The Junto Emotion Wheel: Why and How We Use It

One of the pillars of the Junto program is emotional intelligence. It is a focal point of the JuntoForum, the subject of four JuntoClasses, and a topic of conversation at happy hours, in one-on-one meetings, and among the companies' employees.

The "starting point" of one's emotional intelligence is self-awareness: the ability to recognize our own emotions and mood, and our thoughts about them. It's our ability to see how those thoughts and feelings are connected with our behavior: how they affect and are affected by our actions, reactions, decisions, and daily interactions with others.

None of this can occur unless we also have the ability to label how we're feeling or what our mood is. And that's where the Emotion Wheel comes into play.

I discovered the wheel while reading about emotional intelligence several years ago and found it to be a valuable tool. In my experience, I've often had difficulty finding the word or words to describe how I'm feeling at a certain point in time. So, for me, the wheel became a very useful prompt. 

And then late last year, as we were updating the Junto program in advance of our current cohort, I realized that we lacked this "labeling" feature and it left me feeling...well, to use a word from the wheel, shameful. So I found a few scientifically based emotion and feeling wheels, tried them out with our established forums, our team, and my family, and discovered that they seemed incomplete.

First, we noticed that there were far more negative emotions than positive ones. Second, we realized there were many scientifically identified feelings and emotions that weren't on the wheels. And third, from a practical perspective, we concluded that there were many "emotions" that people were identifying but weren't included in any, or most, of the wheels.

So we compiled our own list of feelings and emotions, hired a graphic designer, and came up with the following wheel. Each wedge represents a core human emotion, like Joy or Fear. Those wedges then contain more specific emotions that are related to the core one. So while we may be in an overall "good mood" (i.e.: Joy or Love), the more specific words allow us to identify the nuances and intricacies of that positive state of being (i.e.: Eager or Sentimental).

Download the wheel by saving the above image.

Download the wheel by saving the above image.


We introduced the Emotion Wheel at the start of the new year with our established forums, and with our new cohort when it began in February. And here's how we - and some of the JuntoCompanies - now use it.


At the start of each forum session, we distribute a hard copy of the wheel to each member. Before they share their personal highs and lows, each member declares how he/she is feeling, using one or more of the words on the wheel. Many times, our Apprentices and Alumni will share both positive and negative feelings, and explain why they're feeling those emotions.

This allows everyone to share, brag or vent a little bit and, more importantly, enables their peers to better understand their current disposition, helping facilitate empathy among the others. It enables people to open up in a way they may not otherwise, creating greater connectivity within the forum which leads to stronger camaraderie and trust.

At times, the wheel brings some levity to the room. Members have said they're feeling nothing, or even all of the emotions. They've shared a feeling that's not on the wheel and given us a hard time about it. 

Regardless, the Emotion Wheel is helping serve a purpose because it supports the development of self-awareness and emotional intelligence. It forces a moment of reflection and introspection for every individual and, hopefully, helps to build or reinforce a positive habit.


In our weekly team huddle, each of us does the same thing. Since the meeting is on Monday mornings, our emotions are often influenced by our weekends, so it also provides an opportunity to share the highs and lows from those 2-3 days. Again, we also learn whether our team members are in a positive or negative state of mind, are full or depleted of energy, and how that might affect their work for the day (or week), as well as interactions with other people.

We've heard from several JuntoCompanies that they're doing the same thing: using the Emotion Wheel in their daily standup, weekly huddle, and/or other team meetings. One company's CEO told me that when an employee comes into his office to share, complain, vent, brag, or update, he'll start by asking the employee how s/he is feeling at the moment, giving him an opportunity to prepare for what is about to be said.

Ultimately, the reason we believed the Emotion Wheel should be a part of our program is because it helps support leadership development, the emphasis of Junto's Apprenticeship program.

The definition of leadership we've adopted is the ability to move people in the direction the leader wants to go. By observing and knowing one's own emotions and feelings, and those of the people being led, we believe that a leader's effectiveness can only increase; that leader's ability to move people in the direction s/he wants to go becomes greater.

And if that can be facilitated by using a colorful and playful, yet important and serious, wheel of human emotions, then it's necessary for us to include it.