Emotions and Leadership

Terri O’Fallon, an applied researcher, teacher, coach, and consultant focusing on Learning and Change in Human Systems, shares her expertise on the podcast Do No Harm: Ethics for Leaders. 


This article was written by Maureen Metcalf, founder and CEO of the Innovative Leadership Institute.

If you’re looking for well-being, get in touch with your emotions: people who express three times as many positive emotions over negative (or challenging) emotions have a greater sense of well-being. Well-being, in turn, helps us as leaders.

You want to be the best leader you can be; that’s why you’re reading this.  Recognizing, naming, and navigating our emotions is key to that improvement. It’s not as easy as it sounds, though. Terri O’Fallon, the founder of STAGES International, has profound insight into the importance of understanding and managing our emotions. Through her research, Terri identified this pivotal approach to cultivating a sense of well-being for ourselves and those we lead.


Why is it essential for leaders and organizations to foster positive emotions?

Fostering positive emotions is vital to leadership success. A positive work environment creates a sense of loyalty and trust among employees, leading to increased productivity, creativity, and collaboration. A positive workplace can also reduce stress and increase job satisfaction, boost engagement, and enhance motivation. Naturally, higher well-being also reduces burnout, which in turn leaves you less susceptible to The Great Resignation.

As with anything valuable, it takes effort. Here are three steps to get you started:

  1. Recognizing and labeling your own emotions
  2. Looking for possibilities of harm, and adapting plans accordingly
  3. Practicing generosity of heart by giving away something you are attached to.


1. Recognizing and labeling your own emotions

Recognizing and labeling your emotions is the critical first step in developing self-awareness. It can be done by taking a moment to pause and check in with yourself, noticing how you feel. From there, consider what emotions are present and how they affect your thoughts, behavior, and attitude.

Once identified, labeling your emotions helps you become more conscious of them. As you do this, look at the differences between concrete emotions, such as anger, and more subtle emotions, such as disappointment or joy. Differentiating between the two types helps you gain insight into how your emotions impact your behavior, and how to manage them. This greater self-awareness fosters better decision-making.

But your emotions are only the start; it is essential to recognize the feelings of those around you. Being able to identify the emotions of your team helps you build better relationships, as well as a better understanding their points of view. Remember to be mindful of the non-verbal cues people give to identify their feelings more effectively. Noticing body language, facial expressions, and vocal tone can help you gain insight into the emotions of those around you.

With practice, recognizing and labeling emotions can become a powerful tool for personal (and team) growth and development.


2. Looking for the possibilities of harm and adapting plans accordingly

Very few people or organizations intend to do harm. So why does it happen? Often, it’s simply because we didn’t consider the ripple effects of our decisions.

Leaders must be cognizant of the effects of their decisions and actions to avoid harm. They should continually ask themselves if there is the potential for unintentional consequences and, if so, be willing to adapt plans accordingly.

In addition to looking for the potential for harm, consider the ethical implications of your decisions. Strive to make decisions that align with your values, the values of your organization, and society’s values. Ethical decision-making involves not only considering the potential for harm, but also considering the implications of decisions on the greater good: the environment, workers, customers, and other stakeholders. Transparency and accountability are part of ethical leadership, too.


3. Practicing generosity of heart by giving away something you are attached to

Practicing generosity of heart fosters trust among team members, the community, family, and friends. Generosity of Heart is simply the capacity or willingness to give away something you are attached to. This could be a physical item, such as a beautiful gift, or something intangible, such as an idea or concept. It can be difficult, and requires vulnerability. However, by giving away something meaningful to you, you demonstrate that you are open-hearted and generous.

Giving away something you are attached to also shows a deeper appreciation for the person or people receiving your gift. It shows you are so thankful for them, you are willing to share something special.

It’s counter-intuitive, but generosity of heart also demonstrates self-love. By giving away something meaningful to you, you prove to yourself that you are willing to make sacrifices for the greater good. It is a reminder that you have the strength and courage to look beyond yourself as you make decisions.



Don’t be afraid to take the first step, and unlock the power of positive emotions. They’ll foster well-being in so many ways. It’s so much easier for your team to have a sense of well-being if you have one, too!

We’d love to hear how you apply Generosity of Heart to achieve well-being, generosity, and growth. Leave us a comment, or send us your questions at info@innovativeleadership.com .



Terri O’Fallon PhD is an applied researcher, teacher, coach and consultant with a focus on Learning and Change in Human Systems. Change is related to finding practical developmental interventions for leaders who engage with developmental structural and soft changes. Terri has her PhD in Integral Studies from the California Institute of Integral Studies. She is the co-founder of STAGES International, an organization that focuses on how the STAGES (developmental) model can support insights into our own growth as people, leaders, guides, coaches, and the kind of impact these insights can have on our influence in human collectives.

Maureen Metcalf is the founder and CEO of the Innovative Leadership Institute. She is an expert in anticipating and leveraging future business trends. Ms. Metcalf helps leaders elevate their leadership quality and transform their organizations to create sustainable impact and results. She captures 30 years of experience and success in an award-winning series of books used by public, private, and academic organizations to align company-wide strategy, systems, and culture using Innovative Leadership techniques. Ms. Metcalf is a Fellow of the International Leadership Association. She also serves on the advisory boards of the School of Strategic Leadership at James Madison University and the Mason Leadership Center at Franklin University. Ms. Metcalf earned an MBA from Virginia Tech. She can be reached at mmetcalf@innovativeleadership.com.


Ready to measure your leadership skills? Complete your complimentary assessment through the Innovative Leadership Institute. Learn the 7 leadership skills required to succeed during disruption and innovation.

Check out the companion interview and past episodes of Innovating Leadership, Co-creating Our Future via Apple PodcastsTuneInStitcherSpotify,  Amazon Music,  AudibleiHeartRADIO, and NPR One.

0 replies

Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.