Bestselling Author Carolyn Stern’s Insight on Leadership and Emotions

Carolyn Stern

By Ron Sandison

I enjoyed reading Carolyn Stern’s insightful book . Autism causes me to experience difficulty expressing my emotions and Carolyn’s book has taught me to use emotions for my advantage as a leader. In leadership positions I often felt anxiety in small group settings. Learning to express my emotions has empowered me to connect better with the people I serve and to understand their perspective and needs.

I feel statements create an atmosphere of learning with coworkers and peers. When leaders share their emotions the people they serve feel confident to share new ideas and be creative without being judged. When we fear rejection or have anxiety our bodies’ produces cortisol, the stress hormone, and this affects our prefrontal cortex’s ability to process information which is critical in decision making.

Strong emotions like fear or anger often lead to rash choices. For example, anger and embarrassment makes us more susceptible to high-risk, low reward decisions. Decision-making skills and rational capabilities are hinder by intense negative emotions.

Leaders who produce strong positive emotions in their followers, like joy and excitement, the excretion of dopamine and serotonin influences their followers thinking with creativity and enhances their memory ability, leading to a positive effect on job performance.

Managing our emotions enables us to not make impulsive decisions and it protect us against the catastrophe mindset. When we understand our emotions we learn to control them by rating our emotional level and knowing how to respond to our emotions. On the spectrum when our emotions become overwhelming we feel like giving up. I love the quote in Carolyn’s book by Edwin Louis Coleman,

“You don’t drown by falling in the water; you drown by staying there.”

Uncontrolled emotions cause us on the spectrum to stay in the water.

I was excited to interview Carolyn Stern and share her insight on leadership and emotions. By understanding our emotions we can connect with others on a deeper level and experience less anxiety when making decisions as a leader.

Ron: What sparked your interest in emotional intelligence and writing The Strong Leader: An Inside-Out Journey to Transformational Leadership?

Carolyn: For many decades, my emotions created havoc in my life, with a laundry list of undesirable consequences. But just because I am an emotional person does not mean I am weak. Being emotional just means I feel things deeply. That was not the issue. The issue was I was not paying attention to, understanding, and managing my emotions and emotional reactions.

I’ve slowly come to learn that our emotions are not the enemy. Nor are they a sign of weakness. Rather, demonstrating vulnerability, speaking our truth, and telling others how we really feel is our superpower.

I wanted to write a book to teach others that you can be emotional and strong; they are not mutually exclusive. Feelings are not facts. They are just feelings. They are not good or bad or right or wrong; they are simply an emotional experience or reaction to a person, thing, or situation.

After three decades of coaching, teaching and training others, I was sick and tired of listening to thousands of successful professionals telling me that being emotional was a weakness and that showing our emotions should be cause for shame.

We’ve been hoodwinked all these years into believing that our emotions are dirty and that expressing them is a shameful act. Nothing could be further from the truth. The truth is we can gain the emotional skills and mental strategies to be stronger and more intelligent than our feelings and to help others learn to explore their emotions.

Even though feelings are emotional experiences or emotionally triggered reactions, they can also be full of wisdom if we look for them. Emotions are filled with insights and should be used as data to learn more about ourselves, others and the world.

Being stronger than our emotions is not strong-arming our feelings or having a steely resolve not to feel. It simply means that we work to acknowledge, understand, and accept our feelings. We identify that our feelings contain wisdom, and we use that information to guide our behaviors when confronted with emotional triggers that can drive hasty reactions and undisciplined behavior. If I could tell anyone who is struggling to get the results they want one thing, it would be this: don’t be afraid of emotions—yours or those of others.

Ron: How has emotional intelligence empowered you as a leader and to establish healthy relationships?

Carolyn: Great connections with people has enhanced my life by contributing to my well-being, and strengthening my mind. Conversely, strained or difficult relationships in the past have drained me both physically and emotionally.

Sometimes in these situations, simply thinking about this person can affect my emotional state, which then can influence how I communicate and interact with them. In these moments, it can feel like the last thing I want to do is share my feelings about the situation, but that, in fact, is the path forward. To build trust and compassion with the other person, I must be true to my feelings. When I think of my relationships as investments, I understand that the more I contribute, the more secure and profitable those relationships can be.

In 1912, on its first trip, the Titanic’s crew members spotted an iceberg in the ocean and tried to swerve the “unsinkable ship” around it. What they did not know, however, was that the iceberg was gigantic. The ship, of course, collided with the iceberg and tragically sank, taking with it the lives of over 1,000 people.

Just like those crew members, we can be blamed for underestimating what lies beneath our surface. When we interact with people, the experiences we typically share are akin to the tip of the iceberg. We are seeing and being seen by what is immediately apparent.

Much of our communication and actions are colored by what is below the surface—our past experiences, personal history, attitudes, emotions, inner thoughts and beliefs, intentions, assumptions, aspirations, moods, motivations, fears, and stressors. The bulk of the iceberg, these hidden elements, is most significant and determines how we outwardly behave and interact with others.

