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Leading with Emotional Intelligence

This morning I stood in front of a room of wonderful people who came together to hear me talk about ‘Leading with Emotional Intelligence’. I thought I’d run a snap poll, and asked them to write down the top 3 things that get in the way of them being able to be the best version of themselves at work every day.

No surprise, they named the same issues mentioned in the Six Seconds Vitality 2017 report, ‘poor leadership, stress and overwhelm with too much to do with insufficient resourcing, and a lack of leadership vision/meaningful strategic direction’.

Most of these problems involve people, and the core issue at play here is the low trust environment being seen in relationships, teams and organisations. Trust is one of Plutchik’s primary emotions, the glue, the invisible thread that binds people together. Without it, it’s almost impossible to thrive as relationships unravel and the opportunity to meaningfully connect and perform at our best is lost.

The quality of our organisational culture depends on the calibre of our leaders and it’s their responsibility to infuse emotional intelligence into the relationships that they have with their people.

If people are feeling unsafe, scared to speak up freely and express their thoughts, or feel judged or blamed in any way, we can expect that they’ll retreat into a silo and bring a much lesser version of themselves to work every day. This is a recipe for low engagement, decline in productivity and poor wellbeing outcomes.

When people feel safe around us and trust us, their Limbic brain stays calm which allows them to think clearly, innovatively and creatively, and we set the scene for great ideas to flow. Wellbeing flourishes.

Leaders who serve up cocktails of distrustful, judgemental vibes send their people’s Limbic brain into overdrive, flooding them with the neurochemical cortisol – and basically hijacking any quality thinking for the day!

I feel sure that few leaders would intentionally set out to make sure that their teams were handicapped in this way – it’s usually a gap in self-awareness!

In our NeuroCoaching, we help leaders to grow their self-awareness muscle and challenge them to honestly reflect on how aligned their intention is with the impact they are having on the people around them.

Emotional Intelligence is measurable and learnable, so we can hold a mirror up to leadership and support them in shifting their thoughts, feelings and actions to help them to show up differently.

It always amazes me how quickly this happens in coaching. Often after as little as 3 – 5 coaching sessions, trust starts rebuilding and people start noticing something different about their leader which attracts their attention.

So what can leaders who want to regain trust actually do?

Judith E. Glaser from the CreatingWE Institute has some ideas. She breaks trust down into 5 parts which show up regularly in emotionally intelligent leaders:

  1. Trustworthiness: Are we authentic and are we worthy of the trust people place in us? Do we keep confidentiality and only share what’s ours to share? Do we infuse a calm, positive mood into our working teams to enable them to perform at their best? Are we consistent and can we be relied on to do our best in every situation?
  1. Relationships: Do we take the time to connect with our people and show them regularly that we truly care? Are we able to look at all situations from multiple perspectives without judgement and vulnerably lean into empathy by putting ourself in others’ shoes? How often do we ask people about their interests and their families – or write a letter to their parents to thank them for having such great kids (as Indra Nooyi from Pepsico did?) When did we last send someone home early so they could attend their kid’s school concert? Do we prioritise their wellbeing – creating work environments that encourage movement, good nutrition and relaxing spaces?
  1. Understanding: What kind of listener are we? Do we make a person feel that they are the only one who matters in a crowded room when we are speaking to them? With 9 out of 10 conversations missing the mark, do we take responsibility to focus with attention on what people are saying? Are we understanding? How long can we stay in curiosity, asking even more questions to which we genuinely don’t know the answer? And allowing the magic of that non-judgemental ‘not-knowing space’ to emerge as we give the time and space for people to express their thoughts and ideas. This kind of listening also involves tuning in to the meaning – what’s actually not being said behind the words being used.
  1. Shared Success: Do we openly communicate our vision and co-create meaningful, purposeful goals with our teams? How do we share latest developments and ideas, successes and challenges – and more importantly, how are we celebrating our wins?
  1. Truth telling: The truth can hurt – do we have a way of genuinely sharing the good, the bad and the ugly in a way that affirms people’s strengths and helps them grow a learning mindset so that they’re not afraid to make mistakes around us. Rather they’ll have a go and be open to mentorship and direction.

Being an amazing leader in these times isn’t easy – the pace is fast, the volume of work often superhuman and the physical and emotional demands unprecedented. And it’s not going to get any easier.

We have a choice. Forge ahead at our own pace leaving a trail of frustration, or lead from behind in a human to human way that affirms, inspires and excites.

The rewards of the latter approach are great – companies that prioritise emotional intelligence have trusting cultures that rate 22 X higher in performance across all the key drivers of success (engagement, change, motivation and effectiveness).

And most importantly, wellbeing flourishes.

Cheers Alison



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