Five Reasons We Need to Show Emotion in the Boardroom

Written by Jermaine Haughton Thursday 18 January 2018
Psychological research shows managers with a greater level of emotional sensitivity are more successful


Hollywood films such as the The Wolf of Wall Street, and anecdotes about brilliant, yet often angry, pioneers such Steve Jobs and Henry Ford portray a ruthless demeanour as effective management behaviour.

However, research shows that empathetic bosses are arguably more valuable to successfully leading companies in the long-term.

Impassive bosses can lack adequate social and communication skills, in addition to leading disengaged, demotivated and overworked teams – costing their organisation millions of pounds a year.

In contrast, empathy allows great managers to deliver more dynamic decision-making and connect with their employees.

1. Emphatic managers build strong long-term relationships

Top professionals use their ability to establish common ground with clients and customers as a basis to build rapport and good relationships for their business.

Published in the Negotiation Journal, a Harvard Law School study found participants who have higher levels of emotional intelligence are rated more highly on measures of trust, rapport and the desire to work together in the future by their partners in a negotiation task because they could show empathy.

2. Emotionally available leaders manage stress better

Psychologists have shown that those who are able to demonstrate emotions more readily may be less prone to experiencing workplace stress. Grant, Kinman and Alexander (2014) found that methods to increase emotional sensitivity helped individuals to become more reflective and better able to handle complex situations.

3. Emotional intelligence boosts performance

A 2016 study by the (US) Center for Creative Leadership found empathy is positively related to job performance. Analysing data from 6,731 managers across 38 countries, the report showed managers who show more empathy towards lower-ranking staff are viewed as better performers in their job by their bosses.

4. Considerate managers have healthier staff

Top senior managers support their teams with their health and wellbeing in mind. A study led by Professor Anna Nyberg at the Stress Institute in Stockholm found employees who had managers who were incompetent, inconsiderate, secretive and uncommunicative, were 60% more likely to suffer a heart attack or other life-threatening cardiac condition.

Published in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, Nyberg explained, “for all those who work under managers who they perceive behave strangely, or in any way they don’t understand, and they feel stressed, the study confirms this develops into a health risk.”

5. Strong communication skills are key to conflict resolution

People who have a higher emotional awareness are more likely to be successful in encouraging dialogue between disagreeing parties, rather than debate.

Renowned systems scientist Peter Senge, a senior lecturer at the MIT Sloan School of Management, stated in research novel The Fifth Discipline: “In a discussion, opposing views are presented and defended and the team searches for the best view to help make a team decision. In a discussion, people want their own views to be accepted by the group. The emphasis is on winning rather than on learning.”

“In dialogue, people freely and creatively explore issues, listen deeply to each other and suspend their own views in search of the truth. People in dialogue have access to a larger pool of knowledge than any one person enjoys. The primary purpose is to enlarge ideas, not to diminish them.  It’s not about winning acceptance of a viewpoint, but exploring every option and agreeing to do what is right.”