Wellbeing Science Institute

Effective Leaders Leverage Emotional Reality

In the workplace of the future, interpersonal skills will be valued more than ever, which is why getting a deeper understanding of our evolutionary make-up is becoming essential leadership work. 

Getting to grips with our emotional world not only gives us permission to be more authentic but it also provides us with a guaranteed way of connecting our common humanity.

Interoception and Affective Realism are two key concepts for future leaders to understand and embrace as a part of their leadership practice.

Interoception refers to the sensory process by which the nervous system receives, accesses, and interprets signals originating from within the body, providing a constant stream of information about the internal state of the body to the brain and back. 

It involves the detection of internal body sensations such as hunger, thirst, temperature, pain, and heart rate, helping individuals to understand and feel what is happening inside their bodies. Interoception plays a critical role in our emotional experiences and self-awareness. The way an individual perceives and interprets internal body signals can influence emotional states, mood, and subjective feelings, contributing to the formation of emotional experiences.

Our interoceptive signals are integral components in the brain’s creation of our emotional experiences. The brain interprets interoceptive information based on past experiences, predictions, and the current context to construct an emotional response.

Affective realism, the concept emphasising the interplay between emotions and perceptions of reality, is pioneering advancements in leadership. This ground-breaking approach reminds us that our emotional responses are instrumental in shaping our interpretation of reality, and thus, our interactions and decision-making processes.

Affective realism operates as a conduit for creating empathetic, responsive leaders who are attuned to the emotional undercurrents of their teams. 

Our Emotions Create Our Collective Realities

Leaders who embrace interoception and affective realism recognise that their emotions and those of their team members are integral in shaping their collective realities and, consequently, the decisions they make.

Such an approach enhances leadership effectiveness by promoting a more in-depth, nuanced understanding of team dynamics. Leaders leveraging affective realism can better interpret and respond to the emotional states of their team members, fostering a collaborative environment marked by mutual respect and understanding. This heightened emotional awareness facilitates more genuine connections, creating a supportive atmosphere where individual feelings are acknowledged and validated.

Bringing interoception and affective realism into leadership practice enables leaders to cultivate more resilient, adaptable teams. By acknowledging and integrating diverse emotional experiences, leaders can navigate challenges more efficiently, leveraging the collective emotional intelligence of the team to formulate innovative solutions. Not only does problem-solving capability improve, but team mood and cohesiveness is also enhanced.

A Paradigm Shift

However, integrating interoception and affective realism into leadership requires a paradigm shift. 

Leaders must be willing to delve into their own emotions and the emotions of their roles by actively engaging with their feelings and those of their team members. This involves developing a deeper emotional vocabulary, creating spaces for open dialogue about emotions, encouraging vulnerability and developing strategies to address the emotional needs of the team effectively.

Interoception and affective realism stand as a transformative force in leadership development. It underscores the pivotal role of emotions in shaping our perceptions and interactions, elevating the importance of emotional intelligence in leadership. By embracing interoception and affective realism, leaders can foster more empathetic, emotionally aware environments, enhancing their ability to connect with their teams and drive collective success. In a world where the human aspect of leadership is increasingly valued, affective realism emerges as a critical component in evolving leadership paradigms, steering leaders towards more emotionally intelligent, inclusive leadership styles.

Steve Johnson CEO of the Wellbeing Science Institute. He will be co-faculty lead of Leading with Self-awareness a joint program run by the Johann Cruyff and Wellbeing Science Institutes.