Recently I attended a Gatwick Diamond Business networking event at South Lodge and enjoyed several interesting conversations. Inevitably, we talked a bit about coaching and one discussion got on to the topic of managing emotions.
Daniel Goleman made the term ‘Emotional Intelligence’ famous back in the late 80s when he observed that successful people, and especially leaders, manage their emotions more effectively than others.
Nearly 2,500 years earlier Aristotle had famously made a similar point when stating “anybody can become angry, that is easy: but to be angry with the right person, and to the right degree, and at the right time, and for the right purpose, and in the right way, that is not within everybody’s power, that is not easy.” (from The Art of Rhetoric.)
The importance of managing your emotions appropriately, reminded me of a piece from one of the best books I have ever read, ‘What We May Be’ by Piero Ferrucci, and specifically the section where Ferrucci recalls his student days with his mentor Roberto Assagioli (an Italian psychologist and contemporary of Freud). The text in italics is copied verbatim…
I had written a question (for Assagioli) in which, among other things, I casually referred to ‘following our feelings,’ taking for granted that that was the attitude toward living that we should assume. When Assagioli reached that point, he looked at me and, very gently but firmly, stated: ‘But you must not follow your feelings.’ He spoke as if this was perfectly obvious. ‘Your feelings must follow you.’
To many this statement will sound unfamiliar, authoritarian and even repressive. These days aren’t we encouraged to acknowledge our feelings as the primary factor in deciding what to do in our various life situations? And if not our feelings, which part of us should determine our course of action?’
Clearly…feelings are necessary ingredients in everyone’s life: they are an inexhaustible source of enjoyment, they facilitate communication, they add power and colour to whatever we do, they vitalise ideas and reflect intuitions. And yet just following our feelings may subject us to invasion by other individuals’ emotions, distort our perception of the world; cause us to fall into prejudice, confusion, and hysteria, let us be tortured by excessive sensitivity; and stimulate regression to our ancestral past.’
The point is that we cannot trust our feelings indiscriminately yet on the other hand, we cannot disparage them because that would repress a precious dimension of our being. The key is learning to keep our feelings in appropriate perspective or balance, by evaluating situations with fresh eyes and a well centred outlook. Or as Aristotle might have said to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way.
Maintaining balance through strong emotional intelligence is a key success quality for us all, and especially leaders. A good coaching relationship can really help in that regard.