How to Lead with Feeling: The Role of Emotions in Team Success

A supervisor shaking hands with her staff and smiling.
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Getting people to get their work done efficiently is a daily challenge for supervisors.  With so much on your plate, you don’t have the time to check up on the status of their projects, so you need them to be interested in the work and own it to the end.

Fortunately, the answer doesn’t involve your head popping off to get their attention.  Influencing others can happen through the consistent use of one important foundational element: feelings.

What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Football season kicks off early in my household.  Early August, when many families are still relaxing in vacation mode, we’re trying on pads, buying cleats, and figuring out practice schedules.

By late September, we’re well in the swing of things, and our team is usually showing significant improvement.

One game in a previous season took place in the 95-degree heat that we don’t typically see in Michigan at that time of year.  The energy and stamina the boys showed on the field was inspiring.  I wondered, “Why do they do it?”  You couldn’t pay me to put on pads and a helmet and run around in the scorching sun for over 2 hours!

After every game, the players sit in a group with their coach listening attentively as he reviews what happened and answers their questions.  The parents form a circle around the team, not close enough to smell the post-game scent, but close enough to overhear.  What he said to them this week reminded me of where their motivation comes from.

Our coach does all the typical stuff.  He trains their bodies through drills, he stretches their minds through play memorization, and he develops their football acumen with in-the-moment feedback.  But what we experienced during the post-game speech is where the magic lies.

He expressed pride in what they did well during the game.  He shared his appreciation for the families who support the players and asked the kids to do the same.  He included himself when pointing out less-than-stellar behavior by admitting his own moments of imperfection.

And in the end, as he always does, he told the kids he loved them.

Feelings Create Strong Connections

The coach built a strong relationship with the team by expressing true concern and appreciation for the players.  This requires vulnerability: being open enough to share not just thoughts, but more importantly, feelings.

With the goal of ensuring the quality and quantity of the work of others, supervisors have countless routes they can take.  The fastest is a genuine expression of positive emotions.

It’s certainly possible to coerce people to follow your directions through threats or bribes.  Both may work in the short term.

But the supervisors who express respect and genuine care for their team are the ones that not only draw people towards the desired goals but also can keep them over the long term.  People instinctively want to do excellent work for those who show concern for them.

Feelings are the glue that connects us to each other.  There is no substitute for that.

Show Them You Care

Co-workers in a huddleTelling another person that you care about them, especially in a work setting, isn’t natural for everyone.  In fact, many of us learned to keep emotions out of business completely.  Maybe you were told that showing emotion is a sign of weakness and that you can’t preserve your authority as a supervisor if you do.

While it’s not good for your career to cry at the drop of a hat or lash out at a co-worker in a fit of rage, expressing positive emotion has the effect of building respect.

While you’re easing into expressing feelings of warmth toward your team, feel free to try it in a way most comfortable for your personality, such as a handwritten note of appreciation if you’re more of an introvert.

But your goal over time should be to customize your message in a way that is meaningful to the receiver.  A great resource for this is The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace, a book by Gary Chapman.  It will help you discover how others like to receive your message.

In the end, nothing can substitute for looking a person in the eye and telling them how you feel.  That’s priceless.


Overt negative emotions breed distrust, fear, and uncertainty at work.  Also, simply not expressing positive emotions can have the same effect.  These effects drive desired behaviors, such as innovation and teamwork, out of the workplace.

A business woman shaking hands with another business woman.

On the other hand, expressing positive emotion builds trust, enhances creativity, and ignites collaboration.  Let your team see your caring, grateful side, and watch the results accelerate!

Do you have an example of how a great leader shared his/her feelings with you?  Or an example of how you plan to use this concept?

You can leave your answer in a comment below.

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