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The Art of the Emotionally Intelligent Leader

I remember my father, a highly successful business man, saying to me, “son, there is a fine line between being above the line and below the line”. I am reminded of this often. At work, we can be high performers one year and behind the pack the next. We can be sailing along and one poor judgement-call can have lasting effects on our career, our relationships, our financial security and our self-esteem. What fuels our success can also be our unravelling, like a trap set to snare us when we veer off the path.

In sport, work and life I am particularly interested in the 80:20’s. What small things have the biggest impact?  What habits, behaviours, practices consistently demonstrated achieve the best outcomes? What is at the core of the problem, when things start to fall apart for people?

I observe 4 key personal needs at the nexus of this balancing act;

  • The need for achievement
  • The need for approval
  • The need for perfection
  • The need for power

A few live examples are highlighted to bring this to life and can be a window for your own leadership.

Need for Achievement

Michael has had a successful career built on being very achievement focused. On the positive side he leads the way for others to follow, gives others focus, works hard and will be very resilient to reaching an outcome. In times of stress he will “push” hard to get himself and others to the line. On the negative, he doesn’t care much aside from “outcomes”. In meetings he always seems focused on something else, often gets accused of not listening to others, of being too one-dimensional, too focused on his own agenda. With others, he can lose respect if they don’t generate sufficient outcomes.

Need for Approval

Paul is a really nice guy, great at customer relationships with a large network. He is very considerate of other people and the relationship harmony that exists in a team. He tries hard to build culture internally with good people, which is a big part of his success. However, he doesn’t like conflict, so will find it hard to communicate contrary opinions or argue a point or challenge his people too much. In his effort to be liked, he can fail to gain respect from others. He can be criticised for lacking execution, not hard enough on results.

Need for Perfection

Lisa has had a good career, working for many of Australia’s leading companies. She is technically proficient and well-regarded for her quality work. Lisa tries hard and is really keen to do a great job. In a big job with lots to do she has many competing priorities and can seem overwhelmed. Lisa can be criticised for not making progress, not cutting through well enough with things, she can procrastinate, over analyse and over work her projects. As a consequence she demands a lot from others, asks a million questions, can be rattled under time pressure and continually seeks more information in an effort to have it fully covered.

Need for Power

Mandy on face value is a very successful leader. She has strong followers, has good presence and impact and communicates clearly in a commanding way. That was until she had a few peers who, in her view, undermined her status, her role and accountability. She felt very insecure, like she was threatened. Her response is to undermine others, to criticise behind their back, to ignore them in public settings. Those around her are wary of “which Mandy” they will get today.

We all have a bit of Michael, Paul, Lisa and Mandy. We are all perfectly imperfect! Ironically, the fuel for our success sometimes pushes us over the line and becomes our derailer. Our effort to “pull the rope” in our direction disempowers those around us.

As a leader, Self Focus can negatively impact leadership behaviour with Others;

  • Achievement – over emphasis on outcomes can result in insufficient recognition of the progress of others
  • Approval – over emphasis on being validated and recognised for my contributions, can mean I don’t acknowledge the contributions of others
  • Perfection – over emphasis on perfection and things being completely right, can mean delays, a lack of risk taking, ideas and innovation in case it isn’t quite good enough
  • Power – overemphasis on Power and Status can disempower those around me and lead to a lack of trust due to inconsistency

There are small things that can make a big difference (the 80:20s):

  1. As a leader you need to be aware of your own Pull Factors (Achievement/Approval/Perfection/Power) and recognise that the farther you go over the line in times of stress the more derailing your behaviour might become
  2.  Make an intentional switch from Self Focus to Other Focus. Your ability to do that directly leads to what you actually want.
  3. Progress is at the heart of all motivation. Setting small steps, acknowledging effort, highlighting positive momentum and progress serves others as well as ourselves.

What I am are really talking about is Emotional Intelligence – the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotion of others.

We know from the research (and likely our own experiences) that Emotional Intelligence is twice as important as IQ and technical skills at all levels, and makes up 90% of the difference between star and average performers (see Goleman: What makes a Leader). Most importantly whilst IQ is essentially set for life, we can learn Emotional Intelligence.  It can be improved through increasing self awareness, getting support from a coach or mentor and by focusing on improvement areas over a period of time.

Emotional Intelligence is what makes or breaks us as we move through our career. It is essential learning at all levels to stay above the line.

This article was written by Peter Nankervis, Managing Director of Lighthouse. Lighthouse provides targeted Emotional Intelligence Training for Emerging Talent and Middle Managers and Coaches Senior leaders to lift engagement and performance, minimise attrition and build better teams and cultures. Please contact Peter Nankervis at [email protected], 0419823969 or 02 9091 0305 if you would like to have a discussion on Emotional Intelligence in your organisation.

Call 1300 244 373