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Using Emotions as a Guide

IRVING, TX - OCTOBER 27:   Running Back Emmitt Smith #22 of the Dallas Cowboys celebrates beating the NFL rushing record during the NFL game against the Seattle Seahawks at Texas Stadium on October 27, 2002 in Irving, Texas. The Seahawks defeated the Cowboys 17-14. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

“Leaders, to a large extent, have learned from experience that emotions are something that are to be controlled and mastered, and not much more than that. Emotions are rarely seen as accelerating leadership abilities.” – Dr. John Townsend

As a former football player, I could not imagine seeing my emotions in a positive light. I was conditioned to believe that my emotions were something I need to control. The more I was able to control my emotions, the more of a man I thought I was becoming.

I think of the 1993 performance of Emmitt Smith where he rushed for 170 yards to help the Cowboys while playing with a separated shoulder and bruised sternum. His performance is ranked as the #4 Gutsiest performance in NFL history according to NFL Network.

This is what most people think of emotions. They are something to control and overcome to accomplish your goals.

Though there may be merit to that argument, there is something else about emotions that most people don’t realize.

Emotions aren’t ideas. They are internal responses.

Your feelings exist as a signal to you. They alert you that something is going on, something you need to pay attention to and deal with. Many times they point to a situation, or person. Other times, they alert you to something going on within you.

Using the analogy of the instrument panel on the car is a perfect analogy of the purpose of emotions. Every indicator light is there for a reason. And there will be a consequence for neglecting the indicators lights. They are there for a reason, and they are reveling something specific to address…just like your emotions.

Here are a short list of emotions, and what they indicate for you to address.

  1. Anxiety – a sense of unease, fear, or dread that signals you to move away from something or someone. Anxiety is a helpful emotion because it warns you that you may be in a situation that is not good for you.
  2. Anger – a call to address conflict. It signals to us there is a problem to be solved. It urges us to fix something that needs to be fixed.
  3. Sadness – a feeling of grief and mourning. Sadness has its own signal and message, which is that we are experiencing loss. It’s all about the process of grieving.
  4. Guilt and Shame – an attack on yourself, by yourself. Guilt and shame often are associated with self-judgment.

Reference: Leadership Beyond Reason, Dr. John Townsend.