Boy, does it take me back. To the early executive years. The days when I felt like a circus performer juggling roles like an overeager newbie. One moment, I was the visionary painting the company’s future with vibrant colors; the next, I was the stern disciplinarian, cracking the whip to keep things in line. Fun times, right? Not so much, let me tell you. It was a helluva emotional roller-coaster.

One minute I’d be brimming with excitement about an innovative idea, and the next, I’d be overwhelmed with anxiety about whether it’d fly or flop. I felt like I was on a never-ending treadmill, sprinting at full speed, all while trying to keep a hundred plates spinning in the air. Underneath the suave, all-knowing façade, I was a mess of emotions that threatened to burst forth like a volcano. Not a pretty sight, I assure you.

And let me tell you, when the volcano did explode (which it inevitably did), it wasn’t with the fiery spectacle of a dramatic Hollywood movie. Nah, it was more like a limp balloon deflating—unimpressive, somewhat pitiful, and leaving everyone in the vicinity wondering what the hell just happened. In the aftermath of one such spectacle, as I sat amidst the metaphorical ash and lava of my emotional explosion, I had an epiphany—managing emotions is not about suppressing them or ignoring them. It’s about, well, managing them. Groundbreaking stuff, I know.

Now, let’s put that revelation into some fancy terminology for you. It’s called “Emotional Agility.” I know, I know. Sounds like something a self-help guru would peddle on a late-night infomercial. But stick with me here. Emotional agility is not about slapping on a grin and pretending like everything’s fine when your inner world is in chaos. Nah, that’s just playing pretend. That’s just a bunch of baloney.

And while we’re at it, let’s bust another popular myth—that leaders should always be stoic or cheerful. I mean, really? Who came up with that? Probably someone who’s never led a team through a high-stake project or navigated a company through a recession. As if, by virtue of being a leader, you are expected to be some emotionless robot or perpetually cheery cheerleader. Bollocks!

In the real world, leaders are human beings. And human beings have emotions—a whole messy, beautiful, confusing jumble of them. Emotions are not the enemy. They are not obstacles to be overcome. They are not inconvenient hindrances to be hidden away. They are part of who we are. And it’s high time we started treating them as such.

Human Biology vs. Workplace Expectations

Ever heard the phrase, “Leave your emotions at the door”? It’s something often thrown around in business circles like it’s the Eleventh Commandment. But let’s be real, folks. It’s as ludicrous as asking a fish to leave its fins at home. We’re not Vulcans from Star Trek, logic isn’t our only operating system. We’re emotionally complex beings, and evolution has worked for millions of years to make us that way. Our feelings are an integral part of our hardware, not some optional software update.

Now, the idea of a leader being stoic and devoid of emotions might look great on paper, or in those glossy CEO profiles in Forbes. But the reality? It’s more complicated than that. Just like the rest of us, leaders also get hooked by their thoughts and feelings. One moment they’re hit by a wave of self-doubt, the next they’re wrestling with anger, then they’re caught in the grip of anxiety, and suddenly they’re riding high on a wave of excitement.

This emotional roller coaster isn’t just some private turmoil. It plays out in their leadership—sometimes in small, subtle ways, other times in more glaring, dramatic fashion. And often, it doesn’t result in the most effective leadership. Decisions get clouded, relationships get strained, and the work environment turns toxic. The dominoes start to fall, and before you know it, what was once a promising venture is now just another business failure statistic.

So let’s break down this stereotype of the stoic leader, shall we? Picture this: a CEO who is always calm, unflappable, showing no hint of emotions, not even a hair out of place. Looks impressive, right? Now, meet the real human leader: a CEO who worries, gets excited, feels frustrated, occasionally snaps at people, and yes, even has bad hair days. A little less glossy magazine cover-worthy, isn’t it? But that’s reality, folks. And the sooner we reconcile our expectations with this reality, the better it is for everyone involved.

Workplace expectations need to align with human biology, not the other way around. A leader is not some mythical creature; they’re flesh and blood, heart and soul. They have a mind that can think and create, and a heart that can feel and empathize. And both are needed to lead effectively. After all, as the saying goes, people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

Suppressing Emotions – A Strategy Doomed to Fail

Now, let’s get into the meat and potatoes of why trying to suppress your emotions is like trying to plug a leaky dam with a piece of bubble gum. It’s just not gonna work, folks. But hey, don’t just take my word for it. Professor Daniel Wegner, a smart cookie from Harvard, did some groundbreaking research on this topic. He conducted a study where he asked participants to try not to think about a white bear. And what do you think happened? You guessed it – the participants thought about the white bear even more.

