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The emotional profiles triangle: working with leaders under pressure

Catherine Sandler (Managing Director of Sandler Lanz, London, UK)

Strategic HR Review

ISSN: 1475-4398

Article publication date: 17 February 2012




This article aims to use a new model and three case studies to illustrate what takes place when the emotional pressures on leaders become too great. The author seeks to argue that a level of anxiety is triggered that tips them into unskillful or dysfunctional behavior. Even the most seasoned leaders are prey to this process, which has potentially destructive and far‐reaching consequences for themselves and their organizations. By illustrating how anxious leaders can be helped to retain or regain their most effective selves through coaching, the article aims to contribute to best practice in leadership development.


The emotional profiles triangle (EPT) model emerged from the author's first‐hand experience over 20 years in the field of leadership development. A senior executive coach, she observed a clear pattern among her clients, which showed that when leaders feel anxious or threatened, their behavior changes in one of three specific and consistent ways. The EPT draws on psychodynamic psychology, which emphasizes the importance of emotion in driving behavior, often unconsciously. It also draws on neuroscience which explains the hardwiring that drives the human response to “danger signals”.


The EPT identifies and describes three emotional profiles, which comprise a related set of functional and dysfunctional leadership behaviors. Through exploring their profile, individual leaders can learn to play to their strengths while managing their anxiety and behavior more effectively. The EPT has been extensively tested since 2009 with coaching clients and boards, and at conferences and on leadership development programs. This article includes three brief case studies that illustrate its application.


This original model has received consistently positive feedback from leaders, coaches and HR professionals. Users have particularly valued its clarity, accessibility and practical value as a development tool.



Sandler, C. (2012), "The emotional profiles triangle: working with leaders under pressure", Strategic HR Review, Vol. 11 No. 2, pp. 65-71.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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