Leading with the Heart— and a Dash of Emotional Intelligence

Business leaders today face an often tough climate in which to succeed. The protracted recession has taken its toll. Where one might expect to find employees ‘grateful to have a job’, as one business owner I consulted with lately said (with a straight face, which I found disheartening), instead I talk to employees who are resentful, fearful and unwilling to do more than the minimum to get by. What is wrong?

After speaking with dozens of leaders recently, (many of them entrepreneurs), my latest musing goes something like this: employers face a crisis of personal leadership. Businesses of all sizes are floundering, and responsibility lies in large measure not with the workers who have soldiered through the larger fiscal crisis, but with managers, who in many cases appear to be tone-deaf when it comes to what they are saying to employees. What these managers are missing is emotional intelligence – the ability, as author Daniel Goleman says[1], “to manage ourselves and our relationships effectively.” (timeless thoughts really)

We talk a lot about emotional intelligence and leadership in the TalentCulture Community and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to join forces with the community here at LeadChange to continue the conversation and connect with other valued leaders. I’d like to use this forum to explore the relationship between management styles, emotional intelligence, and a business’s financial and spiritual health. It turns out that management style can affect up to a third of a business’s financial performance; in difficult times, who can afford to ignore its impact?

What is emotional intelligence? Goleman defines four ‘capabilities’: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and social skill. A manager with emotional intelligence may not manifest each of these capabilities at the same time, but should have the ability to switch among them as the needs of the business – and most especially its employees – require. Yet it’s shocking how few managers actually exhibit emotional intelligence. They may be geniuses at solving technical problems, inventors and entrepreneurs, but they lack the basic social skills a leader needs.

Overlay these capabilities with management styles, and you begin to see how a manager with a low level of emotional intelligence can wreak havoc on the bottom line. A ‘coercive’ leader forces everyone to do things his or her way. In a crisis this management style may work, but only for a short time. An ‘authoritative’ leader shares a vision but lets employees find their own ways to make the vision work; this style is broadly useful. A ‘democratic’ leader builds common cause, but giving employees an equal voice in every decision may backfire. A ‘pacesetter’ drives people to perform to his or her high standards – fine if everyone can perform at a high level, a disaster if you have some B or C employees. Finally, a ‘coach’ focuses on personal development, great for employees but no guarantee work will get done.

The exciting magic happens when a manager is self-aware enough to switch between styles, and has acquired the social skills to communicate why he or she is doing so to employees.  My prescription for managers who may not be gifted with the emotional intelligence necessary to personal leadership is:

  • Observe how employees interact with you. Do they tell you what’s going on with their work? What’s their body language? Do they lean away or stand rooted in the doorway of your office? If so, you may need to work on your emotional self- awareness. Try to read the reactions of your employees to things you say and do; a heightened sense of self-awareness will make you more attuned to their needs, and better able to help you lead them. Employees will respond, and the business will benefit.
  • Manage your own behavior first. Many managers try to control others’ behavior by being coercive, manipulative or demanding. Control your impulses, take responsibility for your actions, and be adaptable. If you aren’t a responsible leader, don’t expect employees to shoulder the responsibility for making your business a success.
  • It’s ok to be empathetic. Don’t resent your employees because they don’t seem to see what a great guy/woman you are: pay attention to the emotional tone of the workplace and the effectiveness of the organization will improve.
  • Work to be more social. Don’t sit in your office and expect everyone else to understand what the business needs. Talk about your vision for the company, listen for feedback and be prepared to change. It can be a lot of fun, really.

Let’s return to the relationship between emotional intelligence, personal leadership and fiscal performance. It’s clear that a tone-deaf leader, one who has abdicated personal leadership, will find his or her employees balky and resentful. That attitude will be communicated to customers and the business will suffer. But a manager who accepts the responsibilities of personal leadership – to be aware, emotionally connected, and able to shift management styles to meet the needs of employees and the organization - has a greater chance of building a successful business while creating a meaningful and durable corporate brand. Other companies will want to do business with you, because your vision, awareness, social connection and personal leadership will be appealing and compelling.

In the long run, a great product or service will only be appealing to customers if it’s delivered by a great organization, with a management committed to real personal leadership. Short-term you may be able to get away with a lot, but building value requires a long view – and a commitment to your employees and community members.

Be a personal leader. Let’s all take this challenge. I’m working on this daily. Who’s in?

[1] Leadership That Gets Results, Daniel Goleman, Harvard Business Review, March-April 2000.


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