Why Great Leaders Explore Bad Feelings


Just before Christmas, I had a bad experience with a client.

Nothing massively dramatic, just the good old experience of losing a major mandate with one of our biggest clients to a competitor. It’s happened many times before, and no doubt it will happen again. Part of life in the commercial world I suppose – after all our company has been lucky enough to win new accounts regularly.

But for some reason, this just felt particularly bad. For some reason I just couldn’t shake it off. I reflected upon it continuously. Despite our team having a record breaking 2016, it started to become a major regret.

What’s worse, I couldn’t figure out why. Although my head told me that it was no big deal on the grand scale of things and I should just move on, my heart emphatically argued otherwise.

Slowly it became a burdensome obsession.

What changed things was a discussion with a long term mentor of mine. The ex-CEO of a well known listed American Tech company. I reluctantly mentioned my situation to him. How I felt stuck. How disappointed I was with myself. How I knew that I just had to move on.

How winners are supposed to not get down about anything.

His response surprised me.

He whole heartedly disagreed. As far as he was concerned, rather than move on from negative feelings without thinking about it, it was important to explore them further to see why circumstances had affected me so badly. Only once this was done was it possible to understand emotions and thus take appropriate action.

He started questioning me. Why had this particular loss got to me more than usual?

It wasn’t the money. (We had much bigger accounts). It wasn’t because of over-competitiveness (I’d lost mandates many times over the past 10 years). It wasn’t even the fact that I felt I could have done a better job (The team and I had worked hard to come up with a pitch that we genuinely felt proud off).

No, upon deep examination it became clear to me that the reason why I’d felt particularly disappointed was because this was by far the most enjoyable client I’d worked with over the past couple years. Working with them had been a blast. The exec team there – every single one of them – were genuinely like friends. By losing this particular search (although the first in a while) it almost felt like my best friend had decided to throw a party but this time had decided not to invite me.

Put simply, I felt like I’d been left hanging.

They’d chosen a new best friend and I wasn’t aloud to come play any more.

Immediately I began to feel lighter. The absurdness of my emotions became clear. The action plan to put things right became obvious. A couple of coffees meetings later, my over-imaginative ego became reassured that our client was still very much interested in partnering with us for future searches.


But only once I’d explored my emotions, rather than immediately try to overpower them.

My mentor had shown me that although most of us now live in a society where it’s all about staying strong and hardly reflecting upon negatives, sometimes a calculated approach to exploring bad feelings can be even more powerful.

Here are some reasons why great leaders explore bad feelings.

It brings clarity

Our emotions are whimsical.

They come and go. They are difficult to describe. They can be even more difficult to understand. Often, most of us just know that certain things feel good or bad without actually understanding why.

Understanding the reasons behind our emotions is key to a successful life. In fact, In eleven years as a recruiter I can say with confidence this is the major reason for why most people feel unfulfilled at work. Often it’s common for many of us to work for years to get to a “desired” position only to feel disappointed and unfulfilled when we get there. Only by understanding our emotions – good and bad – can we determine with confidence what is actually going to be satisfying long term.

Great leaders understand that exploring bad feelings – although sometimes confusing and even painful – leads to understanding. It gives reason and allows us to build plans to put things right.

Rather than just living purely at the mercy of our emotions, it gives us the chance to try and build some clarity.

Great leaders build clarity.

It brings realism

In this increasingly connected and fast paced world we live in today, expectations have never been higher.

Super-fast efficiency and productivity is mandatory. Replying immediately to emails (even at night) is the norm. Our profile pics need to look renderingly perfect.

Its almost as if with our reliance on computers to do practically everything, we’re almost expected to be like computers ourselves.

Fast, faultless and resilient to anything.

And that’s perhaps where emotional reflection gets most interesting.

Great leaders understand that by exploring bad feelings when necessary, they become reminded of how emotional and irrational human beings actually are. It reinforces that despite technology being a great thing, we will always do things based on feelings rather than simple logic.

It’s what makes us so amazing and causes us to explore, be artistic and continuously look for new ways to express ourselves.

Keeping us grounded and keeping us real.

Great leaders stay real.

It leads to self-discovery

Our emotions determine what we do and ultimately who we become.

Yet what is so unique about each of us is that these reasons are different for everybody.

Finding out the trigger points for our emotions and how to use and avoid them is perhaps one of the most important aspect of leading a happy and fulfilled life.

Great leaders understand that exploring our bad feelings can lead to vital lessons in self-discovery and personal development. Whether it is feeling depressed due to lack of progress, feeling jealous because other people are “moving on” or getting insecure around particular people it allows us to discover the most important thing in life itself:


By investing the time in reflection – even with the negatives – great leaders continuously spend time getting to know themselves better and improving who they are.

Great leaders invest in themselves.


We all feel down sometimes.

But can we always say why?

Great leaders understand that as painful as it may be, sometimes exploring bad feelings can actually be just as important in leading a satisfying and productive life as simply trying to stay positive and getting on with it.

And who knows, it might even lead to answers that could be invaluable.

Do you explore bad feelings?

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