Emotion and Coaching

During the leadership development programmes I am coaching on with London Business School I often ask managers and executives “how do you feel?” a day or two into the process. The common responses are “fine”, “ok”, “interesting.” These responses are soon banned from the coaching space. They are not emotions. They are society’s easy way out of true reflection and disclosure.

Many of these managers are highly intellectual, smart and analytical. A lot of them live in their heads, and are rationale and pragmatic – ‘just the facts ma’am, just the facts’. Interestingly the brain is not just in our heads, there is a whole nervous system throughout our bodies supporting the processing power of our brains – sending and receiving impulses. So living in our heads is a fallacy. This is part of the emerging studies of Neuroscience and Coaching.

From a list of eight core emotions I ask the participants again “how do you feel?” only being able to respond from the list. This is where realization and learning become powerful. Participants say they feel shame about a comment made by a direct report, or data on a 360 they’ve always known but done nothing about. Others say they feel joy at finally understanding the impact they have on the various stakeholders in their 360. Others say they feel fear – now that they know things about themselves and their leadership journey they can’t be ignorant anymore.  It’s at this level of reflection and disclosure that learning starts. When people feel the emotion, and naming it often makes it feel real, it becomes meaningful to them. When they feel at their core that’s when positive change can happen. Remember when you slid on black ice while driving, or how you felt bungee jumping, the birth of your child, or a scary nightmare as a child? Events associated with strong emotions are memorable.

So when a participant feels emotions during their leadership journey there is a greater chance that the learning will be registered and positive action can result.

The other reason it’s important for leaders to understand their feelings is that members of their team have feelings too – not all employees are head-dominant and rationale. There’s a greater chance of understanding others’ and having empathy. Both of which are key to motivating and engaging employees.

So really reflect on how you feel and when you ask someone else how they feel really listen. How people feel can be a window to greater understanding whether of yourself or others.

Directions Coaching provide executive coaching courses for individuals and groups in London.