Embracing Emotions: The Heart of Change in Leadership

Leading a team through change isn’t just about the strategy; it’s about understanding the emotions that come with it. It's important to focus on feelings because they can seriously affect how well a team moves through change. How often have you heard that "we need to keep our emotions out if it!" This archaic and outdated model of leadership overlooks the fundamentals of human behaviour. Instead you MUST pay attention to feelings, both yours and everyone else's.

In a recent HBR article about Storytelling That Drives Bold Change, Frances X. Frei and Anne Morriss listed the 10 Underrated Emotions in Change Narratives that we often overlook but can be incredibly influential when leading through change:

  • Frustration: Can drive us to find better solutions.
  • Regret: Reminds us to learn from the past.
  • Enthusiasm: Fuels our energy and commitment.
  • Devotion: Deepens our connection to the mission.
  • Happiness: Builds resilience and a positive culture.
  • Discomfort: Encourages growth out of complacency.
  • Anger: Signals deep passion that can catalyse action.
  • Fear: Heightens awareness and can foster preparation.
  • Surprise: Opens the door to flexibility and adaptability.
  • Contempt: Can highlight areas in need of change.

Recognising and harnessing these emotions can be a significant asset in steering your team through the often turbulent waters of change.


"To lead is to communicate, to communicate is to feel, and to feel is to connect."

If you're leading through change, talk about your feelings and listen to others. It’s not a sign of weakness; it’s a way to connect and lead better. Being transparent about our emotional journeys is a call to amplify connection and communication efforts. Inviting our people to voice their negative emotions can also unlock insights and foster genuine connections and drive change.

I recently had the privilege of interviewing Assistant Professor Michael Parke, from Wharton Business School, who emphasised the importance of 'affect labelling', a process of articulating negative emotions at work. "When people are able to voice things like frustration or anxiety... it can actually be seen as credible and help managers understand and address the underlying issues," he stated. This approach challenges the traditional notion of keeping negative emotions under wraps and highlights how acknowledging them can lead to constructive outcomes.

"Using emotions as a guide can be a powerful way to lead through change."

Reading about how emotions play into change, this brilliant piece by Joanne Free-Pameli, an ECD Certified Consultant, explores how using The Emotional Culture Deck helps teams express and manage their feelings during times of change. The ECD invites and nudges people to be open about their emotions in a safe way, which can help everyone understand each other and work together better.

Another great example is how KPMG used The Emotional Culture Deck. In this video Eva Perrone shares the journey they've been on to help their leaders be more intentional about shaping how their teams feel and act during a big period of change. By focusing on the team's emotions, they were able to navigate the change more effectively.

"Strength comes from vulnerability and emotional connection."

I've long admired Golden State Head Coach Steve Kerr's approach to leadership and high performance.Joy is one of NBA coach Steve Kerr’s team values (along with mindfulness, compassion, and competition). He shows us how to use emotions as a competitive advantage, how to strike the balance that challenges the traditional archetype of leadership, and instead demonstrates that strength comes from vulnerability and emotional connection. 

Here’s what you can do to make this part of your leadership:

  • Write Down Your Feelings: At the end of each day, note down the emotions you experienced. This will enhance your emotional literacy and help you understand how these emotions impact your decision-making.
  • Feelings First in Meetings: Start meetings with a quick round of emotional check-ins. This practice not only sets the tone for a more empathetic environment but also helps to identify the emotional undercurrents within the team.
  • Intentionally Craft Your Emotional Culture: Bring your team together to collectively identify the emotions that they need to experience most often to be successful, and identify the unpleasant emotions that will serve as a red flag for problems ahead.
  • Appreciate Out Loud: Take a leaf out of Indra Nooyi's book. Recognise and appreciate the efforts of your team members regularly. Whether it's a handwritten note or a public shout-out, acknowledgment goes a long way in building a positive team dynamic.

Emotions are a huge part of how we handle change. By being open and responsive to the emotions of your team, you’ll be able to lead through change more effectively. Remember, it's about connecting as people, not just as professionals.

Start free. See for yourself why The Emotional Culture Deck is changing how people and teams master their emotions. Our free PDF version is a simple, no-obligation way to cut and care.

Download here now >

The Deck, the whole Deck and nothing but the Deck
Our free Emotional Culture Deck PDF version includes everything you’d get in the physical Deck. All the cards. All the emotions. All the simplicity. All you need to bring it to life is a printer and a pair of scissors. Download. Print out. Cut up & Play.


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