Does Emotion Obstruct Good Leadership?

By | December 2, 2015

[December 2, 2015]  As conversation would have it, our young adult children are great fans of the Star Trek series and the (so-called) unemotional character Commander Spock.  The fictional character Spock is of a human-Vulcan heritage, but it’s his control over emotions and the logical manner that they liked most.  Over the Thanksgiving holiday we discussed whether emotions obstruct good leadership or not in the context of Star Trek voyages and alien encounters.

Many leaders will tell you that emotion can never be removed from their behavior or thinking but it can be controlled to a point that its impact is less severe.  When given formal training we are told that emotions can be a significant barrier to good leadership generally and to decision-making specifically.  In fact, I’ve written about it here at on several occasions (see example links here, here, and here).

I believe one of the problems in discussing the topic –linking emotions with poor leadership – is that the concept of emotion is actually a rather large basket of human feelings.  In fact, scientifically there is no agreement on a definition.  Often, the concept is interwoven with mood, temperament, personality, disposition, and motivation.  Conceptually emotions are complex, confusing, and subjective.  This makes it difficult to realistically come to a firm opinion on whether emotions obstruct good leadership or whether it enhances leadership qualities.

For example, passion is a form of emotion and is a strong motivator and considered essential for good leadership but also for evil.  Historically, Western philosophers consider emotion as a hindrance to leadership.  However, we know that is not fully accurate.  The question still remains … does emotion obstruct good leadership?  Can we really answer it without unduly mixing up concepts or without confusing the idea further?

I’ll go out on a limb here today and restrict myself to saying that emotion is more mood than personality – the way we typically see it in Western society.  Rarely is mood (good or bad) a positive thing when it comes to influencing leadership.  For our purposes here and painting with a rather broad paintbrush, I will say that emotions are an obstacle for good leadership.  We don’t need to be like Commander Spock but we should use logic as a key element in leadership.

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Author: Douglas R. Satterfield

Hello. I'm Doug and I provide at least one article everyday on some leadership topic. I welcome comments and also guests who would like to write an article. Thanks for reading my blog.