I can still hear my old pastor, Rick Warren, reciting one of his many pieces of wisdom:

Revealing your feelings is the beginning of healing.

The trouble is, we often don’t know what we’re feeling. So many leaders grew up without being equipped with a vocabulary for expressing deep emotions.

When we can’t identify or express our emotions, we tend to shut them down instead, stuffing them back inside and hoping that they’ll leave us alone in the future.

As Sean Nemecek and Glenn Packiam put it in their excellent book, The Weary Leader’s Guide to Burnout: A Journey from Exhaustion to Wholeness,

Denying one emotion means diminishing access to the others—including the good ones.

And an inability to access or express authentic emotion usually leads to feelings of burnout and frustration. And burned out, frustrated leaders rarely lead thriving organizations.

It’s no wonder that 71% of employers look for emotional intelligence more than technical skills when hiring new employees.

How can you, as a leader, express what you’re really feeling in a healthy way? Here are a few ideas.

1. Expand your emotional vocabulary.

We often tell children to “use their words” instead of grunting, yelling, or showing physical aggression. Truthfully, this is good advice for adults, too. But we can only use the words we know.

Most of us can muster up a “good,” “bad,” or “fine” when answer questions about how we’re feeling. Sometimes we can even get honest enough to say that we’re “mad” or “sad.” But there can be real power in using descriptive words to give expression to what’s going on inside us.

Words and phrases like agitated, stifled, left out, indifferent, distracted, discouraged, exasperated, numb, etc. give us a way to express our feelings in greater detail.

2. Practice with people who love you.

It can be daunting to consider sharing your honest feelings with co-workers and peers, but it’s likely that the people closest to you would love to know how you’re really doing, especially as you express those feelings in a calm way.

3. Lead the way and give others permission.

As a leader, you must remember that your most significant role in your organization is the creation of a healthy culture. This is more important than your strategy, your structure, or any statement you could write.

Naming your emotions is a way of normalizing the practice for others. You likely know the power of going first when it comes to being creative, taking risks, and taking meaningful action. But what if going first in expressing feelings could create a healthier workplace around you?

Being an influential leader starts with being the best version of you that you can be. To get there, you’re going to need to keep on growing in your emotional intelligence. Start by naming how you’re feeling.


Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash.