When 'good' is not enough

Building a richer emotional vocabulary is a key to good leadership

When 'good' is not enough

WHAT is the difference between these two statements about John?

1. John is feeling good about the job.

2. John is encouraged and optimistic about the job.

The second sentence gives you more specific information about how John feels about the job.

With this, you understand with greater clarity how he is doing.

Work with emotions

Understanding emotions adds to the quality of your relationships and gives you a capacity for a richer, fuller and more successful life.

Emotions form the conduit through which much of the beauty of your life is enjoyed. They are, in a sense, the glue that holds or breaks up clear communication.

If you are to understand how to ask questions, you must first understand emotions.

Imagine a renowned pianist walking onto the stage in a large concert hall. He is dressed in a black tuxedo with tails. He bows to the audience and then walks over to the piano and flips his tails over the seat and sits down.

He lifts the cover, and there are only eight keys on the keyboard.

He then lifts one finger and plays his music with just the one finger.

He is good, in fact, he may be brilliant, but he cannot bring out the full beauty of the music with such limitations.

Many of us are like this pianist. We have a limited range of emotions and everything must fit through them to be understood.

In its most basic form, we say a feeling is either good or bad.

If we are more daring, we may use words like fear, love, hate, joy, happiness and sadness.

That may be it. That is the range of our understanding of our emotions and the limitations are very similar to the one-fingered pianist on an eight-note keyboard.

Imagine how hard the pianist would have to work to produce beautiful music with only eight keys and one finger.

Understanding and working with emotions are important parts of asking questions and, by extension, human leadership.

The more you understand your emotions, the better questions you can ask.

The better questions you ask, the better leader you become.

For example, how would the four emotions in the following sentence give you more information about someone other than "good"?

John is: satisfied * happy * thrilled * ecstatic

Depending on the emotion, you might ask different questions and you would clearly know more about John and how he feels about his job or his life.

The most effective questions elicit an emotional response.

Yet, if you run all emotions through the limited categories you have given them, you will never master the art of asking questions.

You must use all the keys on a keyboard and all of your fingers to truly learn to play the piano.

So it is with questions. You must learn to understand and work with emotions to truly develop the ability to ask good questions.

Emotions are key to good questions and good leadership for these reasons:

1. Emotions are like smoke

They help you discover where the fires of threat or passion are. You can trace the smoke to its source, which leads you to your core beliefs (your most important beliefs about yourself and how you work).

When you can face those, you can begin the process of building stronger relationships, teams and organisations.

2. You cannot separate emotions from values

Similarly, you cannot separate values and choices. Every organisation is held together by the values it is founded on. These values may be quality, cutting-edge technology, low prices or good service.

Whatever values you define your organisation by, if they are truly your operating values, they will be linked to experiences and have direct connections to people's hearts and lives.

3. You cannot focus on 'just the facts'

If you don't understand your own emotions, you won't be able to deal with emotions in the answers you get.

You will focus on just the facts and will not understand that facts are interpreted, in part, by each person through the emotions they have (which are influenced by values and choices they have made).

Leaders have to be able to engage their people emotionally. Feeling appreciated makes for happier workers. And happy workers are more productive.

If a leader is unable to ask questions that address emotions or cannot see the point of doing so, he will continue to struggle in his management of the organisation like the one-fingered pianist.

The English novelist Arnold Bennett wrote: "There can be no knowledge without emotion. We may be aware of a truth, yet until we have felt its force, it is not ours. To the cognition of the brain must be added the experience of the soul."

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