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Negative Emotions Demonstrate Successful Leadership

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When you are recruiting or developing new leaders, which factors do you consider important in your applicants?

Most businesses probably evaluate them based on their relevant skills, education and experience. 

Since Daniel Goleman's book "Primal Leadership" and almost 30 years of research, most consultants and ‘cutting edge’ organisations now try to use Emotional Intelligence in some form or another when recruiting or developing leaders. 

However, most tend to focus on the management of positive emotions when considering the concept of Emotional Intelligence. Emotions like pride, optimism, enthusiasm, passion etc., as they are recognised as good indicators for leaders who will produce better outcomes and positive results. 

Negative emotions, meanwhile, have been thought as less consistently useful: although bursts of appropriate anger can help to focus efforts, frequent expressions of negative emotions are generally considered to predict poor leadership because they result in followers having stress, lacking in motivation etc.

However, research suggests that most companies could be making huge savings by identifying untapped and unrecognised pools of talent by focusing on negative emotional indicators when recruiting or developing leaders. 

Stanford University researchers: Rebecca Schaumberg and Francis Flynn, have shown that potential leaders will have negative emotional predispositions, such as guilt, which can indicate whether they are likely to be good leaders or not. 

They conducted a series of studies which looked at whether guilt proneness is a critical characteristic of leaders. 

In their first study, they asked 243 working people to look at a dummy profile containing fabricated responses to different scenarios. One group looked at a profile with responses showing a tendency towards guilt, the other group focused on responses showing a set of less guilt-prone behaviours. 

In their second study, the researchers used 140 university staff and students who they had assessed on their ability to feel guilty.

They asked them to form small groups to do specific tasks and rated their teammates in leadership potential based on the activities. 

In their final study, they looked at 360 degree feedback (measuring leader effectiveness and guilt-proneness, among other indicators) from a group of managers working in a range of industries.

In all these studies, Schaumberg and Flynn found out that the research participants rated the person with higher guilt-proneness as being more capable and effective as a leader.

The key seems to be that although guilt feels unpleasant to the individual, it can be quite beneficial for the group, causing people to do what's good for the group at personal cost — and sometimes even at the expense of other individuals.

A dramatic example comes from another study, in which Schaumberg and Flynn found that guilt-prone leaders were more likely to support layoffs to keep a company profitable than were those who are less guilt-prone.

Even inducing a temporary sense of guilt, the researchers found, made the leaders more likely to endorse layoffs.

They concluded; people who have a tendency to feel guilty have a higher degree of responsibility to do well, hence the potential to lead.

Their guilt makes them conscious about the effects of their behaviours on others and drives them to be better leaders.

The EBW View

This research suggests that organisations may be missing leadership potential because they are unlikely to recognise people with these characteristics as potential leadership talent, plus, people with guilt-proneness may be hesitant about putting themselves forward to lead or take control, knowing that they may displace others hopeful for the role.

As good leadership talent is increasingly difficult to find and develop, organisations will need to think "outside the box” and focus on a broad range of indicators (including negative and positive emotions and behaviours) to provide insight into leadership potential.

Using the latest research to inform leadership development and recruitment is not only good practice, but will make sure you can develop untapped talent and stay ahead of your competition.

Negative emotions can provide useful feedback that broadens thinking and perspectives and that enables people to see things as they are. When executives step up to deal with rising anger among employees, they may discover exploitations of management power.

Similarly, managers who address signals of employee sadness may learn that the rumour mill is spreading false news about closures and terminations.

One of the the keys to successful leadership is understanding the positive side to negative emotions and being able to identify and use those emotions to not only identify talent but to develop leadership in those you may have not previously considered.

If your company values leadership, using the EBW Global Emotional Intelligence System during the recruitment or as part of leadership development process will make sure you identify those applicants (who previously you may not have considered) with Business Emotional Intelligence, efficiently and cost-effectively.

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