Express Your Emotions
In explaining why particular leaders have a magnetic effect, people often describe them as charismatic. But charisma has become such an overused and misused term that it’s almost useless as a descriptor of leaders. Being charismatic is neither a magical nor a metaphysical quality. It has to do with how people behave.
Social scientists have indeed investigated this elusive quality in terms of observable behavior.19 What they’ve found is that people who are perceived to be charismatic are simply more animated than others. They smile more, speak faster, pronounce words more clearly, and move their heads and bodies more often. Charisma, then, can be better understood as energy and expressiveness. The old saying that enthusiasm is infectious is certainly true for leaders.
Leaders are responsible for the level of genuine excitement in their organizations. According to leadership developers Belle Linda Halpren and Kathy Lubar, “emotion drives expressiveness.” They explain that leaders must communicate their emotions using all means of expression—verbal and nonverbal—if they are to generate the intense enthusiasm that’s required to mobilize people to struggle for shared aspirations.20
Another benefit of emotions for leaders is that they make things more memorable. Because as a leader you want your messages to be remembered, you have to pay attention to adding emotion to your words and your behavior. James McGaugh, professor of neurobiol- ogy at the University of California, Irvine, and a leading expert on creation of memory, has reported that “emotionally significant events create stronger, longer-lasting memories.”21 No doubt you’ve experi- enced this yourself when something emotionally significant has hap- pened to you—a serious trauma, such as an accident, or a joyful
G E surprise, such as winning a contest. But the events don’t have to be
real to be memorable. They can simply be stories. For example, in one experiment, researchers showed subjects in two groups a series of twelve slides. The slide presentation was accompanied by a story, one line for each slide. For one group in the study, the narrative was quite boring; for the other, the narrative was emotionally moving. They didn’t know when they watched the slides that they would be tested, but two weeks later they returned and took a test of how well they remembered the details of each slide. Although the subjects in the two groups didn’t differ in their memory of the first few and last few slides, they did differ significantly in the recollection of the slides in the middle. “The subjects who had listened to the emotionally arousing narrative remembered details in those particular slides better” than the group that listened to the neutral story. “Stronger emotional arousal,” James says, “is associated with better memory; emotional arousal appears to create strong memories.”22
You don’t need a complete narrative, and you don’t need slides. Just the words themselves can be equally effective, as demonstrated in another laboratory experiment. Researchers asked subjects to learn to associate pairs of words. Some of the words in the pairs were used because they elicited strong emotional responses (as indicated by changes in galvanic skin response). One week later, people remembered the emotionally arousing words better than they remembered the less arousing words.23 Whether you’re hearing a story or a word, you’re more likely to remember the key messages when they’re attached to something that triggers an emotional response. The reasons for this have to do with human physiology. People are wired to pay more attention to stuff that excites them or scares them.
Keep all this in mind the next time you deliver a PowerPoint presentation. It’s not just the content that will make the message
stick; it’s also how well you tap into people’s emotions. People have to feel something if they are to become willing to change. Thinking isn’t nearly enough to get things moving. Your job is to get them to feel motivated to change, and expressing emotions helps do that.24
Showing people a concrete example is better than telling them about an abstract principle, but that still leaves them on the outside looking in. If you can get them to experience what you are trying to explain, they will understand in a deeper way. When helping volunteers in hospice care understand what it is like to be the person or family they’ll be helping, trainers frequently use the following exercise.25 The trainer hands out packets of index cards and asks volunteers to write on each of their cards something they love and would be devastated to lose—the names of family members (spouse, parents, children, siblings, pets), activities (walking, playing music, traveling), or experiences (reading, listening to music, enjoying gourmet dinners, watching sunsets).
Then the trainer walks around the room and randomly takes cards from the volunteers. One person loses two of them, another loses all of them; the person who lost two loses two more. The effect is dramatic. Volunteers clutch their cards and struggle not to let them go. When they release the cards, they are visibly upset; some even break down and cry.
This poignant exercise speaks volumes about how much more effective it is when leaders can tap into people’s emotions rather than simply tell them what to do or how to feel. If the trainers had merely shared facts, the volunteers might have been able to conceptually understand the losses that the hospice residents were suffering, but not in a way that would have led to true empathy. Through this exercise, they could briefly experience the same type of losses in a deep way that they would probably never forget.