Now, what the hell does this have to do with leaders and emotions, you might ask. Here’s the rub: when you try to suppress or ignore your emotions, your brain pulls a sneaky little trick on you. It does the exact opposite and makes you think about those emotions even more. It’s like when someone tells you not to imagine a pink elephant. Too late, you’re already picturing it, right?

So, when leaders try to suppress or ignore their negative emotions – whether it’s fear, self-doubt, or frustration – it’s like they’re constantly telling themselves not to think about a white bear. And just like in Wegner’s study, they end up thinking about their negative emotions even more. This doesn’t exactly paint a picture of effective leadership, does it? No, it paints a picture of leaders being constantly distracted by their inner emotional turmoil.

Suppressing emotions is like trying to shove a genie back into a bottle. It’s just not going to happen, no matter how hard you try. Instead of decreasing, the intensity of these thoughts and emotions actually increases. It’s like when you try to hold a beach ball under water. The more you try to push it down, the more it pushes back. And when you finally lose your grip, it explodes out of the water, often hitting you smack dab in the face.

And remember that volcano I mentioned earlier? The same thing happens when leaders try to suppress their emotions. They keep pushing them down, trying to maintain that façade of stoicism or cheerfulness. But those emotions don’t just disappear; they keep building up, pressure keeps increasing, until one day… boom! The volcano erupts, often with disastrous consequences.

So, suppressing emotions isn’t just ineffective; it’s a strategy doomed to fail. But don’t worry, folks. The picture isn’t as bleak as it seems. There’s another way, a better way. It’s called emotional agility, and we’re going to talk all about it in the next section. Buckle up!

Embracing Emotional Agility – The Real Deal

Alright, so we’ve busted the myth of suppressing emotions, ripped it apart, and threw it in the dumpster. Now, let’s move onto something that actually works. No smoke and mirrors, no impractical tips and tricks, but the real deal: embracing emotional agility.

Now, you might be asking, “What’s this fancy term ’emotional agility’? Another buzzword in the business world?” No, it’s much more than that. Picture this, you’re a ship’s captain, and your emotions are the vast ocean beneath. Now, you can either let the waves throw you around or learn to ride them gracefully. Emotional agility is about doing the latter.

The first step towards this emotional swashbuckling adventure is recognizing your personal emotional patterns. And no, it’s not about pulling a Freud and diving into your childhood traumas. It’s about understanding your own unique emotional map. It’s about noticing your habitual ways of thinking, feeling, and reacting to stress and pressure.

Say, every time your project hits a snag, you start to feel anxious and start doubting your abilities. Recognizing this pattern is crucial. Because, mate, you can’t navigate if you don’t know where you are in the first place, right?

Next up is labeling your thoughts and emotions. Now, before you start groaning, I’m not suggesting you become a walking, talking version of a filing cabinet. This isn’t about creating neatly labeled compartments in your brain. Labeling is just about putting a name to what’s brewing inside you. Is it fear? Is it frustration? Or is it self-doubt? Once you’ve labeled it, it becomes easier to handle, just like realizing that you’re dealing with a shark and not a minnow.

Once you’ve recognized and labeled your emotions, the next step is acceptance. I can almost hear some of you shouting, “What, now you want us to hug our fears and insecurities?!” Nah, it’s not about that. Acceptance isn’t about resignation. It’s not about becoming best buddies with your anxiety or inviting your self-doubt for a sleepover. It’s about acknowledging these emotions, letting them in, and understanding they’re a part of the human experience. It’s not about pushing them away or hiding from them, but allowing yourself to feel these emotions without judgment.

Embracing emotional agility is like learning a new language, the language of your own emotions. It’s not an overnight process, but a journey. But trust me, the destination is worth it. So, pack your bags and get ready to explore the fascinating landscape of your own emotional world. And remember, it’s okay to stumble or lose your way occasionally. The important thing is to keep moving forward.

