We have a thing in the U.S. about talking about emotions. We are taught that we aren’t supposed to think a lot about how we our feeling because our emotions might cloud our objectivity. We may get distracted from the business at hand. So we don’t talk about how we are feeling in the hopes that we can move on.
Ignoring all of that completely, I start our board trainings by asking what is holding people back from having a great board. I ask how they are feeling right now as it relates to their board service. “Overwhelmed, frustrated, scared,” they answer. Often someone tosses in “hopeful,” which is wonderful, but usually no more than one person in a crowd of 80.
Curiously, the characteristics that we most read about related to boards and how their members should feel are quite different. “Resilient, agile, curious, confident.” These are descriptions of strength that lead us to think about the kind of leadership able to take an organization to the next level.
The gap between how people are feeling and how we want them to feel matters because research tells us that emotions drive how we make decisions and take action. (Jonah Lehrer’s How We Decide gives lots of interesting examples on how.) Emotions are not something to be tucked away but rather something to unpack, understand, and address. By cluing into emotions, we can design learning experiences that are more likely to take root.
For example, what emotion do most people feel about the law? Anything legal seems to provoke a sense of powerlessness because it is complicated, risky if done wrong, and expensive if that error leads you to hire a lawyer. The opposite of powerlessness is power, which means that you have a full toolkit of knowledge, skills, tools, and even legal counsel accompanying you as you take action around following the law. Power over one’s law-related activities became our goal in developing “Let’s Go Legal,” a new tool for nonprofits in Washington to be legally compliant and protected. A set of short videos and kit materials deliver information, sample documents to help people take immediate action, and access to pro-bono legal help for more complicated cases.
Just as I start each training getting a sense of how people feel about the topic at hand, I end the same way: how are you feeling as we finish our time together. As much as I care that they have learned something, I really care that they are feeling hopeful, encouraged, connected, or inspired as they leave. Happy people solve hard problems and come back for more learning another day.