Emotion in Management – The Empty Boat

Some time back, “Empower”, a management supplement featured by The Hindu, carried a very interesting article by Quy Huy, Professor of Strategy at the International Business School, Insead.  Titled, ‘An Emotional Approach to Strategy Execution’, the article had been published under arrangement with The New York Times.
Here are some key excerpts:
“Yet, as research in neurology and psychology has shown, emotions can influence human thinking and behaviour in powerful ways and affect the way we perform in business.”
“Managers also should look at increasing their emotional self-awareness by understanding the causes and consequences of various emotions such as anger, guilt, joy, pride and shame so that they can recognise them, regulate them, and express them to others in an articulated way.”
These are very profound statements.
Almost every organization worth mention has a vision statement loaded with passion and emotion.  Yet, emotion is considered ‘unprofessional’, and decisions and communication are required to be purely ‘rational’.  
Motivation is about emotion.  When people talk about heroic achievements in the battle-field or share thoughts about great performances and accomplishments against challenging odds in sports or adventure, there is excitement, emotion, passion, tears.  Even so, talking about corporate challenges or achievements, which require almost the same attitudinal inputs, in emotional terms can often elicit frowns of disapproval from ‘management professionals’.
The second point about self-awareness is even more critical, in the context of inspirational leadership.  This reconfirms the point I made in an earlier post on this blog, suggesting that only an evolved human being can become an inspirational leader.  Awareness of the faintest impulse that I experience before it even becomes a thought or a motive that I can recognise rationally, is important to emotional self-awareness.  This being so, I would say that non-religious mediation like Vipassana, should be part of the training regimen of anyone who aspires to leadership roles.
This self-awareness is of great significance when taking tough decisions regarding re-aligning, re-deploying, or as a last resort, removing attitudinal obstacles to good performance.  A story that I heard from my own mentor expresses this very well.
One evening, when darkness was setting in and visibility was very low, a village headman was rowing his small boat back to his home across the backwaters.  In the faint light, he could see the outlines of another boat heading directly towards him.  Fearing a dangerous collision, he began to shout,
“Move away, move away, I am the chief.”
The other boat kept coming.  The headman began to get annoyed.  How dare he ignore my order!  Doesn’t the idiot know who I am?
He grew angry and shouted more loudly,
“Get away!  How dare you!  Do you hear?  I am the chief”
The other boat kept coming.  It was about to collide with his.  The headman flew into a rage.
“You rascal!  I will teach you a lesson!  You will pay for this”
The boats collided.  The headman was now almost mad with rage, when he suddenly realised that the other boat was empty.  The mooring had snapped and the boat had been drifting on the backwaters.
In an instant, all the rage and tension fell away, and the headman started laughing.  Calmly, feeling sympathy for the poor owner of the drifting boat, he managed to tie it to his own boat and rowed towards the shore.
The point of this story is, when we realise that the other person is ‘not present’ in his or her actions or words, when there is no ‘ego’ involved, there is little hurt even when confronted with the toughest options or harshest feedback.  To be sure that my words or actions come from this source beyond the ego, and that the action that I am taking comes purely from commitment to ourcollective goal and success, I need to be in a state of self-awareness.  This does not come with qualification, experience, or seniority.  This comes from evolving as a human being, from the ability to genuinely understand and empathise with the other person because ultimately, as ‘actors’ we are all the same, irrespective of the hierarchy or the conflict inherent in the roles that we need to play together, for the success of our play and the experience of our audience.

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