Emotional Competence in Leadership – Basics for Managers

How managers find a constructive way to deal with feelings in uncertain times

Emotions have no place in the job. Many managers feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed when it comes to emotions in the team.
This article is about emotional competence, what prerequisites it has and what benefits it brings

Emotions have no place in the job. Many managers feel uncomfortable or overwhelmed when it comes to emotions in the team.

This article is about emotional competence, what it requires and what benefits it brings. The myth of disruptive emotions in business is persistent. I still hear in my consultations that managers want to learn to keep emotions out.

To put it in a nutshell: Keeping emotions out is as impossible as it is wrong.

Why emotional competence is important in leadership

Every person has emotions. They are part of the basic equipment of life and seek ways. Of course, this also applies to work.

The more emotions a person has to suppress or ignore, the more he or she goes into frustration, illness, a drop in performance or withdrawal. And these mechanisms are a cost factor in companies that should not be underestimated.

“Emotions have no place at work” is therefore no solution.

“Catching emotional dramas and avoiding friction losses” is a good solution.

But how does that work? This is where emotional competence in leadership is indicated. This starts with one’s own emotionality and requires a certain degree of self-reflection.

The distinction between feelings and emotions seems to me to be very helpful. If a pillar of fire shoots into my chest from my stomach, that is a feeling – a body sensation. If I give this feeling the label “anger,” that is an emotion – an evaluation of bodily sensation.

Emotions are important information carriers and relationship helpers.

  • Emotions are the basis for all relationships and bonding in teams.
  • Emotions transport needs.
  • Emotions help to make decisions.
  • Emotions help with the orientation between distance and closeness.
  • Emotions make inner values measurable.

What is emotional competence?

The term emotional intelligence (EQ) was coined by psychologist Daniel Goleman. According to this, emotional intelligence combines personal and social competencies such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. From this he derives various leadership styles. So much for the theory.

I see the term Emotional Competence as an extension: Intelligence is fixed, competence can be acquired.

In this purpose, Emotional Competence is the acquisition and intuitive application of intelligent emotion and relationship management.  In short: practice instead of theory. It is about empathic doing. To this end, I have identified four helpful and meaningful steps.

Self-leadership is the basis for emotional leadership

Alfred Herrhausen, former Chairman of the Board of Deutsche Bank, once said “if you don’t know how to lead yourself, you can’t lead others.”

Self-leadership is the foundation for emotional competence. Let’s just imagine a choleric alpha dog trying to lead a team in an emotionally competent way. That idea seems difficult.

Self-leadership includes self-management, self-reflection and self-awareness.

Self-management is the ability to manage emotional situations: How do I deal with pressure, stress and emotions? Suppress, ignore, repress or balance in a healthy way?

Self-reflection is the ability to understand one’s own feelings and motives: What are my needs and emotional triggers? How mindful am I of myself? Am I radically honest with myself?

Self-awareness is the ability to perceive oneself in different roles: What impact do I have? What is my attitude towards my strengths and weaknesses? What are my red buttons?

Techniques for balancing your own emotions

There are hundreds of techniques for dissolving your own emotionality. I will present two of them here:

Breathing techniques

The quickest and simplest way to dissolve rising emotions is to regulate them through breathing. Here is a simple breathing technique to get you started:

  1. Where do I feel the emotion in the body, for example, anger. Suppose it is felt in the chest, behind the breastbone.
  2. How strong is the emotion on a scale of 1 to 10?
  3. Breathe into this region with deep, conscious breaths until the value is 0.

Tapping techniques from energetic psychology

There is a whole range of tapping techniques such as TFT, EFT, MET, Emotional Balance etc.. They all come from energetic psychology, originally developed by Dr. Roger Callahan and Gary Craig.

They are similar to psychological acupressure and I recommend tapping on the stress point for beginners. This is located between the nose and upper lip. Tap there with a finger while breathing deeply in and out. The emphasis is on the exhale and the associated release of stress and burdensome feelings.

Those who tend to repress feelings in order to lead will benefit from coaching that gives them an individual strategy. This frees up capacity and energy for leading the team without stumbling over one’s own emotionality.

Taking emotional leadership in four steps

Only those who know their own emotionality and are able to regulate it can lead adequately on an emotional level.

Leading with authority creates pressure and is no longer appropriate or goal-oriented. Leading empathically creates pull through appreciation and is also more efficient. In combination with effective communication (communication that comes from the authentic personality and therefore functions independently of learned tools), empathic leadership is unbeatable.

The practical example

An example from my experience as a trainer:

My co-trainer and I are sitting in front of a group of about 300 prospective coaches. I have just explained what to practice in practice, when a woman in the second to last row stands up.

She puts her hands on her hips and says, “But we don’t want to practice! And anyway, we’re mad because …”. What follows is a torrent of complaints and accusations about the seminar organization. That doesn’t matter at the moment, because she places her accusations here with the lecturers.

While she shouts her negativity into the hall – it becomes increasingly louder – I perceive my own emotional reaction.

1. Giving space

First, I give her the space and let her talk out appropriately. This makes her feel comfortable and gives me enough time.

2. Balancing emotions

I use this time to resolve my own emotions with a few effective techniques. This way I can react neutrally instead of emotionally or even reflexively justifying. The least I can do – if I have to do it quickly – is to take a deep breath into my belly, centering myself.

When it starts to repeat itself, I interrupt it.

3. Take emotional leadership

With clearly expressed empathy, I take the lead and return positive emotions. I show her that I notice and hear her. I smile and communicate understanding before getting to facts. Her complaint is in the right place with the seminar organization. At this point, I take her into a positive emotion and redirect the focus back to the specific exercise task, which I link with curiosity and anticipation.

4. Initiate decision

Now I initiate their decision. I ask her if she wants to leave or stay, which is up to her in this seminar situation. In a professional context, this is where efficient communication comes into play. After all, the team can’t choose to work or not. The task here is to act in such a way that they find their way back to constructive cooperation.


Empathic leadership with emotional competence is becoming increasingly important as our world becomes more complex and unpredictable.

Leadership from an inner balance is needed, which is able to deal with feelings and allow trust. This is especially true when leading at a distance. Leaders must not be afraid of emotions. They should develop their emotional competence in order to carry security into the team.

Also worth reading: Emotional intelligence as an instrument in change management.

Ava Hauser navigiert Führungskräfte durch die Stromschnellen massiven Wandels. Ihr Fokus liegt auf der Selbstführung als Basis für erfolgreiches Führen. Mit über 20 Jahren Erfahrung als Coach, Trainer, Speaker und Therapeutin hat sie ein Programm entwickelt, das Menschen stark macht - nicht nur für Führungsaufgaben.

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