5 Ways to use empathy and emotion to be more successful

Beneath, Cassandra shares 5 key insights from, Change Enthusiasm: How to Harness the Power of Emotion for Leadership and Success.

Belief is the adhesive that makes change stick

Our repeated actions, or habits, are driven by the thoughts we keep thinking, or our beliefs. In order to achieve the kind of change that sticks, we must first understand the belief systems that will drive that change and instill it within heart and mind—be they our own, or those of individuals in our organizations.

This is where so many leaders get change wrong. They create and state the vision, assign roles and responsibilities, and even create a plan with concrete deliverables to get there. But through all that effort, little to no time is given to aligning and sharing the why behind the change—why they believe that change is the best move, why they themselves are excited about making that change a reality. Lasting change is rooted in sustaining a change in a belief system.

Belief is the glue that holds it all together. Without that adhesive, you may reach a respectable number of your change goals, but without knowing the beliefs that hold your new reality together and ensuring that hearts and minds are aligned with it, slowly but surely your efforts will be reversed. I see this as a key driver behind the McKinsey statistic that 70% of major change initiatives fail.

The future of business will require embracing emotion in the workplace

Emotion continues to hold a larger and larger space in business. In recent decades, emotional intelligence (EQ) has found solid ground amongst the most senior executives around the globe, and is now understood by millions to be just as, if not more, important than IQ.

Emotion is the undercurrent of every organizational culture around the world. You can sense the culture of an organization by feeling the emotional energy up and down the hallways and in meeting rooms. Emotion is what businesses strive to elicit when customers use products and services. Emotion is a natural inheritance of our species.

The idea of leaving emotion at the door of business is antiquated because it doesn’t leave room for us to express our fullest, most authentic selves in the work we lead. The leader who acknowledges and welcomes emotion, and provides strategies and tools to leverage that energy as fuel for the business, will set the pace of success moving forward.

“Negative” emotions are actually signals of our greatest opportunities for growth

When fear, anger, frustration, anxiety, or grief are inspired in the face of change, these energetic entities present themselves in service to us. Social psychologists have discovered that emotion travels faster than cognitive thought. Centuries ago, our ancestors roamed the Earth leveraging these energies as tools. When danger was near, emotional energy traveling through the amygdala alerted our primitive ancestors of an opportunity: be eaten, or survive.

When faced with change in our world today, our feelings are often perceived as incoming danger because we can be pulled from what we know, have our day-to-day disrupted, or be thrown off track from our goals. But it’s these same emotions that alert us to an opportunity: get bitter, or get better.

Emotion is a resource in infinite supply. This highly efficient resource exists to alert us to opportunities to learn, grow, and evolve—whether that be learning about yourself, learning about your peers or direct reports, or learning about your business. When we strive to remain in tune with these energies and how they manifest within us, we can grant ourselves grace in allowing them to exist, and accept their invitation into our greatest opportunities to grow.

“When fear, anger, frustration, anxiety, or grief are inspired in the face of change, these energetic entities present themselves in service to us.”

Choice is the most powerful tool in the toolkit of humanity

Where you sit in this moment is the culmination of millions of choices. Choice has the power to whisk you off to Maine at a moment’s notice. Choice has the power to remove you from pursuit of a medical degree to living on a friend’s couch nurturing a business idea.

The power of choice is never greater than when faced with a change, especially one that feels like it knocks you to the ground and inspires anger, fear, or frustration. That painful change for which you never asked—like a demotion, a termination, a new manager, or new responsibilities with no resources to support the extra workload—provides moments in which choice can empower us to explore opportunity. Through choice, we are empowered to transform emotion into fuel for growth.

Effective and inspired change leadership is both empathetic and self-nurturing

When leading complex and ambiguous change, two of a leader’s most important skills are empathy and self-care—the latter being far more important than the former. I have seen so many great leaders leave companies they once loved because of burnout during complex change initiatives. After ensuring everyone else had what they needed for success, they forgot that they had to support themselves.

If you aren’t refueling your tank, you’ll never be able to give your best to your people. You’ll only be capable of a well-intentioned shadow of who you could be if you were refreshed and well-rested.The second critical skill is empathy. This requires not only embracing emotion as a critical part of change, but also awareness that everyone wears change differently. As a leader, it is up to you to communicate to your employees that they are not alone, they are valued, and you are there to support them. The most effective way to do that is through empathy—holding space for another while simply listening, to understand how they are managing the change and how you can help.


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