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How to Manage Your Emotions When You Make Leadership Decisions

How to Manage Your Emotions When You Make Leadership Decisions

by | Dec 18, 2018 | By David Dye, Courageous Cultures, Winning Well |

Do you struggle to manage your emotions? You’re not alone.

We were speaking to an international gathering of leaders from across Europe when a young man approached the microphone and asked: “How, as a leader, do you keep your personal feelings from clouding your decision making?”

It’s a brave question because it’s vulnerable. He recognized the power of his emotions and their power to limit his leadership.

Can you relate? Have you ever made a poor leadership decision because you were scared? Worried what people would think? Didn’t want to be embarrassed?

I know I have.

Manage Your Emotions – Don’t Eliminate Them

Let’s be real: you can’t separate your personal feelings from your decision-making – nor should you.

For example, compassion is a personal feeling and I hope that you always lead and make decisions with compassion for your team and your customers.

We need leaders to do the work machines can’t do. That includes human decisions that account for more than what’s on the spreadsheet. Please, don’t lose your humanity.

That said, your feelings can also prevent you from making healthy leadership decisions.

When that happens, it’s often because:

A) You’re hurt (eg: an employee disrespected you and your first impulse is to act from anger)


B) You’re trying to avoid pain (eg: the pain of embarrassment or rejection).

How to Manage Your Emotions With Perspective

In the first scenario, when you’re hurt by a disrespectful employee, the key to manage your emotions is to understand that it’s not about you. They likely did not wake up that morning wondering “How can I really hurt my boss today?”

It’s more likely that they are insecure, in a poor fit, or there is some other reason that caused the behavior. You may not know why they did what they did, but when you take a moment to de-personalize their behavior and remember that it’s not about you, that they’re dealing with their own reality, it will help calm your flight or fight emotions.

Then you can focus on your job: to help get them back on track – or into a better fit.

Frame Your Problems

In the second scenario, where you’re facing pain like the risk of embarrassment or rejection, there are two techniques that can help you get perspective.

First, ask yourself which set of problems you want to have. There’s no problem-free scenario. Leadership is a conscious choice to embrace problems and to solve them.

Leadership: It’s not IF problems, but WHICH problems.

When you remind yourself that you have a choice, you prevent victim thinking from setting in. eg: “Do I want the problem of being disliked (that comes with removing a poor performer) or do I want the problem of a team performing poorly (that comes with allowing a poor performer to stay)?

You’re not a victim. You have a choice to make. Framing your choices gives you power and you’re less likely to want to hide from the pain.

Connect to What Matters Most

The second way to face emotional pain is to reconnect with your leadership values.

Eg: “I want the team to grow and succeed” or “I value results and relationships.”

Then ask a “How can I…” question to get you aligned with what you value.

Eg: “How can I do what is in the best interest of the team?” or “How can I focus on results and relationships in this situation?”

Asking a good “How can I…” question re-engages the thinking part of your brain and relaxes the powerful emotions that can push you in a different direction.

Your Turn

Effective leaders channel their emotions into healthy relationships with their team while putting aside their limited self-interests in favor of what will be best for the team in the long run.

Leave us a comment and share your thoughts or best technique to prevent emotions from limiting your leadership.

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!

Want more human-centered leaders in the workplace? Share this today!


  1. Jay Brantley

    Sometimes the emotion that prevents you from making a healthy leadership decision is fear of making the “wrong” decision. Over the years I have found that not making a decision is the worst case scenario. When you make a decision you have access to 2 pathways. If it is the “right ” decision you are headed down a good road. If you make the “wrong” decision you are one step closer to knowing what is the “right” decision.

    • David Dye

      Jay, that is so well said! I know I can identify with that fear of getting it “wrong.” Often the choice isn’t between right or wrong, but between forward or not. Eliminating an option can be quite valuable.

      Thanks for adding to the conversation.

  2. Art costa

    You use emotions and feelings interchangeably. They are not the same and should be dealt with separately.

    • David Dye

      Art – you’re right of course. Two of those words that are used interchangeably in everyday speech, but do have different technical meanings. Would love for you to share your expertise on how managers can differentiate between the two and respond appropriately to be a more healthy leader! On my end, identifying the feeling can help surface the emotion. Identifying the emotion can help lessen it’s grip or equip us to address the concern it’s raising.

  3. MKS

    this is very helpful for me in my personal relationships as well. I always say a relationship is a team however I realized that I am not practicing what I preach. I take others actions personally and my hurt feelings are communicated in anger.
    your article brings up two important points…keeping in mind that its the other person’s reality and staying aligned with my values. If I value that a relationship is a team then I need to be a team player and not make it about me. right?. thank you!

    • David Dye

      MKS – I’m with you. Well said! Leadership is a relationship, after all.


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David Dye helps human-centered leaders find clarity in uncertainty, drive innovation, and achieve breakthrough results.  He’s the President of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm known for practical tools and leadership development programs that stick. He’s the award-winning authors of four books including Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and and Powerful Phrases for Dealing with Workplace Conflict, and hosts the popular Leadership without Losing Your Soul podcast. David is a former executive and elected official. David and his wife and business partner, Karin Hurt, are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells – building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

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