Why emotions are the secret weapon for successful leadership

Why emotions are the secret weapon for successful leadership

In business there is a saying- 'it's more important to think with your head than your heart'.

But, as modern research shows, this statement couldn't be further from the truth.

Professor Neal Ashkanasy of The University of Queensland Business School has built an academic career in the field of organisational behaviour, focusing his research primarily on organisational psychology and emotional intelligence.

He believes that business leaders, decision-makers and managers simply can't perform at their best when they don't have a true grasp on their own feelings and more importantly, the feelings of those around them.

"People make decisions based on their emotions. Even major business decisions which are ostensibly made in the most serious fashion possible are never entirely made on the basis of economics," says Ashkanasy.

"Emotions are absolutely critical to our thinking. If we don't know how to manage our emotions, we can very easily make incorrect decisions."

One of Ashkanasy's students Jemma King, is currently working with Australian Army commandos to test the effects of emotional intelligence (EI) training on combat performance, as well as situations which require quick and accurate thinking in the field.

When not exposed to EI training, the soldiers' accuracy in quickly determining the difference between friend and foe in a combat firing scenario was significantly reduced.

However, after being trained in EI, the same soldiers had an increasingly higher accuracy rate in determining which targets to shoot.

While those in boardrooms don't face quite the same life-or-death situations as army soldiers, they do work in an extremely high-pressure environment where team management and making correct decisions is crucial to success.

"These tests show that unless you learn to control and deal with your emotions, you're going to make mistakes," says Ashkanasy.

"We need emotions to be able to think, but if you can't manage your own emotions then you won't be able to think straight.

"Good leaders and managers go one step further, because they not only manage their own emotions, they can manage the emotions of other people."

According to Ashkanasy, contrary to what some people might think, emotional intelligence is a learnable skill.

The University of Queensland Business School has ingrained emotional intelligence principles into its classes surrounding organisational behaviour and management, namely through its Master of Business Administration (MBA) program.

Ashkanasy says that business leaders need to recognise all people are emotional creatures. Until they can accept this fact and manage their teams accordingly, productivity and a healthy office culture is at risk.

"The most irrational thought anyone can have, is that people are rational," he says.

"When you don't know how to manage emotions, what happens is you start to lose control and you don't understand what's going on in the environment around you."

"Leaders have to create the right mindset. They have to understand that you can be trained to improve the way you manage emotions and become more intelligent in that regard."

Interested in learning more about emotional intelligence and business leadership?
Register for the upcoming UQ MBA Evening or Live Webinar on Wednesday 10 October.

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