The Leader’s Answer to “How Am I Feeling?”

Posted Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Allen Slade

Emotions are an important part of the leadership landscape. As a leader, you need to be able to manage emotions in yourself and understand the emotions of others. Let’s look at the first step in managing emotions:

  1. “How am I feeling?”
  2. “How are my emotions serving me right now?” 
  3. “Would different emotions (type or intensity) serve me better?”
  4. “How do I get there?”

As a leader, how well can you answer the first question? How well can you label your emotions?

Our ability to manage something depends, in part, on our ability to put our observations into words. If you drop me in the Sahara desert with only a water bottle, my ability to describe what I saw would be limited. “Sandy, windy, hot, dry.”  I probably would not survive 24 hours without help. The best helper would be someone with the words – “Camel tracks, acacia trees, Tuareg, sirocco” – to make sense of the desert.

Leaders need a rich language of emotion. If your emotional vocabulary is a bit limited, let me suggest two steps to move beyond “sandy and hot” to “acacia and sirocco”. First, you need the words. Then, you need practice using the words.

Here is a simple model of emotions from Robert Plutchik. Emotions vary in intensity from +3 to -3. When you are centered, you are at zero for that emotion – it is not actively impacting your behavior or thinking. With four basic physical sensations, there are twenty-four unique emotions.


For most of my clients, this is a great model. If, however, you think of emotions differently, feel free to improvise. Add your own emotions, mix and match. Make sure you label both the type and intensity of your emotions. Otherwise, use whatever matches your emotional life.

For your language of emotion to take hold, you have to put it into practice. Regularly ask yourself “How am I feeling?” Answer with both type of emotion and intensity. Do this whenever you have a substantial event – a meeting, a presentation, a feedback session or a difficult conversation. Also ask yourself periodically throughout the day. It can be helpful to use  some way to record your observations, like in this Managing Emotions tool.

The discipline of asking “How am I feeling?” will help you to manage your own emotions. It will also give you greater sensitivity to the emotional landscape around you. You will still find yourself lost in the desert from time to time. But at least you will have the words to make sense of the situation and plot a path to the oasis.

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