Everyone has hundreds of feelings and thoughts rushing through their minds every day. These include criticism, doubt and fear. The way in which people respond to these inner thoughts is a key determinant for success. For example, having a negative self-image impairs potential for success.

Emotional intelligence refers to being aware and in control of your own emotions. Emotional agility, meanwhile, refers to approaching your inner experiences mindfully and productively. Emotional agility does not place emphasis on suppressing emotions. Thus, a person can be emotionally intelligent but still lack emotional agility.

Leaders are always expected to be “in control”. In turn, they tend to suppress negative emotions. When leaders become hooked on their negative emotions, their thinking becomes rigid and repetitive. The world of work is constantly in flux; thus we need to be equipped to adapt to it rapidly. Those leaders who lack emotional agility may compromise their ability to:

  • Make effective decisions;
  • Think of new and innovative ways of doing things;
  • Embrace new challenges;
  • Set a good example to employees; and
  • Embrace personal development.

Susan David, a psychologist, wrote a book called Emotional Agility. In her book she presents four ways in which to develop emotional agility.

  1. Showing Up: Spend time acknowledging both negative and positive thoughts, even if it is uncomfortable.
  2. Stepping Out: Unhook yourself from your thoughts and acknowledge that they are just thoughts and emotions. These thoughts do not define you or limit future possibilities.
  3. Walking Your Why: Keep your core values at the front of your mind. Let these values guide you, rather than inner negative thoughts.
  4. Moving On: Continually work on adjusting your mindset and habits in order to prevent yourself from getting hooked by a negative emotion.


David, S. (2013). Evaluate Your Emotional Agility. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/11/evaluate-your-emotional-agility

David, S. & Congleton, C. (2013). Emotional Agility. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2013/11/emotional-agility

David, S. (2016). Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change and Thrive in Work and Life. United Kingdom: Penguin Life.

Goyette, P. (2017). What Is Emotional Agility and Its Importance to Leadership. Eagle’s Flight. Retrieved from https://www.eaglesflight.com/blog/what-is-emotional-agility-its-importance-to-leadership

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