The Emotionally Strong Leader: Transforming Leadership from Within


In the ever-evolving landscape of leadership, one enduring trait stands out: emotional intelligence. It is the cornerstone that enables leaders to navigate the intricate realm of human emotions with strength, empathy, and wisdom, propelling teams toward shared goals. Contrary to popular belief, being emotionally strong does not entail suppressing feelings or maintaining an unwavering resolve not to feel but rather acknowledging and harnessing emotions as a source of insight and connection.

It’s time to challenge the misconception that sharing emotions is a sign of weakness. By embracing our feelings and seeking the wisdom they offer, we can revolutionize how we connect, communicate, and lead in the corporate world. When leaders open up about their emotions, it fosters genuine connections that make team members feel valued and heard, ultimately enhancing dedication, engagement, and fulfillment in the workplace.

Emotional Intelligence, often abbreviated as EI, encompasses a range of skills that enable individuals to recognize, understand, and manage their own emotions while also effectively navigating interpersonal relationships. At its core, emotional intelligence is the ability to use the information provided by emotions to act appropriately in the face of daily challenges. It is the ability to:

  • Understand, express, and manage your emotions.
  • Develop and maintain good social relationships.
  • Think clearly and solve problems under pressure.

Emotional intelligence is essentially being savvy about your emotions. It’s about not fearing them; instead, it’s about acquiring the emotional skills and mental strategies to transcend feelings and help others do the same.

By embracing emotional self-awareness and empathy—acknowledging both your feelings and those of your coworkers—you can drive exceptional results.

Let’s face it: emotions are an inherent aspect of the human experience. They serve as a universal language that transcends diversity, geography, and digital barriers, especially in the workplace. Yet, many of us go through life pretending not to have them.

If I could impart one message to every struggling business leader, it would be this: don’t shy away from emotions—yours or those of your teams.

Feelings aren’t factual; they’re merely experiences and reactions to people, places, or situations. They’re neither inherently good nor bad, right nor wrong—they’re simply emotional responses. However, within these responses lies a wealth of wisdom waiting to be discovered. We need to dedicate more time to understanding their origins and significance.

Remember, you can be emotional and strong; they are not mutually exclusive.

In my book, The Emotionally Strong Leader: An Inside-Out Journey to Transformational Leadership, I present a comprehensive guide to enhancing emotional intelligence in both personal and professional realms. Drawing from two decades of research in psychology, education, and leadership studies, I offer practical strategies and exercises to help leaders cultivate emotional intelligence and harness the power of their emotions for positive outcomes.

Here are six strategies from the book that can help you achieve your desired business and leadership outcomes:

Become an Observer:

Picture yourself as a director observing the actors in a film. By viewing yourself from an external perspective, you gain the ability to observe your emotions impartially. Allowing yourself to detach from the feeling grants you the opportunity to discern the message behind that emotion. This emotional self-awareness empowers you to respond appropriately to the situation at hand, separating your emotions from your reactions to them.

Pause Before Reacting:

Emotional triggers lurk in every corner, ready to incite hasty reactions. Resist the urge to respond immediately, as doing so may lead to regrettable actions. Instead, take a moment to inhale deeply, soothing the overwhelming impulse. If emotions threaten to overwhelm you, distance yourself from the situation. Disentangling yourself from the emotion and gaining clarity on how the situation impacts you and those around you allows you to foster rational thinking and informed decision-making.

Set Boundaries:

Boundaries serve as the bedrock of self-awareness, delineating the line between acceptable and unacceptable behaviour. By establishing clear boundaries, leaders empower themselves to decline unreasonable requests and engage in constructive disagreement assertively. Communicating these boundaries fosters mutual respect and facilitates healthy working relationships.

Challenge Prejudices and Preconceived Notions:

Bias and assumptions are ubiquitous barriers to understanding and collaboration. By actively challenging preconceived notions, leaders cultivate an environment of inclusivity and open-mindedness. Focusing on shared similarities rather than differences fosters empathy and broadens perspectives, enriching team dynamics and decision-making processes.

Shift Your Perspective:

Negative emotions often spawn recurring negative thoughts. When you identify a negative thought, deliberately dismiss it and replace it with a positive counterpart. This act of reframing enables you to adopt an alternative perspective on the situation at hand. Confronted with adversity, actively challenge your assumptions by exploring alternative realities that challenge the narrative you’ve constructed.

Cultivate Curiosity about Others:

At the heart of emotional intelligence lies a genuine curiosity about others’ perspectives and experiences. Leaders who prioritize empathy seek to understand the underlying motivations driving their team members’ actions. By asking probing questions and actively listening, leaders foster a culture of trust and psychological safety where diverse voices are valued and respected.

Embracing emotional intelligence does not demand perfection; rather, it necessitates a commitment to self-awareness and growth. By acknowledging and understanding the interplay between internal emotions and external outcomes, leaders pave the way for authentic connection and collaboration.

Courage is the catalyst for transformational leadership. By courageously exploring and sharing their inner selves, leaders create an environment where vulnerability is embraced, fostering genuine connections and collective growth. As emotional intelligence becomes ingrained in leadership practices, the ripple effects are profound, culminating in teams that inspire, innovate, and propel businesses toward success.

The journey to becoming an emotionally strong leader is marked by introspection, empathy, and a commitment to continuous growth. By harnessing the power of emotional intelligence, leaders not only transform themselves but also ignite a ripple effect that reverberates throughout their teams and organizations.

As we strive to navigate the complexities of the modern workplace, let us remember that true leadership begins from within, guided by the unwavering light of emotional intelligence. Simply put, it starts with you, but it stays with them.



Carolyn Stern is the President and CEO of EI Experience—an executive leadership development and emotional intelligence training firm. She is a certified Emotional Intelligence and Leadership Development Expert, professional speaker, award-winning author, and university professor. Since launching her book, The Emotionally Strong Leader: An Inside-Out Journey to Transformational Leadership, Carolyn has quickly gained acclaim following her appearances on The Social, CTV Your Morning, Daytime Chicago, and Global TV. Her book was awarded the Axiom Book Award for the Best Business Book in 2023 in the leadership category and the 2022 Foreword INDIES Book of the Year Award in the career category. Carolyn will be the opening keynote at this years HR Conference & Expo, April 30-May 1 in Vancouver. 


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