How To Lead With A Bit More Feeling

Received this note in my LinkedIn message box last week.

I am a podcast host like you and launching my book xxxxxx. Nice to be connected to you. Would you be interested in receiving a copy of xxxxxx, and you can feel into me being on your podcast?

The writer is a professor at Stanford University and teaches conscious leadership. I admire her very intentional use of the phrase feel into me being on your podcast.


There is a certain grace about feeling into things. And, you may wonder, what exactly does “feeling into things” look like?

Last Thursday I had a planning meeting with 3 esteemed colleagues. We’re supporting a leadership team at a pharmaceutical company that’s in the midst of some major firefighting. Folks are under-resourced. Overworked. Burned out.

This meeting wasn’t about collecting more data. Crafting surveys. Organizing focus groups. There wasn’t time.

In a very real sense we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels.” ~ Daniel Goleman

No, it was a time to feel into a situation. What sort of action would be helpful, what wouldn’t? Based on our collective wisdom. Years of experience. Finely honed instincts.

Feeling into a situation means paying attention to what feels right, what doesn’t. It may require tossing well-wrought plans to the wind.

Does this sound a tad woo-woo? It’s not. We’re in emotional intelligence territory. Daniel Goleman, Harvard professor and author of the classic “Emotional Intelligence,” has spent 25 years writing books and fostering research on the feeling part of being a leader. Goleman has found that emotional intelligence is comprised of 4 domains: Self Awareness, Self Management, Social Awareness, and Relationship Management.

Nested within these domains are 12 core competencies. My Stanford professor’s message was nodding to one of these 12 – Emotional Self Awareness. As I read her book, would I feel excited enough about having a conversation with her?

My pharma planning meeting nodded to another competency – Organizational Awareness. What are the moods and social dynamics within the workforce right now? Which sort of intervention might support, which might hinder a greater sense of well-being and productivity?

Let me un-woo-woo the notion of feeling into things a little more. Here are some of the signals an emotionally intelligent leader considers.

Feeling Into Inner Signals

Notice Your Emotions

Feelings can be marvelous when they “feel good.” Unsettling when they don’t. They offer valuable information about our relationship to the activities we’re engaged in. Feelings, as the saying famously goes, aren’t facts. They are, however, indicators about our inner state of affairs.

When we are super-busy, we often do not have time to notice how we feel. We’re too busy getting things done. We may say to someone I don’t have a strong feeling about what’s going on. Indeed, you may not. Or you may be so busy that you don’t notice how you feel. When we don’t notice how we feel, we cut ourselves off from a key source of inner intelligence. Our clarity and effectiveness are measurably diminished.

Consider Your Emotions

Take fear, for example. We may consider our fear as a factor in whether we move forward with an action. We may decide that our fear necessitates a mindset shift around a specific action. A different tactic. Or we may decide to be afraid and take the action, anyway.

We are robbed of any of this consideration when we are too busy to notice what we feel. You know the individual that says I’m just not a very emotional person, right? Chances are, this person is often making less fully informed decisions. Because emotional intelligence has not come into play.

Feeling Into External Signals

Sense What is NOT Being Said

It’s the classic read the room suggestion. Or read the mood of your entire professional playground. You may be gung-ho about a new initiative or idea. Notice the signals of others as you talk about this idea. Notice their body language, their energy, their silence, the spirit in which they respond, or don’t. These are all predictors on how well any of what you’re excited about may actually play out.

Feel into what is not being said. Consider it essential information. This implicit intelligence data may prompt you to probe more deeply. It may nudge you to approach your new initiative differently. Ignoring, or not noticing, what is not being said is never an option. It will cost you dearly.

Make an Empathetic Decision

Explore what may lurk behind external signals. Consider the WHY behind these signals. We consider the WHY not by conducting a detailed analysis of the signals we see but by, instead, putting ourselves into the shoes of others. WHY do they feel the way they feel? How would I feel if I were in their shoes, facing the circumstances they face?

Empathy is our ability to feel into what others may be experiencing. Empathy has no opinion or judgment about the experience of others. It does not connote agreement or disagreement. When we have felt into the experience of others AND allow it to impact our decision-making, we will always make more sound decisions. Such decisions yield better outcomes than decisions not informed by empathy. They always do.

Here's another conversation I had last week. Victor, a Senior HR executive, speaks to me about being in meetings with Martin, his company’s CEO.

Martin has a lot of emotional intelligence, Victor says to me. I admire that about him. We often go into a meeting with a strategy that we have agreed on. But more often than not, as we are in conversation with other people, Martin will actually change his mind and go in a slightly different direction.

A less savvy person might get frustrated when Martin seems to change course. Might see it as a sign of weakness. Viewed through an emotional intelligence lens, Martin’s fluidity in thought is likely prompted by the very factors we have examined in this article:

  • Martin senses within that what he had planned isn’t quite right. Emotional Self Awareness.
  • Martin reads the externals well. He listens to what is being said, and he also pays attention to all that is NOT being said. Organizational Awareness.

Feeling into situations is a beautiful thing. It also generates better outcomes.

Always does.

Related: Great Leaders Apologize Well