Leadership at the Movies: Inside Out

Dark emotion is stronger than bright. It’s more challenging to deal with sadness, anger, or bitterness than joy.

The way leaders deal with dark emotion determines the direction of their leadership.

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Listen to the dark side:

Feelings, for the most part aren’t right or wrong. They just are. It’s what you do with them that counts.

Anger that becomes bitterness harms everyone it touches. If you equate wrong with doing harm, bitterness is wrong. (But that’s another post. This post is about sadness.)

Ignoring dark emotion hinders success.

In the movie, “Inside Out,” the main characters are the emotions of a young girl named Riley. If you watched the movie with a person who leans toward sadness, you probably elbowed them and whispered, “That’s you,” when Sadness appeared on the screen. 

You may have felt a little proud of yourself, while watching, if you identified with Joy. But, there comes a point in the movie where Joy realizes Sadness plays an important role in Riley’s life.

Sadness saves the day.

Four ways sadness helps:

  1. Sadness sees what could go wrong. Happiness see the bright side.
  2. Sadness sees what is going wrong. Hope might wait too long to intervene.
  3. Sadness says, “Something’s not right.”
  4. Sadness says, “Something needs to change.”

Emotion isn’t either/or:

People feel contrasting emotion at the same time.

You might feel sad about a failure, but hopeful about what you’re learning, for example. Leaders often feel excited when things go well and worried about the next problem at the same time.


Focus matters most when you experience contrasting emotions. Use dark emotions as motivation. Don’t sink into them. Are you worried about a future failure? Create contingency plans, for example.

Note: This post is about sadness, not depression.

How are you navigating dark emotions?

What positive role do you see for dark emotion?

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