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Effective leadership encompasses certain key traits.

Today’s credible leaders are skilled listeners and communicators, inclusive and respectful of others, and able to foster workplaces that promote psychological safety. These leaders coach their employees, rather than direct them, giving their teams ample space to make their own decisions, displaying courage and responsibility when failing forward.

Another trait many of today’s leaders strive for is resilience.  Flexibility and adaptability are essential skills for today’s workforce and as leaders of people, that requires a definition of resilience that extends into the domain of emotional intelligence – it’s called Emotional Agility.

Here’s what it is and why it’s important.

What is Emotional Agility?

Emotional agility is defined as being flexible with thoughts and feelings; it’s the opposite of emotional rigidity.

Forbes defines emotional agility this way:

“Being flexible with our thoughts and feelings so that we can respond optimally to everyday situations.” 

In some ways, the concept of emotional agility goes against many workplace cultures, which still subscribe to the outdated approach that difficult thoughts and feelings have no place at the office. There’s a belief that leaders should be either stoic or optimistic, and not show – or discuss – anything in between. 

That’s simply not realistic.  Nor is it good business.

The reality is that we all have an inner stream of thoughts and feelings that include criticism, doubt, and fear. It’s natural for our minds to anticipate and solve problems, avoid potential pitfalls, and—yes—have emotions that run from anger, agitation to appreciation all within minutes.

If we practice emotional agility, we don’t get “hooked” by sabotaging thoughts and feelings. We also don’t suppress emotions, which can lead to psychological issues like anxiety and depression.

This concept of emotional agility was explored in a book on the subject by Susan David, a Harvard Medical School psychologist, speaker, and thought leader on management and leadership. 

As she points out

“We’ve been trained to believe that strong emotions should be suppressed. We have certain (sometimes unspoken) societal and organizational rules against expressing them.”

She also warns that there is a “high cost to avoiding our feelings.” Instead, dealing effectively with emotions is a key life skill that all of us can benefit from and for those in leadership roles, it’s what sets you and your team up for success, especially when times are tough. 

Why Emotional Agility is Important

The high cost of leaders who bottle up emotions may not only be to the leader herself—it may also harm her relationship with her employees. Emotional agility can help avoid those consequences and guide you to becoming a better leader.

The Niagara Institute states that emotional agility will help leaders:

  • build stronger manager-employee relationships
  • improve communication
  • support resilience
  • create psychological safety
  • assist in conflict resolution

Even those not directly responsible for managing others can benefit from understanding their own emotions. As David says: “Once you understand what you are feeling, then you can better address and learn from those more accurately described emotions.”

We can help with resources available for you and your organization. Whether you choose to access Storycoaching for guidance as a coach, mentor or organizational consultant, we can help you build skills in emotional agility. 

As one of my clients, a Senior Manager in the public sector stated: 

“Carol is like a lighthouse, helps navigate through the storm, as one tries to find a safe harbor and to land in the right place and state of mind. Her listening skills and gentle nudge facilitate improved self awareness, ability to prioritize and align actions accordingly. I highly recommend Carol’s service.”

Would you like to learn more about emotional agility and how you can improve your skills at this key leadership trait? Connect with me today to learn how I bring my coaching and consulting expertise to you and your team.

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