Lead By Thoughts, Not Feelings

by  Paul LaRue  |  Leadership Development
Lead By Thoughts, Not Feelings

One of the most tremendous truths about being human is how our thoughts, feelings, and desires interconnect.

Through our internal connectedness of mind, body, and soul, we can harness greatness within ourselves and develop each aspect to become stronger and more in tune with the other aspects.

Yet our humanness comes with a flaw, in that we can get our feelings out of proportion to rational thinking. When that occurs, we are governed by only one part of us which, if not checked and balanced with the rest of our being, can lead us and others astray.

Feelings are great for motivation, inspiration, and drive. But many people that live solely off of motivational seminars find themselves flat when they try to be in touch with their feelings much to the exclusion of their thoughts.

This can also be true of those who spend time in fear or worry and let those emotions override their actions. Too many times leaders are led by their feelings, and not their minds.

That is where leaders need to consciously and consistently track their thoughts, and not just their feelings.

Real Life Scenarios Based on Leading By Feelings

  • A senior executive afraid of unfounded circumstances that calls meetings to solve problems that don’t exist
  • A new department manager who is agitated that things are done a differing way than what they’ve done in other companies
  • A shift supervisor who is worried that certain company actions mean they will be laid off
  • An employee who doubts the sincerity of leadership even though there is open and clear communication

In each of the scenarios, the following feeling-statements took over rational thinking…

  • “I feel…”
  • “We’re afraid…”
  • “We suspect…”
  • “I can’t believe…”
  • “You don’t see…”

These feelings, without being run through the proper process of thought and facts, can cause wrong actions, disengagement, and toxic culture to manifest. What is needed to happen with each feeling is to manage the feeling-statements through thinking-statements such as the following…

  • “This shows…”
  • “We know that…”
  • “The studies reveal…”
  • “Our culture supports…”
  • “The reality is…”
  • “I have found…”

When you or a colleague start to descend into making decisions driven by irrational feelings, it’s best to practice this two-prong approach as a standard action:

Stop & Think

By stopping how we feel long enough to think through our emotions and process the facts at hand, one can find a balance between gut feelings, emotions, sound process, and being rational. We can bring our feelings into their proper place, and then use the right feelings to propel our plan of action.

As leaders, we should be in touch with our feelings – and those of our people –  but be governed by sound thinking on what we always know to be right. When our emotions take us away from what we know to be true and correct, we fail to utilize our entire selves in our influence.

Fear has its place when it spurs us away from complacency. Excitement is right when it opens the doors to goals and innovation. Our feelings have their place when they intertwine with right thinking to create a stronger rope which we can give our teams to help us pull together.

Be led by right thinking. Infuse people with the right feelings. Help you and your teams stop and think throughout their day.

Do you practice the stop and think method in some way? We’d love to hear about it…
Photo Credit: Morguefile/vicky53

About The Author

Articles By paul-larue
Paul LaRue is the creator of The UPwards Leader and author of “Leadership LIFT: Take Your Leadership to New Heights”. Paul draws off of his years in senior leadership to pursue his passion – to enable leaders to increase their positive influence in their world. http://upwardsleader.com/  »  View Profile

What People Are Saying

Joseph Ludford  |  24 Apr 2015  |  Reply

I’m concerned about decisions made by boards or committees by voting or other form of consensus that is based on individual opinions of members as to whether the proposed action is a good idea or not. Facts are not developed and the groups don’t seem to know that they are deficient. There is no critical thinking process because the members don’t understand what that is. I don’t think I understand how critical thinking should be applied.

John E. Smith  |  25 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Hi, Paul – enjoyed this post:)

You have taught in one of my favorite ways – by giving me examples of language that displays both the emphasis on emotions and that which promotes a more balanced and thoughtful leadership approach.

Your main point that emotions are important, but should not solely drive our behavior and thinking is well taken. In my counseling days, I often used the “Thinking, Feeling, Behaving” triangle to help others understand the connections of these basic human activities. You have nicely shown how to apply this within the leadership context.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us:).


Paul LaRue  |  25 Apr 2015  |  Reply

Thank you John! I have seen so many, myself included, stop short of thinking through things and go on base emotions. I like the triangle approach you mentioned, because the final piece is putting it into play in our actions.

Great talking with you on the conference call yesterday! Enjoy the weekend my friend!


Join The Conversation