Acting on Values – Becoming Your Own Master

Let’s get real, folks. We’ve talked about understanding and accepting your emotions, which is all fine and dandy. But what do you do once you’ve accepted these emotions? Do you let them take the driver’s seat and guide your actions? Hell no! This is where the rubber meets the road, my friends. It’s time to talk about aligning your actions with your values and becoming your own master.

Picture this: You’ve just had a heated argument with a colleague. You’re seething with anger and all you want to do is retaliate. Now, emotional agility doesn’t mean you should give in to that anger. Instead, it’s about noticing that anger, understanding it, but then choosing your action based on your values, not your immediate emotional impulse. It’s like seeing multiple exits in a room you thought was locked. You’re no longer a puppet to your emotions, but the puppeteer.

We’ve all heard the adage, “Actions speak louder than words.” Well, it’s damn right. Your values, however noble or grand they might be, mean zilch if they’re not reflected in your actions. Say, one of your core values is respect for others. So, how do you act on it? By choosing to address the disagreement with your colleague in a respectful manner, even if you’re still feeling upset.

Aligning actions with personal values is like setting your own compass. It guides you through the rough and tumble of the corporate jungle. It’s like having your own personal GPS that keeps you on track, no matter how stormy the emotional weather gets. And who’s in control, you or your emotions? Damn straight, it’s you!

Practicing emotional agility and acting on values doesn’t just transform you as a leader, but it also influences your organization. It creates an environment where emotions are acknowledged, not dismissed. It fosters creativity because employees aren’t wasting their energy hiding their feelings or pretending to be okay. It enhances decision-making because you’re not clouded by unchecked emotions. Simply put, it’s a game changer!

So, what’s stopping you from embracing emotional agility and becoming your own master? Remember, leadership is not about putting on a mask of invincibility, but about being real, being authentic. It’s about being in touch with your emotions, but not letting them dominate your actions. It’s about becoming a leader who is not just respected but also deeply understood and appreciated. In the end, it’s about becoming a better version of you.


Alright, folks, we’ve been on quite a journey, haven’t we? We’ve dissected the emotional turmoil that we, as leaders, often find ourselves in. We’ve debunked the outdated, stiff-upper-lip leadership model and embraced our human-ness, our emotionality. We’ve dared to look our emotions in the eye, accept them, and use them as stepping stones rather than stumbling blocks. We’ve harnessed our values to guide our actions, rather than be a puppet to our emotions. And most importantly, we’ve discovered that being an effective leader is not about winning an Oscar for the best poker face, but about being real, being you, and managing your inner world with emotional agility.

Yes, emotional agility. Remember that term, because it’s not just a buzzword, my friends. It’s a leadership lifesaver. It’s the flashlight that helps you navigate through the murky labyrinth of your emotions. It’s the toolkit that equips you with the skills to respond to your emotions in a mindful, values-driven, and productive way. It’s the superpower that enables you to become a truly effective leader – one who is not just respected but also deeply understood and appreciated.

But remember, like any superpower, emotional agility needs to be honed and practiced. You can’t just wake up one day, decide to be emotionally agile, and voila – you’re a master of your emotions! No, it doesn’t work like that, folks. It’s a journey, a process. It takes effort, patience, and a whole lot of self-compassion. But trust me, it’s worth every bit of it.

I’m not asking you to become a monk and meditate on a mountain top (though that would be quite an adventure, wouldn’t it?). I’m just asking you to take the first step towards understanding and managing your emotions better. Start small. Start noticing your emotions, your thought patterns. Label them, accept them. And then, take actions that align with your values, not your immediate emotional impulses. It might seem difficult at first, but remember, every journey begins with a single step.

Being an effective leader is not about suppressing your emotions or putting on a facade of eternal cheerfulness. It’s about being authentic, about showing up as the real you, warts and all. It’s about riding the roller-coaster of emotions, but making sure that it’s you who’s in the driver’s seat. It’s about becoming a better version of you – a version that is emotionally agile, authentic, and truly effective.

Remember, it’s okay to be a ‘human’ leader. It’s okay to feel, to be emotional. In fact, it’s more than okay – it’s essential. Because only when you accept and manage your emotions effectively can you lead with authenticity, empathy, and effectiveness.

About the Author: Geoffrey Byers
Geoffrey is one of the world's foremost Designers. He is also a Serial Entrepreneur, Author, Speaker, and Mad Scientist. Hypothesis-Driven experimentation is his love language.