Emotions in Action

The Power of Emotions in Leadership


Public narrative is a leadership practice of translating values into action. It is based on the fact that values are experienced through emotions.

Marcus in The Sentimental Citizen states that it is our emotional system that employs rationality to enable us to adapt to everyday challenges. Therefore, “if emotionality enables rationality, the effort to exclude passion will also undermine our capacity to reason” (2002, p. 7).

According to Marcus (2002), emotions are held to have common qualities: first, emotion arises from hidden and uncertain causes, so unlike reasons and judgements, which can be fully revealed and debated, emotion are problematic. Even if emotions generate good results, we cannot say that they are rational because rationality requires full disclosure. Second, emotions are thought to provoke action without thought, both individually and collectively. Third, emotion is presumed to diminish a full consideration of the intended action, especially as it affects other people. Obviously this focus conflicts with the proper use of reason and justice. (pp. 21-22).

Even in a healthy brain, consciousness awareness does not have full access to the sensory information collected by our eyes, ears, nose, skin, and tongue. The brain receives some 10 million bits per second, of which only 40 bits per second reach consciousness sight (Zimmermann, 1989). Thus emotions have more information about the state of the world, as well as about our own resources than is available to consciousness (Marcus, p. 62-63). The emotions systems know what they know more than consciousness can grasp. Therefore, it is the emotions systems that provide considerable service to consciousness.

Emotions and Neuroscience:

The first important discovery is that the brain has a variety of emotion systems. They share some features but they perform quite different functions. (Marcus, p. 67). They have the following common features:

  • Emotion systems have access to the full information arriving to the brain from the five senses, far more information than is represented in conscious awareness shortly thereafter.
  • Emotion systems have access to procedural memory and somatosensory stream (information about the body, what and how well it is doing, where everything is, etc.)
  • Emotions systems use sensory and somatosensory information to execute a variety of analysis and produce some effects
  • Emotions systems use this information to influence procedural and declarative memory, learning and conscious awareness. Hey often influence how and when we rely on conscious awareness.
  • Emotion systems generally execute their functions before and in preparation for conscious awareness. (pp. 67-68)

Let’s be back to the public narrative discourse and identify how emotions operate in it. It is a fact that not all emotions encourage action, some of them inhibit action and work as hindrance to start any movement or even encourage the community to join the agent (storyteller/leader).

According to Ganz, (2011) the major “action inhibitor” is inertia (p. 277). Inertia is the resistance of any physical object to any change in its motion (including a change in direction) and emotional inertia is remaining in a particular emotional mood and not willing to change the mood. How to confront with emotional inertia for initiate an action? We can counter inertia with urgency. Urgency can capture our attention, creating the space for new action. Another action inhibitor is apathy; being indifference to the surroundings and having no particular feeling about the subject. One emotion that can overcome apathy is anger (Ganz, 2011, p. 278). Anger arises when somebody sees or feels injustice and unfairness. 


Ganz, M. (2011), “Public Narrative, Collective Action and Power” in Accountability through Public Opinion, (Eds.) Sina Odughemi & Taeku Lee, Word Bank. pp. 273-289.

™Marcus, G. (2002) The Sentimental Citizen: Emotion in Democratic Politics, University Park: Penn State University Press, 2002. 

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