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plage Méditation

Why is emotional stability essential to managers and how to spot it with others?

Jerome Berrard

Contrary to a widely held idea, there is no shortcoming for a manager to express emotions. Insensitivity doesn’t stand in for emotional stability. A manager who is sensitive to other persons’ feelings and emotions displays empathy, and a manager who is talented enough to display his own emotions in unison with his audience shows personal charisma. An empathetic attitude is an appropriate skillset to behave in a context requiring emotional intelligence. For instance, a tragic event – such as workplace accident – afflicting a whole group of people, or a disruptive corporate context such as a restructuring. In the event of a restructuring, being sensitive to others’ emotions enables a manager to adopt the right words, tone and postures in a way that contributes positively to the team cohesion and problem resolution. Thinking about charismatic figures, one could think about well-known business leaders, such as Elon Musk, founder of Tesla Inc., or Steve Jobs, a founder of Apple. Mobilizing their emotions, those charismatic leaders convey their vision with sincerity and persuasion. Be it innate or learned, sensitivity is a useful capability.

Emotional stability is also a useful capability. It is often described as the capacity to remain calm while experiencing a stressful situation. The image that comes to my mind is that of ducks, wiggling their webbed feet to swim in a lake while an observer standing on shore can look at them glide gracefully and almost effortlessly. The image isn’t about hiding one’s own feelings but being able to not react or talk under emotional stress. There are 6 primal emotions that can possibly take control over our facial expressions under stress according to a classification in 1972 by Paul Elkman, an American psychologist: fear, anger, disgust, sadness, happiness and surprise. Later in 1990, Elkman added – for adults mainly – distraction, satisfaction, discomfort, excitement, guilt, success pride, relief, sensory pleasure, shame and contempt.

Why is it essential for a manager to display emotional stability?

  • Because some management essential skills are wiped out in times when negative emotions take control: team leadership; decision making; dispute mediation; giving confidence to others; energizing a team; fairness in all circumstances.

  • Because it’s not the situation that is stressful but the perception by the manager of that very situation. For example, a social conflict will have a different impact on a manager who has faced several previous similar cases successfully and on a manager who fears that things will go wrong.

  • Because the situation that a manager deems as stressful because it is exceptional to him or her, may be regarded as ordinary by his team, peers or supervisors. In such instance, a manager will be tagged as emotionally unstable. Would a manager feel relief, anger or discomfort in synch with others and find the right words to express those emotions, he would be deemed charismatic. Would he not be personally impacted by the stress felt by team members but know how to perceive it and deal with it, he would be deemed empathetic.

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