Strategies for Resilient Leaders: Understanding Emotions and Reframing Them

Emotional regulation is the hallmark of any great leader. At work, lots of things can trigger our negative emotions, but learning how to reframe the negative into a positive will help you breeze through any difficulties that come your way.


Strategies for Resilient Leaders: Understanding Emotions and Reframing Them

What are emotions?

Emotions are a complex mental and physiological state experienced by humans. They are key components of our psychological makeup and are thought to be a result of evolutionary adaptation. Emotions can be both positive and negative and consist of a wide range of feelings, including joy, anger, fear, disgust, sadness, and more. They are associated with the fight-or-flight response and can lead to negative thoughts if threatened or triggered.

In the workplace, emotions play a critical role in leadership and need to be actively managed to create a positive working environment, as well as relationships. Leaders must be aware of their emotional displays, as well as the emotions of others, to successfully manage their teams and foster positive outcomes.

What are threat and reward mind states?

Thread and reward mind states are emotional states that are instinctual. Rewards mind states lead us towards emotions like joyfulness, optimism, helpful, etc. while threat mind states lead us to feel emotions like weak, aggression, anger and so forth.

Mind states occur whenever good or bad things happen. Generally, when something bad happens, it triggers our flight, fight, freeze mode - putting one in a state of threat. This flight, flight, freeze mode then triggers the release of cortisol and other stress chemicals into the bloodstream to help us cope with difficult situations - for us to run or fight for our survival.

For example, managing to catch the bus would put us in a rewarded mind state because it means being able to get to our destination (say work) on time and therefore makes us happy. On the other hand, the threat mind state could be triggered if one missed the bus (and therefore gets to work late) by feeling emotions like helplessness, anxiety and stress.

When one is in the threat state, there's an overwhelming tendency to zero in on the problem without being able to see the solution even though it might be obvious. The individual would then perceive everything else through the lens of being threatened.

There are many factors in the workplace for a leader to have their reward and threat mind states constantly triggered. This is why leaders need to reframe negative emotions as constantly being in a threat state will lead to unpleasant working relations and environments.

What are the benefits of understanding and reframing emotions?

1. Increased resilience

Understanding and reframing emotions can increase resilience by teaching us to take care of ourselves and be open to receiving help from others. By acknowledging our vulnerability and emotions, instead of pushing through with strength alone, we can better recognize our limits and create a sense of self-awareness to take care of our mental and physical health. This way, we can recognize the importance of recovery and avoid burnout, while also trusting that we can do hard things. By holding a broader view of strength and resiliency that honors the lived experience, we can more effectively move forward in difficult times and cultivate moments of laughter, pleasure, and play.

2. Improved ability to cope with stressors

Understanding and reframing emotions can improve coping ability under stress by allowing us to take a step back and view the situation from a different angle. It helps us to see the positive aspects of a seemingly hopelessly bad situation, instead of allowing ourselves to be overwhelmed by the negative. Reframing also promotes creativity and innovation in problem-solving, allowing us to come up with new strategies to address the issue at hand.

3. Improved productivity and performance

Through understanding and reframing emotions, individuals can improve their productivity and performance in the workplace. Studies have shown that recognizing emotions and positively managing them can increase focus, engagement, and collaboration in work life. By understanding and reframing emotions, individuals can tap into the power of emotion to drive better outcomes and productivity in their work.

4. Enhanced workplace relationships

Understanding and reframing emotions can significantly enhance workplace relationships by providing a forum for open communication and the ability to empathize with each other. This can lead to a greater connection between team members and help reduce tensions that arise from disagreements. Being able to identify and approach emotions constructively can also create a sense of trust among colleagues, as well as a shared understanding of how to interact with one another positively and productively. By reframing emotions, team members can better understand each other’s perspectives and come to mutual agreements and resolutions, without having to hurt anyone's feelings.

Resilient Leaders

How to understand and reframe emotions as resilient leaders?

Step 1: Understand and acknowledge emotions

The first step in developing a strategy for managing emotions as a resilient leader is to recognize and acknowledge the emotions that you and your team may be experiencing. This can be done by being aware of both verbal and non-verbal cues, such as body language and facial expressions. Additionally, actively listening to what your team is saying and how they are saying it can help you to better understand the emotions that they may be feeling.

