Leadership Lessons: When Hidden Emotions Show Up

Summary: The emotions underneath leadership decisions are often ignored. Learning to read your specific personal concerns and upsets can lead to more effective leadership moving forward. 

Dear Dr. Sylvia, 

I cannot watch the news anymore without a knot in my stomach. When I see the fires roar around the world and the guns destroy lives, I find myself swirling into a deep depression. I feel hopeless and helpless. 

As a leader, I now second guess every decision, even simple ones. 

For example, lately, I have thought I could not do my job.  

Total Leaders are emotionally intelligent. 

I saw your post about what makes a “total leader.” It made sense to me. I need more. 

In short, can you please give me some direction on what I can do to regain my mojo and lead confidently? 


Needs help 

Dear Needs Help, 

Most of us are in the same situation as you. The daily news of how the planet changes through extreme heat, fires, and floods is frightening.  

The uptake of gun violence, especially in the United States, is heart-wrenching. 

It is now a time for all leaders to hear the call for personal health and positive change. 

How do we lead with confidence and conviction? 

Firstly, here is what I say about the five stages of leadership. Then a story to underline what is needed in today’s complex world. 

                                         The Mediocre Leader TELLS 

                                         The Good Leader EXPLAINS 

                                         The Superior Leader DEMONSTRATES 

                                         The Great Leader INSPIRES 

                                         The Total Leader TRANSFORMS 

Now, the story. 

Every leader has a personal story that is part of their leadership development. 

Steve is a Senior Vice President in a global company. People love to work with him because of his easy manner.  

He is always calm and centered. He had been through enough in his life that being in a safe setting where the most he must battle is developing a hybrid work setting post-Covid and worry about competitors’ prices is a piece of cake.  

Above all, Steve felt he had it all together. He has a good job, a loving family and time to play golf.   

Now, pay attention. The following is where Steve learned to become a total leader. That means understanding how both logic and emotions are vital for leading a team during times of rapid change.  

During times of extreme change at work personal leadership issues come front and center. 

His company is going through a massive reorganization. 

Steve wants a perspective on handling the reorganization that Covid, war in Ukraine, and threats from China had thrust on the company.  

He chose me to be his executive coach. I was honored to work with him. 

In addition, Steve shared with me that he felt he had handled coming back from the tensions of a war zone to the security of his suburban life with great ease. Life, as he told me, was good. That was despite a pandemic and new work design now being put in place. 

Some on his team were on the list for promotion. Others offered different positions. And then some would, in his words, be left behind. 

On the other hand, he wanted a better idea of how to talk with those who would have to redesign their lives. His questions were thoughtful, and his manner direct. Everyone loved to work with him. 

Leaders who examine their inner lives make better decisions. 

Then one day, I received an emergency call.  

That was not Steve’s way.  

Emergencies did not exist in his world. His voice was shaky, and he was on the verge of tears. Here is what happened.  

Above all, he apologized for using the word emergency. What was in process, he assured me, was not such a big deal. The company was amid a significant reorganization, and a Zoom call with several hundred had gathered to hear about the new work design. Steve left shaken and confused.  

And yet, he felt sick and agitated.  

All that had happened was that some folks would be in different business units, and some would have the opportunity to relocate; there was nothing to get that upset about.  

Therefore, he wondered why he was now unable to concentrate, eat or sleep. He told me he thought he was losing his mind, and over what, a reorg? 

Looking in the rearview mirror can help leaders, all of us, get out of a tight parking space. 

I asked him to search back to another time when he had these same disorienting feelings, and within a few minutes, Steve, big, strong Steve, was sobbing.  

“I got it,” he managed to say between great big gulps of air. “This took me back to my time in the military. I oversaw my men and promised to take care of them so that no one would be in harm’s way. Rather stupid, huh, since I could not promise that. Three of my men didn’t make it, and I kept thinking it was my fault.” 

He stopped, lost in his memories.  

After that, when I asked how that impacted the sales meeting, he became silent. I waited.  

Memories hold clues to present day concerns. 

Then he said, “Wow, Sylvia, I thought I had packed all those feelings away. After the meeting, lots of my direct reports called me and said, ‘Please, Steve, will you take care of me.’ I kept saying ‘Yeh, yeh,’ knowing their fates were out of my hands.” 

More silence. Then after we talked a bit more, Steve said,  “I just connected the dots. I couldn’t keep my men in the war safe, so how the heck could I keep these folks safe. I felt like a big failure.” 

I let Steve talk and talk. He told me about the war, the fear that had gone underground, the anger, the hurt, the disappointment. Then this big, strong man began to cry, really cry.  

Moreover, whe could finally hear me, I told him the tears were the part inside that had been frozen and starting to defrost.  

Leaders who learn to connect the dots from past to present make better decisions. 

Finally, when he was once again the typically calm, fantastic Steve, he shared the power of what he had just learned; those hidden feelings will come out. Eventually, there is nowhere to hide.   

In conclusion, Steve’s story is one of many that shows how underlying emotional memories will appear in present situations. 

Most importantly, today leaders are better equipped when they understand how past life situations impact present ways to work with their teams.  

Subsequently, in our “Total Leadership Connections” program (now on-line) and in my book “Don’t Bring It To Work” you are guided to look at, really look at what forms us: family, culture, and crises.  

Hidden feelings are better when observed, understood, and transformed than left to decay in silence. 

Ultimately, that is at the core of being a “total leader.” The more we know about ourselves, the better we can lead. 

Here’s to your success, 


PS. If you would like a copy of my one page change model chart, “From Now to New” about how to make positive change at work and at home please send an email to sylvia@ceoptions.com

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Sylvia Lafair

Creative Energy Options