: Feeling Down? Here Are 3 Ways to Stay Motivated

Manipulation. Many personality types will turn to manipulation to get what they want. Be on the lookout for employees who suck up to you, rat out other employees or who try to control meetings, interactions and relationships. Manipulation, as this article points out, is not the same as persuasion. Know the difference.

Bullying. Some people have a mean streak. They generally have poor self-esteem and issues with authority and control. They compensate by bullying others -- co-workers, vendors and probably family members. Deal with a bully head-on -- not in a confrontational mode but by neutrally informing them you are on to their methods and won't tolerate the behavior. More tips here.

Drama. Every workplace has a drama queen or king. This person has outsize reactions to everything, gossips about everyone, starts rumors and listens in to private conversations. They complain incessantly. Don't reward the drama queen -- call his or her bluff, pointing out the negative effect their behavior has on their co-workers.

It may seem impossible to avoid emotional traps and deal with people of varying personality types, but it's possible if you are tuned in to your own emotional state, willing to address issues head-on and aware your business will suffer if you don't take action. Tune in and become an emotionally-aware leader -- you'll be rewarded with better hires, higher employee engagement, more customer satisfaction and better business results.

Related: Jack Welch on How to Manage Employees

Meghan M. Biro

Entrepreneur | CEO | Speaker | Author | HR and Tech Evangelist

Meghan M. Biro is a talent management leader, career strategist and digital media catalyst. As founder and CEO of TalentCulture Consulting Group, Meghan has worked with hundreds of companies -- from early-stage ventures to global brands like Microsoft, IBM and Google -- helping them recruit and empower stellar talent. 

Related Topics

Editor's Pick

Everyone Wants to Get Close to Their Favorite Artist. Here's the Technology Making It a Reality — But Better.
The Highest-Paid, Highest-Profile People in Every Field Know This Communication Strategy
After Early Rejection From Publishers, This Author Self-Published Her Book and Sold More Than 500,000 Copies. Here's How She Did It.
Having Trouble Speaking Up in Meetings? Try This Strategy.
He Names Brands for Amazon, Meta and Forever 21, and Says This Is the Big Blank Space in the Naming Game
Business News

I Live on a Cruise Ship for Half of the Year. Look Inside My 336-Square-Foot Cabin with Wraparound Balcony.

I live on a cruise ship with my husband, who works on it, for six months out of the year. Life at "home" can be tight. Here's what it's really like living on a cruise ship.

Business News

These Are the Most and Least Affordable Places to Retire in The U.S.

The Northeast and West Coast are the least affordable, while areas in the Mountain State region tend to be ideal for retirees on a budget.

Thought Leaders

The Collapse of Credit Suisse: A Cautionary Tale of Resistance to Hybrid Work

This cautionary tale serves as a reminder for business leaders to adapt to the changing world of work and prioritize their workforce's needs and preferences.

Business Solutions

Learn to Build a ChatGPT Bot for Only $30

If you want to see what AI can do for your business, grab this course bundle today.

Money & Finance

What Is a Good Credit Score and How Do I Get One?

Is bad credit holding you back? This article explains what constitutes a good credit score and how to raise your score if it's low.


6 Myths About Leadership That May Be Holding You Back

By dispelling these leadership myths, we can create a more realistic and nuanced understanding of what it means to be an effective leader.