Leadership and Staying Emotionally Centred

  • March 06, 2014
  • Delee Fromm

Being able to remain balanced and centred emotionally is at the heart of the calm, relaxed and authoritative exterior that signals leadership. There are many things that can destroy emotional balance, but none is faster than extreme emotion. Lawyers typically don’t deal with emotions professionally and for many emotions are unfamiliar territory. So awareness and recognition of emotions, which is an essential skill for staying centred, may be a challenge for many lawyers. Another essential skill is dealing well with extreme emotions when they arise.

Awareness and recognition

The hallmark of emotional intelligence, the single best predictor of success in life, is to understand our feelings and those of others. Often as lawyers we ignore, suppress or deny our emotions – especially feelings we do not like to admit having. However, suppression of feelings, particularly strong emotions, usually leads to leakage or bursts. They will come out, often in the most inappropriate way and at the most awkward time. Also suppression or ignoring emotions causes problems with cognitive processing, allowing mistakes to occur. So ignoring or denying them is not the answer. By learning how your body reveals your inner emotional state, you may not only be more aware of what you are feeling but begin to discover the onset of emotional states more quickly.

How to deal with extreme emotion

Research shows that naming or identifying a feeling will, by itself, reduce the feeling and bring it under control. Naming it also helps you to adopt the stance of a detached observer, allowing perspective to analyze the emotion and think of ways to deal with it. But awareness and recognition of emotions may not be enough to control behavior and sometimes very strong emotions, such as fear or rage, may lead you to act before you can decide consciously what to do.

Take a physical break if you can. This permits the time to become a detached observer -- to figure out what you are feeling and why. Be aware that emotions are not fixed – they can be changed by negotiating with them. Hot feelings, which are less adaptable and rational, can be changed to cool feelings, which are healthier and less volatile. For example, anger can be changed to annoyance and irritation, depression to disappointment, severe guilt to regret, and anxiety to concern.

Breathing techniques are very helpful during both mental and physical breaks. Takes some deep breathes in through your nose and let the air out slowly through your lips. You may also take some deep breathes and let the air out quickly, as if you were sighing. This activates the parasympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system – the part you want activated during stress so that you can relax. You have to be careful with this last breathing technique however as it may be interpreted by others as a sign that you are bored, tired or extremely frustrated.

To be centred emotionally is imperative for supporting a strong leadership presence. The ability to recognize and deal with emotion is not only the hallmark of great leadership but also the foundation of emotional intelligence. Once we are able to skillfully understand and deal with our own emotions we can begin to recognize, anticipate and constructively deal with the emotions of others.

Delee Fromm is both a lawyer and psychologist who has taught and coached for over 24 years. She can be contacted at delee@frommandgoodhand.com.