Leading with Emotion

This post is from 2011.  I was inspired to write it after watching an interview with someone who is never ashamed to show emotion and is highly successful in engaging and inspiring others to excel. 


I “grew up” working in a very large organization which, for the most part, was notorious for its, um, conservative culture.  In my early experience, this meant that emotions, when expressed at work, were largely met with disapproval.  There were a couple of exceptions of course.  Anger was one.  And the other was fear.  Together these two sentiments, along with their not-so-distant cousins, irritation, exasperation, disgust, nervousness and envy formed a large part of my early working environment along with apathy, the place of neutrality where it was relatively safe but not very inspired.

I think we have learned a lot since those early days.  Thank goodness.  More and more we are encouraged to bring our whole selves to work with us.  More and more, leaders are seeing the benefits of doing the encouraging.

I’m wondering though to what extent business organizations are taking this concept of giving other emotions, like love, joy and surprise greater space and actively incorporating them into their everyday culture.  I know there are some. Zappos.com comes to mind for one. But, I ‘m thinking there are more that still squirm when considering the notion of bringing these perceived softer, and potentially messier, sides of humanity to work and giving them pride of place.

So, I tried to find somewhere where leading with emotion has worked a kind of magic that can, potentially be translated into any organization no matter the focus or the product.

I came up with Celine Dion.  Okay, I’m imagining some eyes rolling in an upward direction here.  Celine Dion is not everyone’s cup of tea.  She is often portrayed and perceived as overly dramatic, too effusive and excessively ostentatious. But hey, who better to study when considering the impact that overt emotion can have on organizations than someone who does it in a big way?

Ms Dion and her husband Rene Angelil operate their own company. M. Angelil is President and Manager of (wait for it) Feeling Productions. In 1999 they entered into a partnership with Cirque du Soleil to produce the Las Vegas Show, A New Day. At $300 million, it was reportedly the biggest contract ever negotiated in the history of the music business.  And they did it practically on a handshake.

Here is the beginning of the story of how A New Day came about.  Although it may be tempting, I urge you not to skip watching it because there are clues in here about the power leading with emotion can have on a company of diverse people with diverse interests. Pay particular attention to Celine as she meets the show’s dancers for the first time.  Listen to what the dancers are saying about her and the show. What emotions are at play?

Here is what I am learning from this:

I don’t have to be perfect to be inspiring

In fact I expect that the opposite might be true. Imperfections especially, if I am self-deprecating about them, have a way of making me more human and perhaps more forgivable.

I do have to acknowledge the value that others bring and…tell them…often.

What is more encouraging than having someone say something like, “You changed a bit of my life today”? To me, that’s pretty powerful.

One small gesture of appreciation can lead to very big things.

Celine’s back stage gesture to the cast of Cirque du Soleil triggered a set of events that otherwise might not have happened.  Genuine enthusiasm, admiration and pride for the work of others are powerful motivators.

As a leader, my positive emotions can be even more infectious than my negative ones.

I just have to call upon them more often by looking first for what’s right , not what’s wrong.


What stood out for you?  If there is one take away here that will help you engage and inspire others, what would it be?

(Please note, the use of the video clip is in no way an attempt to infringe on copyright.  It is being used here solely to serve as a learning instrument)


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Filed under Building Relationships, communication, Employee engagement, Leadership, Leadership Development, Leadership Style, motivating & Inspiring

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