When it comes to leaders getting it together, developing Emotional Intelligence, or EQ is a critical success factor.
As an Executive Coach I spend a lot of time talking to clients about EQ, especially as they become more aware of the research that indicates that a leader’s effectiveness and their team’s performance is directly correlated to and significantly impacted by the leader’s EQ.
EQ is a leader’s ability to understand and manage their own emotions, moods and behaviors, and to understand how these impact others. EQ also involves a leader’s ability to read the emotional cues from others, and manage their relationships for the greatest effectiveness.
The first step in improving EQ is “Self-Awareness”. Being able to know the impact you have on others is critical to your success as a leader. This is probably the most challenging stage of improving your EQ. The problem is that how a leader thinks they are coming across and the reality of how they are actually perceived by others are often very different. Sometimes that’s due to egotistical blindness that leads a person to believe that they are better than they are. However, this is not the primary problem I encounter. Companies tend to be pretty good at spotting this pretty quickly and purging it from the system, unless, of course this fault lies in the CEO who does not have an objective board of directors, or has a board who is afraid of speaking the truth. (That, however, is a worthy topic for an entirely different discussion).
I have found that the best way to help a leader increase their Self-Awareness is to help them ask for feedback. In some environments this works great. However, sometimes people are afraid to tell their leader how they actually perceive them, how they are coming across, or how their behaviors are impacting the team. Sometimes that’s because the leader is so admired that no one wants to tell him or her the truth, or they may have a history of negative reactions such that people are fearful of the consequences, or the leader responds by quickly defending or dismissing feedback altogether. Without feedback, however, leaders continue to do what they have always done, even if it has been ineffective, demoralizing, or creates a toxic work environment. This is where anonymous 360 degree feedback can be most helpful. This can be gained through qualitative interviews as well as through the administration of objective online assessments that allow the leader to hear from their supervisors, peers, direct reports and others. This feedback in the hands of a highly competent Executive Coach can be powerful.
Another means of improving Self-Awareness is through psychological assessments that help a leader identify the internal and underlying drivers of emotions and behavior, and how those drivers may or may not be working for them. These assessments combined with the 360 degree feedback can lay the groundwork for incredible self-awareness and change. Once a leader is aware of how they are impacting others they can build a plan for sustaining the behaviors that are working for them, and managing those few that tend to have a less than desirable impact. I say “few” because most leaders I work with only have two or three issues that they need to modify to become more effective. Those behaviors or issues may be the most difficult to change because they have been ingrained as deeply held beliefs or long term habits. They may even be the behaviors that the leader believes to have led to their past success, so modifying them may seem a little risky.
That is why companies and leaders engage Executive Coaches and create Leadership Accountability Groups. I was once engaged by the CEO of a half billion dollar company to serve as his executive coach and to also provide coaching for the rest of his executive team. Toward the end of that year long process I facilitated a Team Alignment session where we would take look at their aggregate scores on the assessments and learn how the team could help each other take their leadership to the next level. The following are a few of the commitments that this team made to each other:
- Address the “elephant in the room” and openly share perspectives.
- Be less defensive in order to gain better collaboration and unity.
- Explain changes in more pragmatic and understandable terms so the people on the front lines are not flying blind.
- Purposely not second guess decisions made by this team once the final decision has been made.
- Timely communicate any point of concern/contention that we may be thinking in order to avoid bottling it up and later exploding.
- Listen more intently so that we can ask clarifying questions before jumping to conclusions.
- More openly voice concerns in our meetings to ensure all critical issues are addressed.
- Be more aware of, and manage people’s perceptions of us as leaders.
In addition to this list, each member of the executive team made a commitment to allow any of the other members to hold them accountable for these commitments. It was obvious to everyone on the team that the assessment and coaching process had made a significant impact. It was also obvious that the changes they were committing to could improve their leadership and the performance of the organization. However, they also knew that the commitments could be difficult to achieve if each of them attempted to go it alone, so they committed to hold one another accountable. When a group of people like this agrees on the results they want to achieve, and agree to hold one another accountable to the highest level of performance, there is no end to what they can accomplish.
As you move forward this year take some time to think about the impact of your leadership.
- Are you having the kind of impact that you think you are?
- Are you getting the truth about how you are coming across as a leader?
- What habits could you be stuck in that are contributing to the challenges you are facing?
- Are you making the few critical adjustments that will have the greatest impact on your effectiveness and on the performance of your team?
- And finally, what outside resources do you need to help you identify and make the changes you and your team need to make?”