Step 2: Reframe negative emotions with the Glad Game

The next step is to reframe the negative emotions that may be present. When we have natural negative responses to problems that arise, we have the choice to either feed them and make them worse or soften them and try to make them better. Think of reframing as directing your problems to drift past you instead of fighting them. To do so, you may utilize this simple yet fun exercise called the Glad Game to calm yourself down from the threat state.

The Glad Game is essentially a statement that you recite out loud to yourself about three times for every problem you're facing with a different positive reframe. The statement goes "I'm glad [insert situation/problem] because [positive reframe]".

For instance, losing your wallet would be a problem. How you can do this would be:

"I'm glad I lost my wallet containing $200 today because someone else who needed the money got it."

"I'm glad I lost my wallet containing $200 today because it means I can now buy a new one."

"I'm glad I lost my wallet containing $200 today because it could've been $1000."

And so forth.

The aim of this reframing exercise is for us to soften and slowly de-escalate our emotional states while helping us to see the silver lining in every cloud. It is advised to recite the statements out loud to yourself until you feel better about the situation than before - at least three times, and if it doesn't help, go for another two. Reciting it out loud also helps with committing the mindset to yourself, making thought become reality.

Practicing reframing skills can help resilient leaders understand and reframe emotions by redirecting their attention away from positions and towards identifying interests, inventing creative solutions, and discussing fair standards for selecting options. When one practices reframing frequently enough, it becomes a habit for the person and soon it becomes a behavior that's on autopilot.

By shifting focus away from negative emotions, leaders can reframe the situation in a more positive light and help facilitate a resolution. Ultimately, reframing can help resilient leaders understand, manage, and address emotions in a way that leads to better outcomes.

Why is it important for leaders to be able to reframe their negative experiences?

Reframing negative emotions is an important skill for leaders in organizations. When faced with a problem, it’s easy to get angry and blame others. This doesn’t solve anything, however, and can make the problem worse. Leaders who can reframe their negative feelings can use them to drive meaningful change, instead of creating a negative feedback loop of hopelessness within themselves or the team.

It also helps to reduce stress and negativity in the workplace - when faced with difficult situations, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with negative thoughts. Reframing them can give perspective and help you focus on the positive. It can also lead to better decision-making by helping you to look at problems in a different light.

Finally, reframing can help leaders foster a positive environment. When they can put a positive spin on difficult situations, it encourages others to do the same. This ultimately leads to a more productive and harmonious workplace.

Reframing negative emotions is an important skill for leaders in organizations. By learning how to reframe their negative feelings, leaders can foster a more positive and productive environment while also promoting innovation and creativity.

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Resilient Leaders


What is reframing and how does it help with emotion regulation?

Reframing is a cognitive coping strategy that involves changing the way you think and feel about a difficult situation to get something positive out of it. It is a conscious process of trying to see a situation from different perspectives, often those new perspectives are more positive, more motivating, and help you cope with uncertainty.

How does understanding and managing emotions make a more effective leader?

Understanding and managing emotions are essential for effective leadership. Emotional regulation plays an increasingly important role in building better relationships with subordinates and fostering better organizational outcomes.

What are the benefits of a resilient mindset for leaders in the workplace?

The benefits of a resilient mindset for leaders in the workplace include improved emotional intelligence, resilience, increased task-related and personal problem-solving skills, increased psychological safety, improved ability to handle criticism and negative emotions, greater capacity for emotional labor, and an enhanced capacity for cultivating laughter, pleasure, play, and moments of merriment during hard times.

This in turn can result in higher job satisfaction, better team performance, increased productivity, stronger relationships, improved communication, and better decision-making.

What do negative thoughts look like?

Negative thoughts can often take on different patterns or forms. These patterns are called “cognitive distortions” and they involve thoughts that are: all-or-nothing, overgeneralizing, personalizing, mental filtering, mind-reading, catastrophizing, and jumping to conclusions.

All-or-nothing thoughts: Based on the idea that there is no grey area in a situation, where overgeneralizing involves neglecting details to support a broad negative thought.

Personalizing: Thinking that one is responsible for events outside of their control.

Mental filtering: Focuses on one negative detail in a sea of positives.

Mind-reading: Deciding that one knows what someone else is thinking.

Catastrophizing: Expecting the worst possible outcome.

Jumping to conclusions: Making assumptions based on little or no real evidence.

Understanding these different types of negative thinking is the first step to reframing them and leading a more positive life.

