Emotional Leadership

Army, Chaplaincy

Emotions are not bad. They are best integrated, not stuffed into the recesses of our mind. 

Of course, that’s not what I heard from an Army training on “Critical Thinking.” 

What was briefed there was this classic, tired axiom of our culture: good leaders are critical thinkers who will “set aside” their emotions, preferences, and bias in order to utilize reason and logic to arrive at the best decision. 

Oh the tyranny of reason and logic. One of the problems in our leadership today is exactly what was espoused (and argued with by me… respectfully of course) is this false assumption that:

1. We CAN “lay aside” our emotions, culture, and bias. 

2. That the best decisions are made without accessing our emotions (and all that goes along with them).

I disagree with both presumptions emphatically. Emotions happen, preconceived notions happen, cultural baggage is a part of our lives, preferences are a reality – to have an internal bias about something is part of what makes us human. 

Reason, divorced from emotions, is limited – for our humanity, at that point, is limited. 

I am suggesting that the best decisions are made through a thorough understanding of reason, logic, emotions, preconceived notions, cultural baggage, etc. 

I have served as a chaplain in Corrections for the last four years. If I have met one, I have met a hundred men who were solid Army leaders (at least where the Army was concerned) and were rewarded by promotions and more responsibility. Their problem was not that they were not reasonable or logical in their thinking but that they had followed the path of suppression, and were therefore not integrated in their thought. Since feelings were “bad” and suppressed, the important feelings of healthy shame and guilt that might have limited their behavior were also suppressed. Thus, they became unlimited people practiced at the art of living in violation of their conscience. 

Emotions are like signposts to let us know that there is a problem. It is vital that we pay attention to what is happening internally. When making decisions, emotions can check reason and reason can check emotions. 

The challenge is not in setting aside our parts of our humanity in making choices – the challenge is integrating them into our lives in a healthy way. 

I offer the following articles for further reading on the subject:

On how reason and emotions work together

On how decisions are inherently emotional

Emotional Intelligence 

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