G E The dramatic increase in the use of electronic technology also
has an impact on the way people deliver messages. More and more people are turning to their digital devices and social media—from podcasts to webcasts, Facebook to YouTube—for information and connection. Because people remember things that have strong emo- tional content, social media has the potential for engaging people more than do emails, memos, and PowerPoint presentations. Leader- ship is a performing art, and this has become even truer as new technologies hit the market. It’s no longer enough to write a good script—you’ve also got to put on a good show. And you’ve got to make it a show that people will remember.
None of these suggestions about being more expressive will be of any value whatsoever if you don’t believe in what you’re saying. If the vision is someone else’s and you don’t own it, you’ll find it very difficult to enlist others in it. If you have trouble imagining yourself actually living the future described in the vision, you’ll certainly not be able to convince others that they ought to enlist in making it a reality. If you’re not excited about the possibilities, you can’t expect others to be. The prerequisite to enlisting others in a shared vision is genuineness.
When Emily LoSavio walked away from a successful job in the insurance industry, she knew just where she was headed: to fulfill a lifelong desire to make a difference in the lives of young people.26 That commitment to spend her life doing work in service to others came from her childhood. “It started early on,” she recalls. “For me, my father was a powerful role model. He grew up with a single mom who raised him on welfare, and then went on to great educational success at Harvard on a scholarship. His story is a testament to the
power of education and also the power of support. He always made it clear that it wasn’t about him being so special or different but that every child had the potential if the community came together to invest in that child.”
Incorporating the inspirational lessons learned from her father as a foundation and following her passion and bold vision for the part she could play in helping children face life’s most difficult chal- lenges, Emily founded Opportunity Impact in San Francisco. Opportunity Impact prepares young people—specifically those living in public housing—for a future of their own design. “Our goal,” says Emily, “is to open doors for children to design, believe in, and create their own future. And that begins with being able to envision something outside their experience.”
Although getting others in the community to see the vision of Opportunity Impact can be a daily challenge, Emily pursues it with passion. “I sometimes joke that people say, ‘You’re crazy!’ And some- times, when you have this passion about a vision, you do come off a little crazy,” Emily said. “But if you believe it, it also becomes contagious. People will stand behind you when they know you truly believe that there is a different future ahead and they can follow you there.” You can see that contagion in those who work with Emily. “That Emily walked away from success in the business world to start Opportunity Impact, I still find absolutely amazing,” observed David Boyer, founder of Waystohelp.org.
There’s no one more believable than a person with a deep passion for something. There’s no one more fun to be around than someone who is openly excited about the magic that can happen. There’s no one more determined than someone who believes fervently in an ideal. People want leaders who are upbeat, optimistic, and positive about the future. It’s really the only way you can get people to will- ingly follow you to someplace they have never been before.
Leaders appeal to common ideals. They connect others to what
is most meaningful in the shared vision. They lift people to high-
er levels of motivation and morality, and continuously reinforce
that they can make a difference in the world. Exemplary leaders
speak to what is unique and singular about the organization,
making others feel proud to be a part of something extraordi-
nary. And the best leaders understand that it’s not their per-
sonal idiosyncratic view of the future that’s important; it’s the
aspirations of all their constituents that matter most.
To be sustained over time, visions must be compelling and
memorable. Leaders must breathe life into visions; they must
animate them so that others can experience what it would be
like to live and work in that ideal and unique future. They use
a variety of modes of expression to make their abstract visions
concrete. Through skillful use of metaphors, symbols, word pic-
tures, positive language, and personal energy, leaders generate
enthusiasm and excitement for the common vision. But above
all, leaders must be convinced of the value of the shared vision
and communicate that genuine belief to others. They must be-
lieve in what they are saying. Authenticity is the true test of con-
viction, and constituents will follow willingly only if they sense
that the vision is genuine.
Here are some actions you can take in order to enlist others in a common vision by appealing to shared aspirations:
T A K E A C T I O N
• Talk to your constituents and find out about their hopes,
dreams, and aspirations for the future.
• Show that you listen to what they say by incorporating
• Make sure that your constituents know what makes their
product or service unique and special.
• Promote people’s pride in what they contribute.
• Show your constituents how their long-term interests are
served by enlisting in a common vision.
• Share metaphors, symbols, examples, stories, pictures, and
words that represent the image of what you all aspire to
• Be positive, upbeat, and energetic when talking about the
future of your organization.
• Express how you are feeling.
• Acknowledge the emotions of others and validate them as
• Have a reason for getting up in the morning, bouncing out
of bed, and being jazzed about going to work.
Use The Leadership Challenge Mobile Tool app to immediately integrate these activities into your life and make
this practice an ongoing part of your behavioral repertoire.