What strategies can resilient leaders use to cope with workplace stress?

Strategies that resilient leaders can use to cope with workplace stress include: learning new emotional skills such as reframing emotions as information to be processed; engaging in emotional skills training that fosters mindfulness; understanding the difference between controllable and non-controllable; avoiding surface-level acting, which can have adverse effects on both the leader's health and the organization; and creating a psychologically safe climate for employees to express their feelings. Additionally, leaders can benefit from recognizing the importance of addressing their role's emotional labor and assessing the emotional culture of the organization.

How does emotional suppression differ from reappraisal as a coping strategy?

Emotional suppression and reappraisal are both strategies used to cope with intense emotions. However, they differ in terms of the approach used to manage the emotions.

Emotional suppression involves attempting to ignore or deny the emotion, essentially pushing it away and not engaging with it. This type of coping strategy does not deal with the underlying cause of the emotion and can lead to the emotion resurfacing in a more intense form.

In contrast, reappraisal involves attempting to reframe the emotion in a more positive light. This involves actively engaging with the emotion and attempting to alter its meaning. Reappraisal strategies involve taking a step back and looking at the emotion objectively, evaluating the emotion and then trying to change how it is perceived. This strategy is particularly useful when it comes to managing interpersonal conflicts, as it allows the individual to take a more empathetic approach to the situation and to think more objectively about the underlying causes of the emotion.

Overall, emotional suppression and reappraisal are two contrasting strategies used to cope with intense emotions. Emotional suppression attempts to push the emotion away while reappraisal involves actively engaging with it and attempting to change its meaning.

What is self-compassion and how can it help leaders cope with workplace stress?

Self-compassion is the practice of treating oneself with kindness and understanding to reduce stress and increase emotional intelligence, resilience and integrity. For leaders, self-compassion can help them better cope with the emotional labor of the workplace. By embracing self-compassion, leaders are better able to manage work-related and personal problems, as well as their own emotions. Self-compassion also helps to create a more psychologically safe environment for team members to share their feelings. In addition, self-compassion can help leaders reduce the need to surface act and the stress that is associated with it. Organizations can support leaders by providing skills training to help build emotional capabilities and mitigate compassion fatigue and negative emotional contagion. By developing emotional skills, such as reframing emotions as information to be processed, leaders can become better equipped to handle their emotional labor and lead their teams more effectively.

How can reframing help leaders be more open and accepting of negative emotions?

Reframing can help leaders to be more open and accepting of negative emotions by providing them with the tools to view the situation from a different perspective and to look for potential solutions rather than dwelling on the problem. Reframing helps to shift the focus away from blame and judgment and instead encourages leaders to be more mindful and compassionate towards those affected by negative emotions. By reframing the situation, leaders can learn to control their feelings and respond with understanding and empathy towards others. This can help to reduce the stress and conflict that often arise when dealing with negativity and ultimately lead to better decisions and more positive outcomes.

What is the difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset?

The difference between a growth mindset and a fixed mindset is a matter of perspective. A growth mindset is rooted in being open to change and is based on the belief that one can learn and grow in response to challenging situations. This type of mindset focuses on the process, allowing for setbacks and mistakes as part of learning and growth rather than seeing them as failures. A fixed mindset, on the other hand, is rooted in a sense of certainty and the belief that our abilities are predetermined and immutable. This type of mindset is result-oriented and relies heavily on external validation from others. It is more likely to react to challenging situations with avoidance and fear rather than looking for opportunities to learn and grow. Ultimately, a growth mindset is about cultivating flexible and nimble thinking that is open to change, while a fixed mindset is more rigid and resistant to change.

How does reframing help leaders to develop resilience and creativity in their teams?

Reframing is an important resilience-building skill that helps leaders manage their emotions, cope with adversity, and better adapt their mindset in the face of stressful change. By redefining problems as challenges, taking a long-term perspective, and seeing a situation from different perspectives, leaders can foster resilience and creativity in their teams. Reframing helps leaders develop a new and more positive outlook on difficult or stressful situations, allowing them to respond thoughtfully and effectively.

This proactive approach encourages team members to think differently, develop creative solutions to challenges, and work together in an environment of mutual respect and trust. Ultimately, reframing is an invaluable tool that helps leaders cultivate resilience, creativity, and problem-solving skills in their teams, enabling them to navigate difficult change with grace and confidence.