What is the difference between mastery and art, between excelling in any technique, skill or profession, and artistic expression with the power of movement? Am I wrong to say that these are emotions – in terms of their understanding, ability of expressing and scheming them? Imagine a theatre performance in which the actors do not channel the emotions of the heroes, or a concert in which the musicians play the notation technically flawlessly, but in the absence of an emotional interpretation of the ambiance. When we think of art as an activity, this notion is almost impossible, or perhaps the emotional aspect is so self-evident that the line between master and artist is completely clear to us.
What if we map that comparison to leadership? Would you agree that here, too, the gap between a leadership master, someone who possesses the know-how about leadership techniques and skills, and an leadership artist, someone who has the power to transfer inspiration, bring people together to work in the same direction, and create ‘flight conditions’ for the entire organization, is filled with ability to listen to and speak about emotions? If not, think of a manager who attracted nothing more from you than just a contribution within a job description, who failed to appeal to you in a way that surprised you over yourself at what all you can do. Could you describe him as a leadership artist?
Awareness of the importance and impact of emotional intelligence in work environments is relatively fresh. It has been present as the content of leaders’ training curricula for only about two decades. At its core, emotional intelligence represents accepting the human emotional side, understanding the impact of emotions on motivation, commitment, efficiency, and performance, and responding appropriately to a variety of emotional states, both one’s own and others’.
In order to inspire topicality in this column, I dedicate it to an insight into the oldest emotion that accompanies humanity in good and bad on the path of evolution from prehistoric to the present day and which also shapes our future – that is FEAR.
Cocktail of emotions
Fear is one of the six basic emotions that scientists have recognized and determined based on universal representation at the level of all mankind, that is, regardless of factors of race, gender, age, status, and so on. It is frightening that among the six primary emotions: fear, anger, disgust, sadness, surprise, and joy, there is only one emotion that is undoubtedly positive. Probably this is the reason why we respond to negative messages much faster and more intensive than to positive ones. This must be why, in order to establish a feeling of happiness, positive self-image and satisfaction, it is necessary to consciously focus our attention on communicating and receiving positive news; to train ourselves in recognizing gratitude or in giving and receiving praise and celebrating successes.
How quickly I got caught up in the interpretation of emotions and attributed positive and negative omens to them! And here comes the first lesson: we need to look at emotions as facts! Emotions can be imagined as basic colours from which we mix different shades, as letters of the alphabet from which we compose words and stories, or as ingredients of a cocktail from which we create an intoxicating drink.
Emotions are basically pure hormonal chemistry. The bartender is our brain. And we are guests at this cocktail bar.
Our responses to an emotional cocktail are expressed in feelings. There are an infinite number of these, and they depend on the chemical composition of the hormone mixture, our experience, beliefs and awareness. The same situation will thus arouse in different people, different feelings. For example, when we mix spike of surprise, two squeezes of joy, and three splashes of fear into a cocktail, someone may taste it as excitement and someone else as discomfort. Feelings are therefore our personal experience of emotional concoction.
All emotions have an evolutionary reason. Fear, for example, protects us from danger. While its function has remained the same throughout human history, the perception of danger in its occurrence has changed over time. Just as it is hard today to imagine the fear of the stamping of a mammoth or the waiting of giant tigers, prehistoric man probably did not feel the fear of flying, losing his job or stealing his identity.
The abundance of the developed world also seems to have given birth to an abundance of fears.
The development of perceptions of danger is almost equated with the dimensions of our imagination. How else to understand fears of, for example, long words, one’s own image in the mirror, certain digits, or fear of fear. Can you imagine an accountant with triskaidecaphobia or fear of number 13?
Fears of leaders
Many eyes are fixed on the leader and this is an exposure that is good to be prepared for. In addition to leadership skills, personal experience and a willingness to take on great responsibilities, readiness is also manifested by a high level of self-awareness, inner strength and clarity about one’s own purpose and ambition in this role. If nothing else, when you are invited to enter the leadership level, you can ask yourself the question: “Why do I want to become a leader?” If the answers are related only to reasons of status, reward, influence, believe that your moment has not yet matured and that the experience will be sooner or later riddled with fears.
On the leaders’ fear scale, the first five places are granted to:
- fear of criticism,
- fear of defeat,
- fear of decision-making,
- fear of public speaking and
- fear of responsibility.
Really scary. I could dedicate a column to each of these fears. This time, these fears remain written only as a revelation of the humanity of the leaders, their vulnerability and imperfection.
The consolation I can offer is that we humans are more lenient with leaders who act openly, are honest, and have no problem acknowledging their own imperfections than with leaders who protect their vulnerability by inaccessibility and hiding behind the power of role within the hierarchy.
Less scary future
When I think about fear, I can’t get past the beliefs that are ingrained in our experience, such as that fear is a weakness, that it’s something that grabs you and needs to be overcome. So, we experience fear as something threatening and something always connected to the future.
Through evolution, the human brain has developed the ability to imagine the future. And when there is fear at work, this future is always scary.
It seems as if in a state of fear we are telling ourselves a story with a certain bad outcome. What if we used our abilities of imagination, envisioning the future, and weaving stories to outwit fear with a story of good outcome?
It is true that our fears sometimes come true. And yet I believe that we can diminish the fears’ power over us with a story we tell ourselves, for example, that criticism is an opportunity for progress, that no one always expects us to make the right decisions, that responsibility is an opportunity for wider influence, that it is permissible to be imperfect or that we can learn much more from defeat than from victory.
Fear is our evolutionary ally and is our teacher, if only we can look at it through the prism of cognition and translate it into a new consciousness, better future decisions and actions. It seems that in overcoming fear, our response to it is the most important. Will we allow fear to paralyse us, or will we accept it as a fact, explore its composition, and write a screenplay for our future fearless step, is a choice we all can make.
In the spirit of a column on Leadership jazz, I conclude with the thought of Miles Davis, a great jazz composer and trumpet player who could be said didn’t succumb to fear despite numerous falls to the bottom: “When you hit the wrong note, the next note you play is the one that determines good or bad.”
With the musical accompaniment of reading, this time I exceptionally deviate from jazz, but only for one step aside; towards the topic of the column and the summer with Stevie Wonder, who says in the song DON’T YOU WORRY ‘BOUT A THING from 1973, among other things:
“Everybody needs a CHANGE, a change to check out NEW, but YOU are the ONLY ONE TO SEE, the changes you TAKE YOURSELF THROUGH….”
Wishing you all a great fearless summer!