Emotion is defined in most dictionaries as a mental state or a rapid-response feeling that arises spontaneously rather than through a conscious effort. A narrow interpretation of this definition would suggest that emotions are totally beyond our control. In fact, we do have considerable power: the power to be intentional about our use of emotion, to decide when to let an emotion flow unrestrained, and when to re-channel its course. There are three things that are important to know about emotions: emotions are about things that matter to us; they provide us with very useful information; and the drive to experience or not experience an emotion determines a lot of our behavior. This makes emotions one of the most powerful forces within us.

Emotions are frequently referred to as energy in motion. This is an apt description, since one of the formal definitions of energy is "the potential for causing changes" and emotions definitely precipitate significant changes in our behavior. To get a sense of the power of emotions, think of the emotions that spur terrorism and war, on the one hand, and heroic acts of bravery or major movements in art, on the other hand. On a physical level, think about how the emotion of fear can bring about physiological changes such as a pounding heart, or how anger can constrict our vocal chords, how embarrassment makes us blush and how gratitude can make our face break into a smile. All of these changes are different forms of energy with different effects, positive or negative.

Yet the emphasis on rationality and order in our workplaces tend to marginalize and devalue emotions. This is an important aspect of leadership because it requires an extensive amount of energy to keep emotions in check. Conversely, the more we acknowledge and honor our emotions, expressing them authentically and intelligently, the more power we have to lead. Imagine yourself as a leader who readily displays potent emotional states such as intense enthusiasm, keen interest, unbridled curiosity, sheer exuberance, victory, great passion, joy, hope, optimism, pride, and gratitude. Surely these are what Bertrand Russell must have had in mind when he talked of "creative emotions from which a good life springs." Think about how potent these states make us feel: how energized we are in their grip; how we are filled with possibility when we experience them. Think of athletes who achieve excellence in their sport - consider the fervency, excitement, and intensity that they experience; their unwavering optimism and anticipation of winning. Could athletes perform at their best, devoid of emotion? So it is with leaders.

But what about the so-called "negative emotions"? Conventional wisdom would dictate that these need to be controlled or even shunned; however, we cannot select which emotions we will experience just as one would select a new shirt. Negative emotions are a natural part of who we are; they are a part of our emotional framework. While most of us aim to be in a positive state of mind all the time, the reality is that negative emotions encroach upon us whether we like it or not. The aim here, then, is to move away from the dichotomy positive or negative and to view all emotions as part of our overall emotion make-up - to accept the negative emotions without personal recrimination and to view them instead as messengers, carriers of important information about ourselves, imparting precious, personal data that can either fuel our power or rob us of it, like energy bandits. And the difference is in what we do with the information embedded in the emotions. Negative emotions are simply a signal to us that there is something that we are not able to handle in the moment. If we ignore the message, we start an energy leak. If, however, we take the time to become aware of what we are feeling in the moment, and acknowledge the emotion, we are then able to use that intelligence to effectively deal with whatever is causing the negative emotion.

There is an exhilarating feeling when you are in charge of yourself. Consider embarking on a self-reflective journey of how you can harness the power of emotions to create what you want, and how you can, through awareness of your inner landscape, channel your emotions as a source of energy and creativity rather than derailment. Your emotions, like a mirror, reflect your thinking. What image do you see in the mirror?

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This is an excerpt of The Power To Lead: Lessons In Creating Your Unique Masterpiece by Gregg Thompson and Bruna Martinuzzi. Gregg Thompson is president of Bluepoint Leadership Development and can be reached by email at greggthompson@bluepointleadership.com . BrunaMartinuzzi is a senior facilitator with Bluepoint Leadership Development and can be reached at brunamartinuzzi@bluepointleadership.com.