Maps for Wholehearted Leadership

The December break provided a wonderful opportunity to dive into Dr Brené Brown’s latest book, ’Atlas of the Heart’. She wanted the book to be an atlas for all of us, because she believes that with an “adventurous heart and the right maps, we can travel anywhere and never fear losing ourselves. Even when we don’t know where we are.” 

From the many conversations I’m having at the start of 2022, it’s clear to me that so many of us aren’t sure where we are, so much has changed. We’re being asked to navigate life’s maps in all aspects of our lives on a daily basis, from our relationships, the decisions we’re having to make about our families, our friends and our communities, to where and how we’re likely to be working (if we still want to work there), or perhaps a flame has been ignited for a complete shift in where our passions and interests lie! 

Our relationship with risk, uncertainty and emotional exposure is being tested every day ~ and that’s the very definition of vulnerability! An emotion that many of us have had an interesting relationship with throughout our lives. Possibly something we’ve avoided at all costs as we saw it as a sign of weakness; and now we’re thrust into the heartland of vulnerability, and trying to make sense of how to show up more courageously, for ourselves and with others.

When Brené Brown settled on a map metaphor for her book, she called on Dr Kirk Goldsberry at the University of Texas, Austin ~ a mapmaker and cartography scholar. He told her: “Maps are the most important documents in human history. They give us tools to store and exchange knowledge about space and place.” 

At that point, Brené got goosebumps, as she knew that we humans are meaning makers, and always wanting to ask the following questions:

  • Where am I?
  • How did I get here from there?
  • How do I get there from here?

The key lies in understanding that rather than mountains, rivers and roads, we have emotions and emotional experiences as our landmarks.

When we feel lost, adrift in the sea of life, and confused with the direction our life is taking, our first instinct may be to look externally, outside of our own map  ~ to other people, places and prospects. 

What we don’t realize is that the answers and the anchor we’re seeking lie within ourselves. We need to connect with our own emotions and grow skills in naming what we’re feeling. 

And the portal to that place of connection in our map is our language. Also known in the Emotional Intelligence world as our Emotional Literacy.

In ‘Atlas of the Heart’ we read “Language is our portal to meaning-making, connection, healing, learning and self-awareness. Having access to the right words can open up entire universes. When we don’t have the language to talk about what we’re experiencing, our ability to make sense of what’s happening  and share it with others is severely limited.” 

The analogy we may use is being a child who speaks no French, and being sent to a French school. And for the first month the child sits there in the classroom, not understanding a single word, feeling lost, lonely and disconnected. For someone with lower Emotional Literacy, the world may feel all of these things. And vulnerability may feel like a frightening experience.  

Following rigorous research, ‘Atlas of the Heart’ explores eighty-seven emotions and emotional experiences; and deepening our literacy by understanding these will take us to places in our maps we’ve never explored before.

I think this is why I am so passionate about Emotional Intelligence (EQ) coaching. EQ is measurable, teachable,and learnable ~ and Emotional Literacy can grow in a matter of weeks and months, and quite literally change the way people understand themselves and make sense of the world around them, and the choices they have before them. 

Wholehearted leaders have the self-awareness to recognise the impact of growing Emotional Literacy both in themselves, and in those they lead. 

They find ways to help people more accurately name their emotions and emotional experiences, as a way of being able to process and navigate situations in a more productive and healing manner.

They deeply understand that “Emotions drive People. And People drive Performance”. 

Stay brave. Stay kind. Stay calm.

Alison x

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