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We need a human-centred approach to emotional labour in leadership

Being a leader is not easy. There is a lot of unseen work that goes into leading a team. As a leader, you are constantly looked up to by your team and your actions are often closely examined. Leaders may feel like they are playing the role of a therapist, resolving workplace conflicts and motivating employees. Leaders set the example and tone in a team, making them highly affluential.

Oftentimes, the emotional labour leaders invest in their teams is not acknowledged by the rest of the team or higher management. A lot of the work that a leader puts into their team is meant to stay behind the scenes, but that doesn’t mean emotional labour shouldn’t be recognized as real labour. The pressures leaders face need to be talked about and acknowledged. To understand what emotional labour is and how it affects leadership, we need to first uncover the role of emotional intelligence (EI) in leadership.

What is emotional intelligence (EI)?

Simply put, EI is an individual’s ability to perceive, manage, and regulate their emotions. The term popularized by American psychologist Daniel Goleman, encompasses 5 categories: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. EI is important for everyone but especially crucial for leaders as they are responsible for their emotions and those of their team. An emotionally intelligent leader understands how to manage stress and conflict in their team and themselves effectively, in turn creating a positive work environment. Their ability to manage stressful situations sets an example for their team to follow. Strong leaders recognize their feelings and emotions have an impact on the team and regulate them appropriately.

A leader’s emotional labour is crucial

Leaders have a persona they portray: confident, strong, intelligent, and decisive. All the work that goes into maintaining that image and managing the emotional needs of team members constitutes emotional labour. It can be challenging for leaders to exhibit this persona because they are in charge of their own emotional needs while balancing the various needs of their team members. However, a leader’s emotional labour is crucial for an effective team. The presence a leader brings to the team is as important as other skills. Leaders must resolve conflicts, inspire positive morale, set aspiring examples, and address the emotional needs of their team. The ability to guide, motivate and influence the emotions of others plays a significant role in leadership.

A human-centred approach to emotional labour

It is important to remember that every individual reacts and handles stressful situations differently. A human-centred approach to emotional labour takes into account each person’s unique circumstances and addresses their particular needs. Authentic and genuine interactions build trust with team members and good leaders understand the importance of creating strong relationships. When dealing with a conflict, the relationships a leader builds with the team greatly impacts the situation. At Humanicity, we help you develop the skills and tools to effectively navigate emotional labour and feel less depleted through a human-centred approach.

When you are equipped with the tools to manage your emotional labour, you can better help your team succeed.

How to take care of your emotional needs as a leader

Being a leader is undeniably emotionally draining at times. Leaders are often held to a higher standard—an impossible standard, but a higher one nonetheless. Not taking care of your emotional needs can lead to burnout. Dina Denham Smith and Alicia Grandey of Harvard Business Review writes, “leaders who practice self-compassion have higher emotional intelligence, resilience, and integrity”, highlighting the significance of self-care for leaders. Here are 3 ways you can take care of your emotional needs as a leader.

  • Make time for self-care

Whether that is going on a walk in nature, meditation, exercising, or doing something you enjoy, it’s important to make time for yourself and take breaks from work. Good leaders understand the importance of taking time to recharge.

  • Find a mentor

If you’re new to leadership, the task may seem especially daunting. It’s important to find a supportive network that understands your journey. Every leader’s experience is unique, but talking to a mentor who has lived experience can give you perspective, guidance and confidence to lead your team.

  • Show self-compassion

No person is capable of being the perfect leader and showing compassion to yourself when you make mistakes is important. By dealing with your mistakes constructively, you are more likely to do the same for your team. When leaders are authentic and open, it creates a positive environment where team members feel comfortable sharing their own experiences. Seeing leaders practice self-compassion can encourage team members to do the same.

Encouraging self-care for team members

As leaders, it is important to encourage your team to practice self-care. Actively taking care of your mental health and emotional needs can prevent burnout in the workplace. At Humanicity, we understand every team has different needs, and we’re committed to helping you find ways to encourage self-care approaches applicable to your team.

The best leaders lead by example. Whether that is taking regular breaks, eating healthy foods, exercising or getting enough sleep, leaders should set the example by doing it themselves. When your team sees you participate in self-care activities, they’ll be inclined to follow your example. A thoughtful leader also provides resources for self-care to their team and encourages them to seek relevant support. As a leader, you can incorporate community activities such as mindfulness meditation and walking meetings build connections within the team and encourage self-care practices.