The 7 Traits of an Emotionally Fit Leader by Emily Anhalt Watched and reviewed by Soňa Tichá

Picture this: you diligently hit the gym, sculpting your physique, ensuring those biceps and abs are in peak condition. Now, imagine applying the same level of dedication to a different workout – one that targets your emotional well-being. Surprising? In a world obsessed with physical fitness, we often forget that maintaining our emotional health is just as crucial for a truly healthy and thriving life.

Emily Anhalt is a clinical psychologist and cofounder of the mental health startup COA, which she calls „a gym for mental health“. In line with the WHO’s definition of health[1] she has made it her mission to help proactively build up people’s emotional fitness.

Her speech at beyond tellerrand conference in Germany is full of insights, techniques and despite the seriousness of the topic: funny social experiments. If you think by any chance this topic doesn’t apply to you… Emily points out at the very beginning of her talk, there is statistically 100% chance that you encounter mental health issues at some point in your life. So let’s look at the 7 components that make an emotionally fit (not only) leader.

1. SELF-AWARENESS

Understand emotional triggers and biases

Similarly to processes running in the background on a computer, our emotions occur in our minds, often outside of our conscious awareness. Understanding our own triggers, biases, blindsports and ultimately ourselves allows us to gain control over our life and make better decisions.

Emotional push-ups:

  • Therapy. Don‘t wait for the crisis to hit you. Therapist can help you with understanding who you, building a healthy relationship with yourself or others and prevent herewith a potential crisis in the first place.
  • Journaling. Keeping some kind of regular evidence allows you to see patterns in your behavior. What makes you nervous? What makes you truly happy? Even if it’s only one sentence a day – write it down. Your future self will thank you.
  • Asking for feedback. There are simply things people don’t say to you unless you ask them directly.

2. EMPATHY

Understand the emotions of others

Understanding others is part of the effective solution or prevention of many problems. Before you skip this part, note, it does not mean that we let the feelings of others overwhelm us or that we take responsibility for them.

Emotional push-ups:

  • Emotional Fitness Survey. When being empathetic, you can always decide how you want to support people. To have a clearer idea on how to act, you can genuinely ask them as a precaution in a tailored questionnaire.
Questions you might ask people (e.g. your friends or colleagues) upfront to provide a proper support © Emily Anhalt

3. MINDFULNESS

Become more comfortable with discomfort

Mindful leaders are fully present and engaged. Maintaining a clear, focused mind in every situation and avoiding impulsive or reactive choices is a real quality – not only in a leadership. In order to train it, practice leaning toward your discomfort instead of away from it.

Emotional push-ups:

  • Uncomfortable challenges. Growth and comfort don’t really go together. Put yourself in uncomfortable positions and remind yourself you can handle it. You will be rewarded with valuable experiences. It can be as small as enduring uncomfortable eye contact or awkward silence.

4. CURIOSITY

Pursue growth over defensiveness

What is stopping us from being curious and asking a lot of questions that would take us further? Mostly a weak self confidence and strong defense mechanisms. How to become less sensitive to feedback? Start by acquiring a strong sense of self.

Emotional push-ups:

  • Self-esteem file / Team-esteem file. What is some of the most positive feedback you’ve received? Don’t remember? Write down or archive the positive feedback you get from others. Also, you can make shared folders for everyone at your workplace and actively contribute. It will help you or your team in challenging times. I assure you that after a while you will forget what is in there and you will be positively surprised every time you open it.

5. PLAYFULLNESS

Foster a safe space of connection

What do brainstorming at work and joking with a good friend have in common? Both are a form of play. In order to remove strains and think big it is important not to think of a play just in terms of board games or sport. Play builds community and culture, improves memory, increases creativity and spontaneity and according to one study people playing regularily live whole years longer.

Emotional push-ups:

6. RESILIENCE

Bounce forward from setbacks & failures

After experiencing hard things we never come back exactly where we were, we can only bounce forward. Building our own anxiety & burnout toolkit can prevent these from happening or make it much easier and faster to recover.

Emotional push-ups:

  • Schedule a worry hour. It´s important to let our mind wonder but we can concentrate it and free up the rest of the time for something else than worrying. Schedule the worry time in your calendar and in the meantime focus on what you can control. Trust your future self to handle future problems.
  • Build a shock absorber. Find out what your early signals of burnout are. Share them with people around you – in case you don’t see it coming, they can spot the burnout early and offer you help. To redirect yourself back toward health, write down and apply things that you enjoy and have a healing effect on you.

7. COMMUNICATION

Put words to needs, boundaries & expectations

Disappointment is nothing to be ashamed of. Whereas it can be quite effectively cleared away with prompt addressing the issue, passiveness turns it into resentment that can be terminal. Therefore be proactive in preventing small problems becoming big problems.

Emotional push-ups:

  • Use „remojis“ for text communication. Sarcasm and emotions translate hard in text communication, not to mention an intercultural one. Be creative with your coworkers or your close people and set emojis that indicate the emotional state you are in. Use them in your text messages. It might seem a bit odd in the beginning, yet with practice it becomes natural.
Examples of „remojis“ for less misunderstandings in remote communication © Emily Anhalt

Which of the tips would you incorporate in your personal emotional fitness routine? What are your own hacks? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Recommended literature:

Fosslien, L., & Duffy, M. W. (2019). No hard feelings: The Secret Power of Embracing Emotions at Work. Penguin.
Rosenberg, M. B. (2003). Nonviolent communication: a language of life. http://ci.nii.ac.jp/ncid/BB00179753
Scott, K. (2017). Radical candor: Be a Kick-Ass boss without losing your humanity. https://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250235374

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