As anyone who has ever found themselves in the role of a leader can attest, there is often a substantial learning curve to traverse from stepping into a position of leadership to actually becoming an effective leader. Developing strong emotional intelligence is a crucial part of this process, and in this article, we will be taking a closer look at the role that self-expression plays in building and strengthening your emotional intelligence as a leader.
Emotional intelligence often focuses on methods to help us to better understand the emotions of others. However, it is equally important that we are not only able to tune into others’ emotions and the way that they express them, but also have a firm grasp of how we express our own emotions along with the impact that our personal self-expression style has on those whom we are charged with leading.
What Is Self-Expression?
To have a true discussion of self-expression’s role in emotional intelligence and its effect on our overall leadership quality, we must first understand what self-expression is. Self-expression is a broad term with a number of nuanced meanings. However, in the context of emotional intelligence and leadership development, self-expression can be best thought of as the way that we share our emotions with others.
When we look at the idea of self-expression from this perspective, we can begin to delve into the role that our own personal forms of self-expression, and the ways in which we communicate our internal emotions to other people, both verbally and non-verbally, affect the way that others perceive us. This, in turn, impacts others’ view of us as a strong and effective leader who is worthy of their respect.
According to Multi-Health Systems (MHS), leaders in the field of clinical assessments, self-expression is made up of 3 categories:
Emotional Expression – is about openly expressing one’s feelings verbally and non-verbally.
Assertiveness – involves communicating feelings, beliefs and thoughts openly, and defending personal rights and values in a socially acceptable, non-offensive, and non-destructive manner.
Independence – is the ability to be self-directed and free from emotional dependency on others. Decision-making, planning, and daily tasks are completed autonomously.
What Are The Types Of Self-Expression?
So, now that we know what self-expression is in the context of emotional intelligence, let’s take a closer look at the various types of self-expression and the ways that each type of self-expression can shift how others view your effectiveness as a leader.
When we speak of types of self-expression, we are looking at both the positive and negative ways that we, as human beings, express our emotions to others. For those who are in a position of leadership, the goal is understandably to express our emotions in ways that project self-control, confidence, and self-assuredness.
This is often not quite as straightforward or simple as it sounds. In some circumstances, our desire to exhibit self-control may actually inhibit our emotional intelligence, impacting our ability to be the best leader we can be.
The challenge generally arises from the fact that not all types of self-expression result from conscious thought or action. As is often the nature of emotion, many forms of self-expression were developed in childhood without introspection. Even with significant effort, we may not be aware of our own various forms of self-expression or their impact on others.
Using the stereotypical idea of the strong, unflappable leader as an example, many who have a desire to portray this traditional archetype may have a tendency to either unintentionally or intentionally squelch their own emotions in an effort to portray an outward impression of strength and confidence.
This can backfire, as emotion is a natural part of being human and buried or repressed emotion may leak out in what is sometimes referred to as mis-expressions. These mis-expressions are essentially maladaptive forms of self-expression that often cause confusion or uncertainty in those around us as they struggle to interpret the often conflicting messages being sent by our various mis-expressions of our own emotions.
By doing the internal work to understand our own inherent self-expression traits, we are better able to redirect our outward expression of emotion to more positive, productive types of self-expression rather than suppressing emotion altogether and risking the leaking of mis-expressions.
When speaking of positive self-expression, the term ‘authentic’ immediately springs to mind. Being authentic means fully expressing what you truly feel and think in a way that is true to your core self. Authenticity does NOT mean blurting out every emotion that you are feeling as you are feeling it.
Some degree of self-control and self-censorship is required, especially when one is in a position of leadership. True authenticity requires that you know yourself and your core values and beliefs, and you express yourself in a way that maintains integrity with your core beliefs.
In other words, if you feel strongly or passionately about a particular issue, it should be communicated clearly to those around you, and it should be reflected in the actions that you choose to take.
Why Is Self-Expression Important In Leadership?
As a leader, it is important to portray strength and confidence in the face of challenges and setbacks. This seems fairly straightforward. Leaders should be calm yet assertive to earn the respect of their subordinates and colleagues. But when it comes to what people believe strength and confidence should look like, there isn’t a consensus.
There is the classic and persistent image of the strong leader who is tough-as-nails, cold, and ruthless. This would certainly be one way of describing what it means to be confident, independent, and assertive. Unfortunately, this is still one of the most common illusions regarding what it means to be an effective leader.
So, let’s look at it from a different perspective. Imagine a leader who is secure in their values and approaches leadership from a place of deep integrity. This particular leader is authentic in their self-expression. They understand their own emotional responses and those of others.
More importantly, they are able to harness their emotion and communicate their passions, frustrations, pride, and disappointment to those around them in a way that is clear, productive, and builds strong connections with others. The leader in turn portrays strength and confidence, but does so in a professional manner. The key difference is the first leadership example tends to lead others through control, and intimidation, while the second encourages open communication and a sense of shared humanity, a common path.
While both leadership models may produce positive outcomes in some scenarios, the more authentic leader is far more likely to communicate clearly with those they are leading, and they are more able to build a sense of teamwork and a common commitment to achieving a shared goal. At the end of the day, clear communication and a sense of shared accountability is likely to produce more consistent forward movement for the entire team.
How Do You Improve Your Self-Expression?
The ability to express yourself in a productive and authentic manner is a significant advantage for any leader. Now here comes the hard truth. The way that we, as humans, express our emotions to others is often developed and shaped in the earliest years of our lives.
This means that your unique upbringing, culture, and personality will impact how easily or reluctantly you share your emotions with others and how you express them. Essentially, productive, authentic self-expression comes easier for some leaders than others.
This does not mean that you are locked into your particular style of self-expression. You can learn how to identify your emotions and articulate them in a positive manner and even fine-tune how best to communicate your feelings in ways that positively impact your relationships.
Learning how to dial up or dial down the use of emotional expression, assertiveness and independence skills, in addition to balancing all 3, play integral factors in being able to successfully communicate and express yourself.
Self-expression is an important part of the emotional intelligence equation. Like the other factors impacting your emotional intelligence, self-expression is a skill that can be developed with guidance and effort.
One way to develop those skills is to take an emotional intelligence assessment. An assessment like the EQ-I 2.0 (click here to see a sample assessment) will assess your emotional intelligence and provide you with actionable steps to work on. From there, you can review the results with your coach and implement a plan to make improvements.
When you are ready to start building your self-expression skills, we are here to help. Schedule a call with me today and schedule an EQ-i Assessment so that you can get on the right path to becoming an influential and respected leader.