Should Leaders Bring Feelings and Passion to Work?

Leaders bring feelings and passion to workThere are probably as many ways to answer this question as there are professionals on this planet. I say that because I believe that how we feel about our feelings, and about the expression of our feelings, has a lot to do with our childhoods, how we were raised, and he sum total of our life’s experiences.

My Leadership Chat Co-Host, Steve Woodruff, and our Leadership Chat Guest Host this week, Dan Rockwell (“Leadership Freak”), both have described themselves as stoic New Englanders; they are very comfortable with the idea of suppressing their feelings.  As a full-blooded Italian that’s a concept I simply cannot wrap my head around. (It’s hard to wrap your head around anything while flailing your arms wildly, but I digress…)

Our different approaches to recognizing, addressing and expressing our feelings are rooted in our families and probably go back generations.

So What’s a Leader to Do?

There is one thing that I think we can all agree on: as humans we bring our full selves to work with us, feelings and all.  We are body, mind and spirit. What matters is what we choose to do with those feelings once we’re “at work.”

1. Deny our feelings: We can pretend that we don’t have feelings, that nothing affects us and almost convince ourselves that this makes us stronger. 

2. Suppress our feelings: This involves recognizing these feelings are there (perhaps resentment that someone got an assignment you didn’t get, for example) but choosing to ignore them in the hopes that somehow everything gets better.

3. Address them: This is, in my opinion, the healthiest of the options physically and emotionally, but where the approach becomes critical. Using the example of resentment caused by not getting a particular assignment…

  • Expressing the resentment by taking it out on others in anger or rude behavior is, obviously, not the right approach as a leader or a person.
  • Choosing to address your feelings and allow them to lead you to a learning experience seems ideal. (“I’m feeling a bit surprised by this decision, can you help me understand what I can work on in order to be a strong candidate for a similar assignment?”). By explaining your feeling as “surprise” rather than resentment -even though you know it’s resentment – you’re not giving negative energy to the conversation and it becomes easier for someone to respond. By being fully open to the learning opportunity you’re more valuable to the team and to your company.
  • Working on understanding your feelings, letting go of the feelings that no longer serve you, and replacing them with emotions that are in your higher good can lead to dramatic personal growth. I personally spend a lot of time every morning writing about my emotions that I know are holding me back, giving myself permission to let go of what holds me back, and empowering within me new, replacement beliefs that take root and blossom into healthier emotions. It’s a constant process of growth.

What About Passion?

Now, when it comes to bringing passion to work I have very strong feelings about this… (wild, Italian arm flailing ahead…!)

I think passion for your role is critical if we, as leaders, are going to raise the energy, consciousness, prosperity and wisdom of the planet. 

I think it’s possible to be in a role that you are not passionate about and to be successful at it, but I think we are meant to follow our passion and to live fully aligned with our True Selves.

And I believe to be at the top of our game involves bringing the passion within us to life…just as depicted in the photo of Djokovic.

So…What do you think?

Please share in the comments and join me, Steve and Dan at Leadership Chat on Twitter this Tuesday, November 1st at 8:00 pm. Based on the tweets I’ve already seen, it promises to be a lively, noteworthy chat!


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Photo is “Novak shows some emotion” by toga.


  1. Lisa,

    I love the expression, “Address your feelings.” I think expressing our feelings may be appropriate but it can also be selfish, indulgent, and counter productive.

    Leadership is about others and sometimes we push aside how we feel. (Note I didn’t say suppress) for the good of an organization. I love how Jay Elliot form VP of Apple put it during a conversation I had with him. He explained that it didn’t matter how he felt, if he had been up 1/2 the night worrying about something… he wanted his people to see the same Jay every day.

    What I think Jay is getting at is I can’t trust a leader that rides an emotional roller coaster. In addition, I won’t follow a leader that is controlled by their emotions, they are unstable.

    Having said all that, back to the term, “address.” I think that’s brilliant.

    Looking forward to seeing you tomorrow night.


    Dan Rockwell´s last blog post ..Embracing the Joys of Fear and Pain

    • Dan,

      I agree with you about “expressing” our feelings; the approach makes all the difference and may be very counter productive in a business environment. And the Jay Elliot quote is a great example of how leaders DO experience a myriad of emotions in their roles, but what they convey to their team is critical for providing direction and motivation.

      I appreciate your thoughts on the term, “address.” I think that when you talked in your post about “control” you were getting at this to a degree – making sure that you really understand what’s causing the emotions and if the emotion is rational. The challenge can be that even if we determine we have an emotion that is irrational, it may still be very hard to let go of. Without addressing it, it can make it difficult to work and lead effectively.

      I’m looking forward to Leadership Chat tomorrow night as well; thank you so much for your willingness to Guest Host!

  2. I can’t believe there is anything ELSE but being a passion-driven leader. Often we’ll get emails and tweets that passion gets in the way of leadership. I think it is to the contrary. If you are not passionate about what you are doing, then it allows all sorts of things to interfere with leadership. Being a “passion-driven leader” keeps you focused with laser-like precision about your vision and making it happen. Passion puts your vision into practice. Thank you for your post and reminding everyone what it’s all about!

    • Amy,

      I genuinely appreciate your perspective, Amy – thank you so much for sharing. Unfortunately, there are leaders who lead without passion, but I don’t view them as visionary or motivational and they’re typically not *great* leaders. Hope to see you tomorrow evening on Leadership Chat.

