How to lead (hidden) emotions and agendas?

Small fish under the waterline turn into sharks
when not seen: are you sensitive for people detaching?
Do you listen to people in such a way that you feel their inspiration?

Its place on the pyramid

In contemporary leadership, we feel that sensitivity connects you as a person and having good relationships (people willingly to support you and to work constructively alongside you). It is crucial to appreciate what is happening below the water on the individual, team, company and perhaps even societal level. This will allow you to tap into the right feelings and energy to ensure the motivation and wellbeing of people. Moreover, it will give you insight into the (hidden) agenda of different stakeholders, providing you with a better opportunity to influence them.


Being sensitive to what is happening under the water is a core competence of modern leadership. If the current below the surface is strong and you don’t see it, then you can row as hard as you like but you will never move forward in realizing your drive and ambition. Sensitivity means that you can see and feel what is affecting other people: their feelings, drive, ambition, (hidden) agenda etc.

What you can do starting today:

Map stakeholders

Make a stakeholder map and assess the drive and agenda of the different stakeholders. Do they want the same thing? How much power do they have? On which level of the leadership funnel do they disagree: challenge, ambition, playing field or specific actions/solutions? Each level will require a specific response from your side. For example, do not discuss a solution if you are unsure whether the other parties at least agree on the challenge, ambition and playing field. Think about what you can do to align the different drives and agendas of stakeholders to make sure they can work together to identify an effective solution.

Map the position of team members

Map your team. What is the drive and agenda of each co-worker? To what extent do they support the goals of the team/company? How do they influence each other? Does anyone oppose your vision or goals? Why? Listen to them, ask open questions and don’t be too active when people are silent, give them time to speak up. Remember, small fish can become big sharks! And again, when disagreements arise, think about the level of the leadership funnel at which the disagreement is occurring. What can you do to achieve alignment?

Map team dynamics

Map the dynamics within your team. On a large piece of paper, create a visual representation of the people in your team:
– list every team member (yourself included) on the paper;
– mark an individual’s name with a circle if they are easy to manage/coach;
– mark an individual’s name with a star if they are more difficult to manage/coach;
– make the symbol larger or smaller depending on the influence the individual has within the team;
– use blank space on your paper to reflect the relational distance between people; that is, the closer you put two names, the closer their relationship;
– connect people with a straight line if they communicate well and have a decent relationship;
– connect people with a jagged line when there is a tendency for misunderstanding and conflict between the individuals; and
– connect people with a dotted line when you feel that their collaboration with each other should be strengthened and/or more frequent.
Use the leadership compass to analyze how people positively and negatively influence each other. Who is making whom active or passive? Who is using ‘we’ and who is using ‘I’? Try to formulate actions to ensure team dynamics support productive collaboration.

Go beyond resistance

If there is resistance, do not immediately label it as a problem or an example of people not wanting to change. Investigate the intent/drive behind it. What is the reason for the resistance? Can something be done about it? If yes, do it or make it possible! If no, talk about it! (see also leadership compass)

Clarify boundaries

Do not hesitate to give clear boundaries and messages. Be open, sensitive and receptive but from a position of strength. Ensure people feel that you are happy to listen to and support them but that you won’t hesitate to take other measures if people show bad intentions. (see also ‘playing field’ in the leadership funnel)

Ask for feedback on your own behaviour

Reflect on and ask for feedback on your position within the leadership compass. What is your impact on your team and individual co-workers? How sensitive are you to the behaviour and feelings you trigger? Are you active and quick to respond? Perhaps too quick? Do you give others enough of an opportunity to act or speak? What example are you setting? Do you reward the behaviour you want? Do you correct the behaviour you don’t want? Does your behaviour demonstrate the will to be productive and engage in open collaboration (the ‘we’ side of the leadership compass)? Or do you lean towards the ‘I’ side, defending your own ideas and solutions and being very corrective and instructive?

Have a look at the tools on our Compassion to Lead website. For sensitivity, look in particular at the ‘connect people’ tools.