Leaders Have Feelings Too

by Alli Polin on June 14, 2013

Leaders Have Feelings Too - We are All Human

I know many leaders that believe that you should maintain a healthy distance from your team.  You know, not get too involved on that icky, uncomfortable “personal level.”  Those same leaders believe that someone who is very expressive at work or “over shares” does not have what it takes to lead.  Period.  End of discussion.  Every emotion is like a black mark on their employee’s permanent record.

What’s the Prob Here?

We are HUMAN.  We get excited, we hurt, and we have personal challenges that have nothing to do with what’s happening at the office.  We need to create room for whole people in our organizations not half-humans that turn off who they are from 9 – 5, or more realistically for some, 8:00 – 7:00 every day or later.

Emotions Indicate Aliveness

People that show us who they are and their aliveness through big ideas, big gestures and big passion are KEEPERS.   It’s up to us to get over our discomfort around anything that doesn’t fit in the narrow band between “interesting” and a polite  “I like it but…”

Emotions aren't contagious, they're human

Enthusiasm, and Disappointment are Not Dirty Words

People that visit extremes are often looked at like they have two heads and six arms.  Why do we revile enthusiasm and disappointment?  Because we feel them in our core.  Coming face-to-face with emotion can make us feel less masterful because it’s outside of our safety zone.  We need to connect with our own humanity to accept another’s. (Click to Tweet)

Process, Don’t Bypass Emotion

The hardest thing to do with emotion is to be with it.  Take solace, sometimes there is nothing to do or say; no action required.  The only thing you need to do to step up as a leader is be present and let the emotion also be present before closing it in a box and moving on.  Negative emotions like frustration, sadness and disappointment deserve as much space to process as elation.  You don’t need to know what to do.  Start with “I’m here for you if you want to talk.  Take the time you need.  How can I help?”

Emotion Doesn’t Always Mean Touchy Feely

If you’re not comfortable with hugs and kisses and gushy moments at work, that’s OK.  You don’t need to change who you are but you can consciously accept that we are all different.  Don’t want to join in the group hug and sing kumbaya?  I don’t blame you.  It’s not my thing either.  Just bow out with respect instead of disgust.  It’s a fine line that’s easy to cross and makes a world of difference.

Try it, You May Like It

What if you could say what you mean and mean what you say with a tinge of emotion and not total deadpan coolness?  What if you could say, “that sucks!” when the deal falls apart? (not to the potential client, of course!)  What if you could say, “I’m really bummed out this project is over.  I’m going to miss working with all of you day-to-day.”  What if you could dance down the hall when you finally get the code to work or successfully facilitate a key meeting?  It’s not a prob if you don’t, or you can’t, but still feel the feeling!

You are still a leader if you feel something.  I promise, the most cool, calm and collected leaders you’ve ever met still has feelings. They may not bring them out for show in front of the large group, but with trusted advisors, team members, friends and family they allow their excitement, their disappointment, and their humanity to shine through.

How do you feel about emotions at work?  How do you create space for people to bring their whole selves to work?

{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Jon Mertz June 14, 2013 at 7:30 am


This is so true – emotions are in the workplace so why do we try to ignore it? We need to be mindful to show empathy and compassion; we need some self-control to keep them in range; and we need to show our energy when momentum is happening. Some emotions within ourselves we need to recognize and find the root cause. Others we need to acknowledge and then let go because the matter doesn’t matter.

Great post! Thanks! Jon


Alli Polin June 15, 2013 at 8:00 am

Jon, For as long as I can remember, everywhere I’ve worked, emotions were like a black mark. Why do we try to ignore it? Great question.

Emotions at work require us to have some self awareness of the root cause but also authentically to be in the moment of the emotion. It’s like a dance but the stronger and more confident we become, the more “flair” we can add to the dance and show others our true selves.

Thanks for your great questions and insights, Jon!


Dan Forbes June 14, 2013 at 8:13 am

Emotions, Yes. Drama, No.

Great post on a very relevant topic, Alli. Thanks.


Alli Polin June 15, 2013 at 7:42 am

Thanks, Dan! I agree, drama has no awareness of the impact of their emotions and it sucks energy and time from everyone around them. Emotion builds authentic connection.


Jennifer Hogan June 25, 2015 at 7:46 pm

I agree with Dan Forbes – there is no place for drama. I think drama results in people trying to use emotions to manipulate situations. Feeling emotions and living in them is authentic. Thanks for a great post, Allie!


Alli Polin July 2, 2015 at 7:23 pm

Thanks, Jennifer! I strongly agree feeling is human, manipulation is something we can all do without.

Many thanks to you for reading and commenting too!


Lalita Raman June 14, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Emotions are essential otherwise it is not possible to be empathetic. Emotions, I think is essential to appreciate, to recognize, to engage and connect with people.

Good post Alli.


Alli Polin June 15, 2013 at 7:48 am

Lalita – What an important point that emotion allows us to be empathetic. I’ve gotten a “great job” from a boss with little emotional connection and “a passing smile” that spoke volumes from another leader that wore his heart and feelings on his sleeve. I could feel his thoughts even without the exchange of a word.

Thanks so much, Lalita!


Danielle E. Aaronson June 14, 2013 at 1:21 pm

Alli, thank you for sharing this post! As an extroverted feeler I tend to “over-share” and wear my emotions on my sleeves. I am aware enough to know that there is a emotional line that you should be aware of, but now recognize that when leaders share their emotions we are able to build stronger, healthier relationships with one another.

