Five ways vulnerability and emotional intelligence make you a great leader

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Inspiring leaders are not only able to unite their team around a shared vision but are also unafraid to connect with their own emotions.
Inspiring leaders are not only able to unite their team around a shared vision but are also unafraid to connect with their own emotions.
Andrey Popov/Getty

Leaders and the CEO should never show their emotions at work, right? Wrong.

This is according to a Nelson Mandela University alumnus who’s teaching executives and their teams how admitting fear, confusion, mistakes and showing vulnerability at work actually improves performance.

The social psychology PhD graduate developed the Ziva Way concept, a science-based coaching method which she describes as “a fusion between your mindset and your emotions, which can lead you to clear actions, providing a direction for everyone on the journey of change and impact”.

It started with trying to find an outlet for her anger through meditation and yoga.

Raised by immigrant Polish parents in Germany, Dr Mnich was outraged by the inequality she witnesses around her. “I was an angry teenager,” she says.

“I was angry about seeing the people that had privilege and connections. My parents didn’t have any of that. They were refugees and immigrants; there was no network that they could plug in, meaning there was also no network to plug in where they could say, ‘Hey! This is my daughter. How about she works for you?’

”She says this realisation as a teen that she was not connected socially or religiously as a Catholic ignited a flame in her to find the answer to the question, “How can I become the person that I want to be?”

This is one of the most powerful questions a person can ask. And it is at the point when they seek answers to this question that many leaders approach her for guidance with strategy development, motivating their teams, mentoring, coaching or personal development.

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Here’s why leaders who aren’t afraid of feeling their emotions are good leaders.

1 They understand that emotions are only part of who they are, but don’t repress them

You cannot divorce yourself from your emotions. You need to allow yourself to feel them because emotions, says Dr Mnich, are one of the six pillars of being a human being, which are “emotional intelligence; logical thinking; creativity; motivation and inspiration; instinct or trusting your gut – which produces the majority of your serotonin – and interception, which is knowing yourself inside-out”.

2 They understand that there is no such thing as a purely rational decision 

The understanding of the pillars that make us human is vital for leaders when it comes to decision-making, she says.

“In order to be able to make a holistic decision we need to base the decision on more than just rational thinking.

“Tara Swart (the neuroscientist and author of acclaimed book The Source) uses this concept in her coaching. She calls it the whole brain approach to decision making. I call it the full-spectrum approach to decision-making.”

3 They do not yield to emotions of timidity and being less than

“Travelling a lot throughout the world I saw that a lot of women are doing the work but are not getting the credit,” the proudly feminist coach says.

“That’s partially because as women we are taught to be humble, to be quiet, to be polite. Even me, saying, ‘Hey, you know what? I have a PhD.’ It took me almost two years to have the courage to say that, ‘Hey, I’m Doctor, I don’t want you to call me Kinga. My name is Dr Mnich. I worked for that for 11 years – I mean that is a long journey.”

That experience taught her that women leaders need to be encouraged to speak up and stand up for themselves. 

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4 They realise that to inspire others, they too need support 

Quoting Albert Einstein, Dr Mnich says it’s her belief that coaching is valuable for bringing different perspectives to leaders. “We cannot solve a problem that has been created with the same mind. We need different perspectives.”

She’s currently based in Kentucky in the US, where coaching is no longer just a passing fad in the corporate world. “Here in the US,” she says, “coaches usually explain it as, ‘Every professional athlete has a coach. Every athlete that wants to achieve a specific goal’.”

Extending this metaphor to coaching leaders, she explains, “In leadership positions, in executive positions, these people are trying to achieve something that hasn’t been achieved yet. They are trying to break the glass ceiling on a regular basis, they are trying to build better teams, trying to push the boundaries. They’re trying to inspire people and, as executives, they need to be visionaries.

“That inspiration part, that creating vision, connecting people with the emotions of ‘Oh my god! I see that [vision] too. I want that – that better achievement. We see that big goal and we will be working towards that’.”

Executives need the support that coaches and strategists give in order to be able to inspire that realisation and drive in their teams, says Dr Mnich.

5 They understand that they need to be held accountable to avoid burnout

“A lot of executives will work 60, 70, 80, 90 hours. You can just imagine how quickly they burn out. They need someone to hold them accountable because how can you be your best version if you are not staying healthy? If you are not giving your brain enough time to continue developing and also to rest?

“So the Ziva Way combines mindfulness, social psychology and positive psychology in order to help people to be able to create a strategy that helps them to achieve their goals but also, at the same time, I work also with neuroscience.”

It is because many people think that emotions and science are worlds apart, she says, that emotions are so misunderstood.

But the best thing that any leader could do is lean into the science of how their brain works as well as what, how and why they feel.

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