Emotion and Reason in Leadership – Contrary or Complimentary?

emotion and reason courtesy Pixabay

EI or IQ?

Feelings or Facts?

Imagination or Intellect?

Intuition or Information?

Which is best?

When is it best?

The data indicate that emotion has an important role in leadership.

(see what I did there?)

Because we are human, we operate in both of these dimensions at the same time. We may be more inclined to one direction or the other but all must navigate these elements.

Some people prefer to stick to the facts and only the facts. If it can’t be observed or measured, it isn’t relevant.

Some people prefer to go with their gut. If the intuition says “go” it doesn’t matter if the data says “no”.

Both groups can point to evidence that supports their inclination.

So who’s right?

Can they both be right?

One way to answer this question is to consider what it looks like if we only accept one of these approaches as useful or meaningful in decision-making, planning or other organizational activities.

What is the danger of being driven primarily by emotion and instinct? 

Well, one pretty obvious problem is that our emotions aren’t always accurate. It’s very difficult to fully dissect what’s behind an emotion or instinctive response. Without the right level of self-awareness and introspection, we can be easily deceived.

Another problem is that an emotional perspective tends to make everything personal. A decision or result that goes against our desires triggers reactions that are not based on sound judgment but on the way it impacts our ego.

What is the danger of being driven primarily by data and reason?

Data and reason feel safe and seem to offer the benefit of reduced risk and greater control. The problem is you can never have perfect data nor complete control of all the circumstances. Without the willingness to make a leap of faith, we can end up paralyzed.

Data is impersonal. For some, this is attractive because it doesn’t allow for gray area or misunderstanding. Unfortunately, when it comes to dealing with human beings, it is a poor substitute for effective communication and emotional connection.

Depending on our bias, we may find one or the other feels more natural but that doesn’t mean we’re right. Each point of view has strengths and weaknesses.


A team functions best when both reason and emotion have a role in how things get done and how we relate to people. Wise leaders know how to leverage the best of both perspectives.

Data and facts are gathered and presented so that we can understand the current state of things and provide a context for our decisions.

And we also let our imaginations and emotions go to work to create a vision of what is possible or how things might change in ways the data cannot anticipate.

There will be tension and resistance. The challenge is to recognize that this is as a good thing. It means we’re listening to both our heads and our hearts. And that means we haven’t surrendered to facts or fantasy nor taken the path of least resistance.

As leaders, it’s important to recognize our own bias and make sure we don’t steer the process to satisfy our comfort level.

Soon we learn how to let these voices speak and guide us as we struggle to define the best path forward. It is, of course, an imperfect science but it allows us to tap into the full potential or our people and the personalities they bring to the organization.

Note: I’m taking a short hiatus for the next two weeks to spend some time off screens and in nature. Some of this time will be spent contemplating the future of Soul to Work. It’s a question that involves both emotion and reason. Til next time.


  1. Scott, as usual beautiful, thought provoking post! Please enjoy your time off and look forward to your new ideas.


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