I actually just wrote up a blog post about how we, a Values Based Leadership company, start all our interactions: http://www.valuesbasedleader.com/how-are-you/. It discusses how we need to consider a leader for the whole person they are- both in and out of the office- in order to ignite their potential, connect fully with them, and ultimately see long term success.

Thank you and I look forward to continuing to learn from you!
Danielle E. Aaronson


Alli Polin June 15, 2013 at 8:10 am


Thanks so much for stopping by here! Yes, there is a line but sharing who we are and having an emotional core at work does build authentic meaningful relationships at work. I love how you wrote about when you were initially asked “how are you at work” you launched into how the work was going. Strange to have people care about you and not just the work. Shouldn’t be such a foreign experience!

Hope you’ll continue to share your insights. Appreciate your comment!


Karen Jolly June 14, 2013 at 3:22 pm

Thank you Alli! It is so refreshing to hear someone talk about “feelings” with regards to business. I think the generations before us taught that feelings have no place in the work force and this “old” mindset is still very prevelant today.

I believe that when you learn to trust your feelings and to let them be a part of your work – your work benefits tremendously. In my personal experiences I know that if I shut down my feelings in a coporate environment, I’m just half there. To be fully present at work, I have to allow my feelings and let them show boldly. Showing how I feel and having an emotional breakdown however, are two very different things!

Showing how I feel as you have discribed, is really letting myself be honest and authentic. And I for one would rather participate with an authentic leader than one who keeps all their true feelings hidden. I find that kind of “hold your feelings back” leader someone I have a hard time trusting.

Thanks for making us all take a look at this subject Alli!


Alli Polin June 15, 2013 at 7:38 am

Karen, Reminds me of when I first started working. They told us how to dress in our conservative blue suit, where we could and could not eat lunch and what was range of emotion or commentary was appropriate in the workplace. I was corporate Allison, warm yet formal. I love how you wrote “I believe that when you learn to trust your feelings and to let them be a part of your work – your work benefits tremendously.” I agree! We’re much more able to turn up the volume on our “inner knower” when we’re feeling something.

Also, strongly agree – emotion in the context of authenticity is powerful, emotion that is unharnessed, me-centric emotion pushes people away and always diminishes leadership impact.

Many thanks for sharing your insights, Karen!


Terri Klass June 14, 2013 at 5:47 pm

What a great topic, Alli and you dealt with it perfectly! It is true that we are taught to keep our emotions in check in the workplace. I, on the other hand, prefer to know how people are really feeling. When we display our emotions, people can read us better and understand us more clearly. I would even say that our emotions are part of our communication. So I agree, being honest about how we feel could create a more inclusive and collaborative work world. Thanks Alli! I loved it!


Alli Polin June 15, 2013 at 7:32 am

Terri – I totally know what you mean that you prefer to know what people are really thinking. I’ve left many a meeting thinking “I think they loved it… but I really can’t tell.” or “It felt like they were really lukewarm… I was surprised when they wanted to engage on the work.” There is something to be said for letting our poker face go and replacing it with honesty. I don’t mean get emotional, yelling, crying, or generally freaking out but showing how we’re honestly feeling promotes connection and builds relationships.

Always sincerely appreciate your perspective!


Frank Dekker June 16, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Thanks Alli, another good one. Pushing the enveloppe a little further : What if you could say, “that sucks!” when the deal falls apart? to the potential client.
After all you probably tried to do the deal because you believed it offered value for them (or at least you should have) so when it falls apart, that SUCKs (for both of you). 😉



Alli Polin June 16, 2013 at 10:09 pm

You know, Frank… that’s totally how it feels. What if we could say “that sucks” to the potential client with heart and passion and honesty and caring because not only did we want the business but we wanted success for our client. We wanted our client to be awesomely happy with their results and outcomes and think that we could have created a remarkable partnership. What if instead of saying it from a place of anger or frustration we could say it from a place of personal truth. Wow.

Still, doubt we’ll hear it any time soon… but you’ve got me thinking.

Thanks, Frank!


Johann Gauthier June 16, 2013 at 5:24 pm

Ah ! great post Alli !
I share your perspectives. I particularly appreciated how much ground you covered in this post. There are so many great take-aways, amazing !
I particularly liked this quote on “needing to create room for whole people in our organizations not half-humans…”.
What happens when people don’t show up? Or why don’t they how up? I also believe leaders in authority positions need to model behaviours to allow people to be themselves and be respected for who they are. When they don’t basic needs usually go unmet and ships start to sink…
Thank you for such an inspiring post !


Alli Polin June 16, 2013 at 10:30 pm

Thanks, Johann! Right on! Leaders need to be the model! When leaders authentically show up, it give the people in their organizations to do the same. I agree, when we live and work as two completely different people in one body, the incongruent behavior catches up with us and ultimately many exceptional people choose to leave to go where they can be whole.

You’ve raised some great questions here! I’m grateful!


Alice Chan June 17, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Great post, Alli! We need to embrace and honor emotions, not stuff them and ignore them, as they are a vital part of who we are. Having said that, we want to be emotionally intelligent, which doesn’t require us to ignore feelings but have a healthy way of processing them, rather than let them run us. When we can own our emotions, make allowance for others to do that and be compassionate with others when they’re facing difficult ones, that’s a sign of true leadership. Thanks again, Alli!


Alli Polin June 19, 2013 at 12:28 am

Alice – Exactly! We want to be emotionally intelligent. It’s been shocking for me to see so many leaders that believe that work is for work and home is for emotion. We all have full lives… as long as emotion doesn’t run our lives or interfere with our ability to execute on the work, emotions make us better able to connect, engage and create – together.

Always appreciate your insights and the way that you bring the lesson to life. Thank you!


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