From Where Do You Lead? A New Leadership Skill is Emerging

We may agree on what leaderships styles aren’t working, but defining what does work in today’s environment is more difficult. The creativity and innovation needed to build a long-lasting competitive advantage require more collaborative and inspiring approaches.

Does this mean organizations should be flatter or more interconnected? Maybe, but the shift in leadership requires something more than trying to restructure the org chart. The change in the nature of leadership requires a shift in emotions.

Although work is an economic system where people are paid for their efforts and acknowledged for good results, the brain experiences the workplace first and continually as a social system. In this system, the leader sets the emotional tone. Every aspect of the leader’s presence has social meaning.

Even if unintended, if employees feel unsure, unrecognized, or betrayed, they are not capable of giving their best effort even if they “suck it up” without complaint.

On the flip side, leaders who know both when and how to connect, reassure, care about, encourage and invigorate individuals and teams are likely to see profitable growth if the products and services meet a recognized market need. Additionally, they will gain a long-lasting competitive advantage if they focus their engaged employees on creativity and innovation.

This competency I am describing here goes beyond emotional intelligence (EI). Yes, leaders should be aware of the impact they have on others so they can better choose their words, actions and emotions in any given situation. They also need to know how to both feel and shift emotions, a competency that goes deeper and takes more courage than basic EI skills.

Leaders who can activate the emotions of others first establish a deep emotional connection, a competency called “coherence.” Leaders who know how to lead from this place–their middle brain not their tactical, logical brain–will be forerunners of organizational transformation and success in coming years.

Interpersonal Coherence

If you could determine the rising source of the mental inefficiencies that result in poor problem-solving and missed opportunities, wouldn’t you take action to reverse the trend? Science has proven negative emotions such as anger, fear, frustration, disappointment and pressured impair sound decision-making and decrease the ability to creatively see options and perform at one’s best.¹

Conversely, when people feel both safe and energized, they waste fewer inefficient thoughts and reactions and they don’t have to strain to stay focused and productive.

Therefore, leaders need to manage internal states. First they need to quiet their internal noise and release the pressure, which they can do with foundational emotional intelligence skills. From this point, they can create coherence. Once they clear their own minds, they can more clearly understand and act on what is causing stress, resistance, and malaise in the workplace.  They can:

  1. Identify the source of negative emotions and what part leadership had in creating these states,
  2. Publicly acknowledge the sources of these emotions,
  3. Ask what it will take to shift the emotional tide at work,
  4. Set plans in motion to engage their employees differently, and
  5. Intentionally shift their own emotions to pride, optimism, excitement, caring and humor while working to uplift the environment.

The key factors for this process to succeed are emotionally-based. Leaders first allow themselves to feel what their employees are feeling. The employees then feel a sense of coherence with their leader. This doesn’t mean the leader gets lost in the negative emotions. Instead, the leader gains a true sense of what is occurring and demonstrates authentic empathy. Then while taking action, leaders shift their emotions to the state they want those in their organization to feel such as passion, excitement and hope.

In short, leaders connect and then uplift. They align with their employees then reset the emotional tone.

Emotions drive sustained behavior. No strategic plan or terms of engagement will fully succeed without considering the emotional aspect along with the actions.

Organizational Coherence

Emotional viruses are quick to spread in organizations. Leaders can strengthen the immunity of the system by being intentional about how they identify, acknowledge and shift emotional states. They can counter attacks by creating positive viruses spreading from the top down. This is how leaders keep the social system they operate in vibrant and alive.

From where do you lead? Consider leading from the inside out. The ability to create interpersonal and organizational coherence could be your competitive edge.


¹ Extensive research has been done and reports collected by The HeartMath Research Center at the Institute of HeartMath in Boulder Creek, California. The occurrence of coherence between people is adeptly described in their paper, The Energetic Heart: Biolectromagnetic Interactions Within and Between People. You can purchase this report and learn more about HeartMath at

Marcia Reynolds is an organizational psychologist and master certified coach. She can help you think through and implement the steps to strengthen your relationships and emotionally uplift your organization. Contact her at

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