»There is a space between stimulus and reaction. In this space, one has the freedom and the ability to choose their reaction. In these choices lie our growth and happiness.«
Viktor Frankl

When Zinedine Zidane infamously headbutted Italian defender Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final, Viktor Frankl’s insight was not on his mind. The atmosphere in the stadium at the score of 1-1 in the 116th minute was too tense, the pressure from the fans too great, and his exhaustion too much. No matter what Materazzi said, because of the heated atmosphere, Zidane wasn’t able to access the space of freedom between stimulus and reaction. The consequences are well known: Zidane received a red card, France lost the World Cup in the subsequent penalty shootout – the one really big flaw that stuck to the footballer’s career.

Leaders today are extremely challenged in their emotions

Lockdown, unemployment, disrupted supply chains, labor shortages in almost every industry, employee division between anti-vaccination and pro-vaccination, war in Ukraine, extreme price volatility, energy crisis, inflation – and fear.

These major disruptive changes since March 2020 have challenged executives in much the same way as Zinedine Zidane in the World Cup final: the underlying mood is characterized by uncertainty and fear, and the pressure to succeed as an executive has increased massively. After all the uncertainty of the last few years, many executives are simply exhausted.
Therefore, managers today are challenged more than ever in dealing with their emotions. In particular, “negative” emotions such as fear, anger, and sadness are increasingly intruding into everyday professional life and often become a barrier to collaboration and innovation. At the same time, it is becoming more difficult to mobilize “positive” feelings such as interest, curiosity, and joy in oneself and in one’s own team, and to utilize them for enthusiastic collaboration on new, important projects.

Emotional competence is more relevant to business than ever before!

Dealing with emotions and developing emotional competence is, therefore, not just “nice to have” but is increasingly becoming the key to sustainable corporate success. As early as 2006, a study by the Hay Group showed that significant differences in financial results could be explained by the degree of emotional competence in the management teams. Those companies whose managers had a particularly elevated level of emotional competence performed 30% better in terms of sales and profits than those whose managers had an exceptionally low level.

So, what can you do as a manager? Below, we present three concrete tools you can use to work on your emotional competence: examining your feelings, understanding your Zones of Stability, and an inner drivers test.

Have fun and enjoy more success!

Tool 1: Using feelings to think

Feelings provide us with energy; they are both the motor and brake of our actions. They influence our thinking patterns, focus our attention, and attract or repel thoughts like a magnet. Ultimately, five basic feelings make up our energy: Fear, Anger, Sadness, Curiosity/Interest, and Joy. Crucially, these five basic feelings can also provide us with valuable information for smart action.

The first step is to be able to perceive your own emotions – and the interest to do so.

You need to make time and repeatedly and consciously examine your feelings. Either immediately, for example, after a meeting where strong emotions arise, or regularly for 10 minutes in the evening to sharpen your emotional self-awareness through self-reflection and journaling. You can ask yourself two questions:

  • What feelings am I experiencing right now? What do these feelings tell me?
  • What were the main feelings I felt today? What do they tell me?

The tool “Using Emotions to Think” provides a framework on how to determine the most helpful and wisest impulses for action after identifying your feelings through self-reflection.

Tool 2: Zones of stability

The self-reflection tool “Zones of Stability” provides several questions for clarifying your sources for personal stability and identity, especially in situations of great uncertainty or overwhelm. Zones of stability are closely related to our own identity and strongly influence our actions.

By using this tool, you will strengthen your awareness of your identity characteristics and discover that only you are responsible for developing your identity and protecting it. This requires certain resources – zones of stability.

These zones of stability can be:

zones of stability

The specific questions for exploring your own Zones of Stability.

Tool 3: Exploring your inner drivers

Inner drivers or built-in instructions are self-imposed “commandments” that we follow, almost compulsively. They help us to be successful but can also lead us into a health trap.

Inner drivers influence us the most in stressful or extreme situations. Especially under stress, the driver can lead you into a self-reinforcing loop. That makes it increasingly difficult to “get out” of the pattern.

Exploring your inner drivers

The model of inner drivers comes from Transactional Analysis and provides a theoretical framework to help us become aware of and understand what is happening in the here and now.

During childhood, these messages come from parents and have an authoritative character. Often children do not challenge these, because they fear that not complying could result in no longer being loved. It is only in adulthood that we have the opportunity to realize that there are alternatives to parental messages. By this time, however, the messages are already strongly anchored in the subconscious. Therefore, even as adults, we unconsciously try to fulfil the demands of the commandments in our private and professional lives, as if we were under some hidden compulsion.

With the help of the following online test, you can find out your level of each individual driver. Strongly expressed drivers (from approx. 30 points) can develop a momentum of their own and thus increasingly control your inner attitude and behaviour: You drive yourself harder and harder to achieve more success and recognition. However, this usually only causes more stress (for oneself and others), and thereby the opposite of what one hopes for.

Above a level of about 40 points, drivers can even be hazardous to health.

Reflection task on your test result: Pick out the 1-2 most strongly pronounced drivers and ask yourself: Where does this driver help me in my leadership work? And, also, where does it harm me? What do I have to do to make the driver useful for me?

Link to the online test.