  3. Lisa, I believe every leader has to bring passion and feeling to the game – unless you’re a robot, that is. Then it can all be data. But I agree with Dan – the leader cannot be controlled by feelings. Self-control (which I’ll write about in my prep post) is not in opposition to feeling – it is the filter, the governor, the moderating wisdom that makes emotion and passion productive rather than destructive. All this was written without a single hand waving. That was suppressed…. ;>}
    Steve Woodruff´s last blog post ..Choose Your Lane

    • Steve,

      I agree with you, and I think self-control is important in the business environment. At the same time, I think the word “control” sends mixed signals to employees. Though we should all exhibit self-control in the way we address our feelings and emotions, I think some view the request to “control” them as a directive to suppress or deny. Over time, I think the message that we can’t bring our full, real selves to the workplace can lead to a very negative energy and unhealthy atmosphere in the workplace. At the same time, as employees, leaders and humans we have the work of self-growth to do…so that we bring positive energy to our roles each and every day.

  4. Lisa, I enjoyed your perspective and your humor. I fully agree that unless you have the passion, you cannot lead effectively. I am concerned that we talk too often about controlling emotions. I like to use the term managing or navigating. I do not believe we can completely control them. We can understand them, put them in perspective and use them when possible to spur us to greater action. I also believe it is the responsiblity of a leader to consider and address the emotional climate of his or her organizations.
    Thanks for an interesting post.
    Lyn Boyer´s last blog post ..Leadership, Intimidation and Two FBI Agents

    • Lyn,
      Great point about the leader addressing the emotional climate of the organization – that’s critical and the first step is to be engaged enough to genuinely know what the climate is reflecting. And I love the term “navigating…” It provides the idea of constant movement. Thanks so much for sharing your insights here, Lyn – I sincerely appreciate it.

  5. Lisa,

    I love this post. I’ve gained insight into our emotions via empirical life experience, working with clients – and neuroscience. Most “pain is in the head” according to some research studies. It is a function of our perception and how we assign meaning. I see how our fear of feelings and need to control and repress them creates emotional havoc. Feelings bring color, depth and context to life. Otherwise we behave like robots for sure. Your points on addressing and releasing/updating emotional stories is an exercise that I also do regularly. It is vital for good health and well-being. People do not understand yet that repression of anger, fear and resentment (there are others) is a major source of stress and disease – literally. When we perceive our feelings with respect, and learn to manage them instead of controlling them, (this takes self-awareness), we will be a more authentic and productive society. The workplace needs leaders who have the courage to be “whole” – respecting both their intellect and their intuition/feelings. This mindset supports adaptability and innovation, as it allows for collaboration instead of repression and “control”.
    Valencia Ray MD´s last blog post ..The Rarely Traveled Path to Likeability

    • Valencia,

      This is an incredibly resourceful and helpful comment for all of my readers. Thank you for adding your wisdom and knowledge from your experiences and research you’ve come across. I especially appreciate your perspective on “leaders who have the courage to be ‘whole’ – respecting both their intellect and intuition/feelings.” I agree, that’s critical not only for our teams but for our own commitment to being truly authentic as leaders. All the best and thank you again for sharing your insights.

  6. Henry Motyka says:

    I absolutely agree that a leader cannot be controlled by feelings. People look up to their leader to show the way in tough times. A leader that shows emotion might ruin the feeling of we’ll get through this n o matter what. However, positive emotion can often help a situation by inspiring confidence.

    Now about passion. Want to get people fired up? Show passion. Being dull leads to dull performance. Who needs that? As a matter of fact, while we’re talking, who can survive that? Have I been overly emotional and passionate on the job? Has it lead to superior performance and superior results? Case closed.

    Right now, as I look for my next job, many people I meet say I have great passion. For me, it is opening up doors. Another great thing about passion. So, yes, I’m passionate, and I show it.

    • Henry,

      Kudos to you for showing the passion and for “showing up” as your True Self. I know it will pay off and you will find a role that allows you to continue showing up as your True Self very soon.

  7. Lisa,

    Excellent. Let me submit that if we all had the courage to follow our passions then the world would be a much better place.

    Thank you for setting the example and following your own passions and delivering your true self. Now may the rest of us do the same thing.
    Ian Fitzpatrick´s last blog post ..Occupy Wall Street and The Connection Revolution

    • Ian,

      I appreciate the very kind words. To be fair, as I know this is often hard to do, it can take a lot of work to let go of what holds us back before we can muster up the courage to move forward aligned with our True Selves. Thanks so much for the encouragement!

  8. You had me at wild Italian arm flailing, Lisa! ;-)

    I think companies frequently lack good leaders because leadership takes work. It takes a degree of self-awareness that most people won’t embrace. In addition to being passionate about their work, a good leader is passionate about the people who are under him/her. Because, after all, a leader needs a team to lead.
    Amber Avines´s last blog post ..Adding Tabasco to your social media presence


  1. […] Join us tonight as we discuss the Leader and Feelings – we have a special guest joining us, the @LeadershipFreak himself, Dan Rockwell! Here’s is Dan’s prep post (Control your Feelings – Don’t Express Them); and to further get your wheels turning, here is what Lisa Petrilli has written (Should Leaders Bring Feelings and Passion to Work?) […]

  2. […] Prep post: Should Leaders Bring Feeling and Passion to Work? (Lisa […]

  3. […] I have such genuine respect for everyone who was courageous enough to jump into the discussion and share their real feelings! It’s not easy to do, especially given the stereotypes and misconceptions that are still at play to some degree when we ask if leaders should bring feelings and passion to work. […]

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