When Emotions Drop In On Strategic Thinking

If emotions don’t drop in on their own, you have to bring them in.

When we think of strategic thinking and planning, it usually conjures up images of people hunched over charts and graphs, spreadsheets, trend reports, and various analyses (markets, feasibility, profitability, etc.).

In these meetings, people try to be completely rational, objective and structured, in order to make informed decisions based on a clearly defined and adhered-to process. And that’s a good thing, because this is where the future is moulded, and this future has to be well thought-out if it’s going to bring innovation and growth.


Except that 25 years of management-team guidance experience has taught us that the most effective decisions don’t come from logic alone. As a matter of fact, emotions play a major role in these crucial meetings, and ignoring them would be a fatal mistake.

A Fascinating Example

Very recently, during a strategic thinking session, we had the privilege of experience a fascinating – and totally unexpected – moment.

Our client was a large software company. Around the table sat the president and several managers, a few of which were wearing smart watches (not that unusual in a tech company).

When the conversation turned to business development objectives, as growth targets were starting to be defined, the Sales VP stopped and blurted out: “My watch is telling me to breathe. My levels of stress and emotion are too high.” And then the president chimed in: “Mine too. My watch telling me the same thing.

Without missing a beat, we asked them, as well as the other participants, where this stress could be coming from. Clearly, it came from expressing their emotions at this stage of the discussion.

Even Opposite Emotions Complement Each Other

The stress felt by that Sales VP was brought on by his concern about implementing strategies to meet the management team’s growth expectations. The president, on the other hand, was agitated at the idea of seeing his team converge and align on such promising and ambitious objectives. Contrary to his Sales VP, he wasn’t experiencing anxiety: he was experiencing excitement – yet their watches were reacting in the exact same way to totally opposite emotions.

Asking the other participants to express their own emotions turned out to be a very positive exercise. Recognizing the diversity of emotions in the room allowed everyone to rally around a common goal that would require everyone’s contribution.

Go with the Flow of Emotions

This experience, where emotions were suddenly invited into the room, reminds us what an important role they play in individual and collective decision-making. It also reminds us that as consultants or leaders, we should always be mindful of the emotions that people are experiencing during strategic discussions, because recognizing these feelings helps us channel them so we can harness them to our benefit. What’s more, they’re an essential mobilization and alignment tool during the complex and demanding exercise of corporate strategic thinking.

Bottom line: if emotions don’t drop in on their own, you have to bring them in – or else they’ll pop up when you least expect it, and throw a monkey wrench in your plans.