Just like a boat leaves a wake in the water, your actions as a leader have a ripple effect on others. What you say (or don’t say) and do (or don’t do) can influence others. You must acknowledge yourself as an emotional being and realize that your actions and reactions reflect what is going on underneath the surface of your inner iceberg. Showing up in the workplace ready to share yourself authentically will enable others to feel comfortable doing the same.

Remember, our emotions impact how we act toward others. If we feel love, trust, confidence, and happiness when we think of a person, those feelings are going to influence how we treat that person. But if we feel disgusted, frustration, mistrust, and anger, that too will affect our interactions with others. How we feel affects our social exchanges and how we relate to other people.

Ron: What advice would you give to young adults with autism who struggle with understanding their emotions and learning to express them?

Carolyn: When individuals with autism habitually avoid interacting with their feelings, they lose the ability to notice, understand, and label what they are feeling. As psychiatrist Dan Siegel points out, “If we can’t express our emotions and put a name to them, we can’t tame them.”

Emotional Intelligence can help people with autism recognize, comprehend, express, and manage their feelings, so their emotions don’t stand in the way of a bright future. People with autism need to take the time to genuinely understand their emotions; think through why they are feeling the way they are and what triggered their emotional reaction.

For me, I find a sheet of paper and split it up into four columns. In one column, I jot down my feelings, and in the second column, I write out what triggered that emotion. In the third column, I write down my response (for both a high EQ and low EQ response) and in the fourth column, I write out the impact of each of those responses.

So, how can I apply this strategy to my every day? Let’s say your boss sends you an email with an unreasonable deadline for a project to be completed. The first step is identifying how you feel. In this case, you may be overwhelmed, frustrated or any other myriad of emotions. Let’s use anger as a potential reaction. Take a moment, and write down your emotion – anger. Labelling that emotion is the key to working out how to manage your response.

Next, write out what triggered that emotion – there could be more than one reason. Maybe you have other commitments, maybe this isn’t your job, or possibly this is a deadline you identified weeks ago that was just ignored. You need to identify the main source of the anger. In this example, let’s use unrealistic expectations from your boss.

Next, you need to write out what a high EQ response could look like. For instance, you could email your boss back and tell them that you can complete project X, but project Z will have to wait for another week and then ask if they are okay with that. The impact of your high EQ response could be that your boss may not be happy, but they will respect that you are setting up a boundary for yourself and managing your time.

Now, let’s do the same thing but with a low EQ response. A low EQ response could be that you would not say anything and stay after work into the wee hours of the night to make sure project X was completed. However, the impact of that would be that you could hold resentment towards your boss for giving you such a ridiculous deadline, anger towards yourself for not speaking up, and you could be on the break of burnout.

Now that you have written down both potential responses, you have a choice on how to act. That will give you the freedom to make a conscious choice and see the situation from an objective perspective and then choose what to do.

When individuals with autism learn to express their feelings in a healthy way, they’re able to manage their emotions and have less anxiety. Confidence with expressing our emotions help us connect with others and brings new opportunities to serve.

Carolyn Stern BIO

Carolyn Stern, the author of The Emotionally Strong Leader, is the President and CEO of EI Experience, an executive leadership development and emotional intelligence training firm. She is a certified Emotional Intelligence and Leadership Development Expert, professional speaker, and university professor whose emotional intelligence courses and modules have been adopted by top universities in North America. She has also provided comprehensive training programs to business leaders across the continent in highly regarded corporations encompassing industries such as technology, finance, manufacturing, advertising, education, healthcare, government, and food service. Stern lives and works in Vancouver, British Columbia. Website:

Follow Carolyn on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Ron Sandison

Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom, published by Charisma House and Thought, Choice, Action. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes. Ron’s third book Views from the Spectrum was released in May 2021.

Ron frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016.

You can contact Ron at his website or email him at

One reply on “Bestselling Author Carolyn Stern’s Insight on Leadership and Emotions”
  1. says: Steve Staniek

    Great job Ron, you’ve broken down the process of “emoting”, or how we react to what’s happening around and inside of us, as we go through our day. Thanks for this.
    My autistic reactions [feelings] to things around me often become mixed with other thoughts that pop up suddenly like: “What should I be feeling at this moment”, “Is this the right feeling for this situation”, “Must I always submit and allow these feelings to overwhelm me, or can I learn to manage them to my satisfaction?”
    Most of the time I’m like everyone else, and I just allow feelings to rise up in me and take over and set my mood for the day. But then there are times when something in me hits the brakes, and demands that I find a better, healthier way to feel and operate all day. Those are the moments when I make some progress in learning to control my reactions or feelings, by quietly noticing how these feelings begin to emerge. That’s the moment to de-energize them quickly by using our will to just say “NO”, and deny these budding feelings the energy they need to grow into unwanted or unpleasant feelings which can dominate me all day. After we learn to “take charge of our feelings”, we can slowly shut down the feelings we don’t want or that harm us, in favour of more pleasant and satisfying feelings that we do want simply because they make us feel better.

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