There are tons of attributes synonymous with Leadership. Being knowledgeable and inspirational are critical, and having integrity, upholding company values, being accountable and decisive — any and all of these top some lists.
There is one, however, that seems to be assumed and therefore tends to be overlooked. If an employee possesses it, she needs to work hard to maintain as well as teach it. And, if she doesn’t, it’s critical to find ways to behaviorally adjust in order to gain it.
Plain and simple, it’s Emotional Intelligence.
Wikipedia defines “EI,” in a textbook sense, as “the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups.” When you Google the term, there are countless articles addressing the nature and measurement of the attribute.
I got to thinking of it in a more simplistic light. My little ones have recently gone off to school, so I’ve been reminded of the lessons that need to be communicated and taught in order to make sure they’re being respectful students, caring friends, and simply: good people. If we could all act like this, as adults, and follow the “golden” rules, it could translate really well in the workplace.
In that light, the definition comes down to this, in layman’s terms: Emotional Intelligence is having and displaying the ability to be a grown up, no matter how young or old you are. EI is essential to practicing Active Leadership at any point in your life or career.
Here are some suggestions (or maybe even friendly reminders from your childhood) on how to achieve and maintain a positive EIQ (Emotional Intelligence Quotient) in your role as a leader.
Don’t throw tantrums. Who, me? That’s ridiculous! Actually, it’s not. I once attended a conference call in which the senior person leading it put the client on mute, stomped her feet and broke a pencil in half. Losing your patience happens. Have you ever noticed how you deal with it? How do you treat your team in the process, and how they are affected? If you are prone to reacting blindly to proverbial fire drills at 5 p.m., sending everyone into a frenzy for the night ahead, that’s not likely to motivate the team.
Transparency and clear communication are attributes that are necessary and much appreciated, but your delivery is critical. It’s all right to express disappointment at having to work late. It’s all right to let a team vent if something has gone awry, and even to agree. But, as a leader, reining in the conversation is imperative, as is providing a picture much bigger than the issue at hand.
Seeing the situation in a larger, more positive light, as well as diffusing a volatile situation, will far better motivate a team than having an employee retrieve a half-broken pencil from across the room.
Wait Your Turn. Do you let others speak? Truly? If you’re interrupting employees, chances are you have no idea you’re guilty of it. The next time you’re leading a meeting, make a concerted effort to see how many people are engaging in conversation. Turn an ear towards employees being able to complete sentences and an eye towards body language. Make certain that you allow yourself to ask the group or individuals what they think, and allow them to respond.
Even more critical, are you actively listening? Hear what people have to say. It’s OK to be aware of how you will respond once they’ve finished their thought. However, if you are thinking of what you’re going to say next without any regard for what your employee is saying, that is not a conversation or collaboration; that’s simply dismissing and dictating.
Share with the Class. Training shouldn’t fall solely to your HR practice, and knowledge sharing shouldn’t fall solely to an employee’s constant monitoring of trades. As a leader, part of your role is to develop your team to be the best and brightest they can be on a daily basis. Training can't be a one-day session; employees retain more from knowledge they’re absorbing on the job.
Put Yourself in Their Shoes. At a senior level, there are responsibilities and pressures that most of your employees haven’t yet been exposed to, nor do they understand or empathize, but you’ve been in their place. With all else you’re dealing with, it’s quite easy to forget what it was like when you were at their level, and what frustrated you. While running the business is paramount, you cannot run it without people, so give some thought as to what motivates and frustrates them.
The other wrench here is that they are a different generation, so even if you do remember what frustrated you, there may be aspects of their current lives unbeknownst to you. Get to know them and acknowledge them. That objectivity and inclusiveness is incredibly valuable, and with any hope, it will be passed along as your employees grow into leaders themselves.
A strong leader is a strong role model. It is unwise to assume that because someone is a “grown-up,” they act with the maturity that others should emulate. Reflect on your EIQ; how can you elevate it? In doing so, you improve not only yourself, but others around you and your organization as a whole.
A strong EIQ will further develop a team’s trust, empower you to practice Active Leadership, and strengthen your ability to be a strong leader.
Christine Stack joined the media agency MEC in 2011 as Senior Partner, Director-Talent Acquisition; in that role, she is responsible for the creation, development, and delivery of strategies to attract and retain senior-level talent at the agency across North America. She is also a key member of MEC’s Talent executive committee.