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Curate emotion: Why action in times of disruption is not enough for being well

When emotion is high, it’s time for us to reflect on how we’re all need to be leaders.

Photo by Mark Finn on Unsplash
Photo by Mark Finn on Unsplash

“I’m scared to fail.” The impact of fear and “feeling hard” are salient.  

As a leadership developer and researcher, I’ve come across the power of emotion in leadership time-and-time again. I’ll use the example of a leader I once met named Josephine. She was taking a confidence class, but in class refused to do what was asked of her and literally told us “I’m not going to this because I’m scared.” We gave her space to witness her own emotion and, finally, with lots of encouragement, it was made clear to Josephine that if she is fearful of failure, then, in fact, she would fail. Then right before my eyes, Josephine realized how these unproductive emotions were impacting her actions so she corrected her course. It was then that Josephine curated her emotion purposefully – with the goal of risk-taking and confidence – making it easier for her to take risks. 

Just that quickly, Josephine immediately began to be successful in the confidence course. This story typifies, how noting emotion and curating them, is critically important in disruptive times. We can look everywhere to see examples of how emotional states are tightly linked to action. Consider the emotional responses to COVID -19, be it over- or under- emoting. Wall Street provides a case of how workplace emotions, to the fears and worries of how COVID-19, impacts trading and the markets. Emotions were so high on Wall Street that they took a trading “time out.” Their work came to a halt in order to cool off emotions. Since organizations don’t exist in silos, inevitably action within organizations reflects heightened emotions in the outside world.

Curating emotion, rather than simply just taking action in times of disruption is not enough for well-being. Think about how a basic definition of curate means to select, look after, and present something. So to curate emotions, you nonjudgmentally observe your emotions, select which ones to give focus to, then take action based on how you want to emotionally experience your inner and outer worlds. It’s important to take emotions seriously, be cautious, wise, and reasonable, while at the same time being observant of our own emotions so as to not spiral into emotional chaos. As leaders in our own homes, workplaces, communities, and elsewhere  – we must remember to notice emotional states so that we can model and curate emotions that help us be well. 

Reflect on the notion that wherever you put your attention is where you’ll go. Since whatever you tell yourself will come upon you, so if you tell yourself you’re going to fail, you will. Learn from Josephine. Do not ignore your fear and embrace all your emotions.  Then choose an authentic emotion that alludes generously to the betterment of yourself and your community. As the saying goes, when there is no emotion that you are unwilling to feel, then there is nothing you can’t do and achieve. Take a deep breath, notice your emotions (whatever they may be), then show your mind where it is you want to go and how you want to feel. Ultimately, how you curate your emotions will influence what you see – or don’t see.

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