Leadership Exercise: Building awareness of your emotional state
Why emotions matter for leaders
The ability for leaders to be at their best, and use their brain well to think at their best, requires an awareness of their emotional state. Our simple exercise gives you a practical starting point for helping identify your emotional triggers and better moderate how you respond to these during challenging times.
How we think
Our two main brain systems influence the way we react to stressful situations, when clear thinking and leadership is needed the most.
The pre-frontal cortex is our rational brain, controlling ‘executive function systems’ such as persevering to complete a challenge, maintaining sustained focus and preventing ourselves from becoming overwhelmed.
In contrast, our limbic brain instinctively moves us into ‘fight, flight or freeze’ mode. In this state, our judgement and reasoning is impacted. We also have a physical response through the production of adrenalin and cortisol.
Red, orange and green brain
Understanding their emotional triggers helps leaders moderate and manage their response to the stressful event, as well as their relationships with those around them.
We’ve simplified the neuroscience into this simple traffic light framework:
Red brain (limbic brain) – Our instinctive fight, flight or freeze response is triggered by the amygdala, which floods the pre-frontal cortex with cortisol. We can’t think clearly and our rational thinking tends to shut down (the ‘amygdala hijack’ of our pre-frontal cortex’).
Orange brain (shifting into limbic brain thinking) – Our emotional control is slipping. We are OK, provided nothing else happens to challenge us. The focus is more firmly on ourselves, and not what’s going on for others.
Green brain (pre-frontal cortex) – We are able to make well-reasoned decisions, be more flexible and adaptable. We’re also more sensitive to what is going on for others around us.
In a red brain state, we tend to move to our hardwired or default ways of thinking. Ironically, we risk losing cognitive flexibility when it’s needed the most.
Quick exercise – Maintaining an optimal mindset
Take just a few minutes to consider these simple questions. We encourage you to compare your responses with other leaders in your organisation and also share this exercise with your team.
- What insights did you have when reading our description of the red, orange and green brain?
- How can you use this framework to your advantage?
- What sort of situations or scenarios tend to emotionally trigger you?
- What impact is your emotional response to these having on the people around you?
- What might you want to do differently?
- What’s a small step you can take tomorrow to create a change?
Expert advice for creating purposeful leadership
In order to be a purposeful leader, we need to be able to recognise our own shifting emotional states, how they might be impacting our thinking and what to do about it.
While we’ve given you a practical starting point, our expert team can help your leaders realise their full potential. Simply contact us now for a no obligation consultation.