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New Constructs for Effective Leadership – Part 1

This will be a multi-part blog on leadership. There have been countless hours of research conducted on leadership styles over the past forty-plus years.  As work is such a large percentage of waking hours, the more effective the leadership, the more productive we are as a society.  That being said, more recent research has determined that the thing missing for most in reaching their leadership potential is a good understanding and proper management of their feelings.

There are three constructs that, when properly honed and applied, will make anyone a better leader. They are:

  1. Emotional Intelligence
  2. Contextual Intelligence
  3. Strategic Intelligence

While all of these are types of “intelligence” they are able to be learned and improved upon and they are not necessarily innate. The level of one’s intelligence in no way correlates to their level of intelligence in any of these constructs.  Studies of outstanding performers in hundreds of organizations show that about two-thirds of the abilities that set apart star performers from the rest are based on emotional intelligence; only one-third of the skills that matter relate to raw intelligence and technical expertise.  In fact, one study of the senior executives of 52 global organizations found that only about ten percent of the skills that distinguish these leaders are purely intellectual in nature.

Humans are, by nature, an emotional being. This was necessary for survival of the species during evolution.  This is scientifically proven through the studies of the human brain.  There are three distinct parts to the human brain that evolved over time.  The core portion, the brain stem, is where essential functions are controlled.  These are breathing rate, blood pressure regulation, reflexes and heart rate.  The limbic system is the next part of the brain.  This is where emotions are handled.  The amygdala is a critical component of the limbic system.  Anything that has happened to the individual throughout life and has created an emotional response is stored there.  The amygdala is directly connected to the thalamus which processes all incoming information.  Everything that enters the brain is immediately scanned against the information stored in the amygdala to see if it matches a previous experience.  If so, then there will be an emotional response.  This was the mode of survival that worked for many years.  Later in the evolution process the cortex and neocortex were developed.  This is the “thinking” part of the brain.

effective-leadership

This helps to illustrate that emotions are not only an aspect of brain function but emotions are attached to everything perceived prior to applying higher-order thinking. Understanding this clearly proves the need for a comprehensive understanding of and the ability to effectively manage one’s emotions.  In short, we cannot extricate thought from emotion except in the most abstract applications of thought.  Humans can be effective only when the two systems of the brain – emotion and thinking – work together.  That working relationship, which encompasses most of what humans do in life, is the essence of emotional intelligence.  There are five aspects to emotional intelligence, each of which describes a basic human ability that is also the foundation for specific capabilities of leadership.

  1. Self-awareness – A stream of emotions runs in parallel with thoughts. The emotions are typically ignored even though they are based on previous experience with similar decisions. This is how “gut feelings” are created. Self-awareness gives one the ability to reconcile decisions as they relate to core values, a sense of purpose and one’s mission. Self-awareness is also critical to realistic self-assessment. Another leadership quality based on self-awareness is self-confidence. If one is sure that they are pursuing the right course of action based in their “inner voice” then they will have self-confidence. They will be able to lead assertively.
  2. Managing emotions – Managing one’s emotions is a matter of controlling one’s feelings, especially the big three: anger, anxiety and sadness. The other aspects of emotion that need to be properly handled are stress and impulsiveness. Both of these attributes erode effective leadership.
  3. Motivating others – The root meaning of motive is the same as the root meaning of emotion: to move. Humans are moved to action by emotion. One of the most important motivational abilities is optimism. It allows the acceptance of setbacks in stride. It differentiates optimists from pessimists. Members of an organization look to its leader to see how they handle a setback. This sets the tone for everyone else.
  4. Empathy – The flip-side to self-awareness is the ability to read emotions in others. People seldom express their feelings in words. Tone of voice, facial expressions, gestures and pacing are the subtle clues they provide. An inability to identify and empathize with others is a problem for anyone who wants to be a good partner, parent, colleague or leader. A lack of empathy is also detrimental to group performance.
  5. Staying connected – Emotions are contagious and they spread from the top down. People look to the emotional tone set by the leader and feel compelled to assimilate. Recognizing this gives an effective leader a leverage point to effect change within the organization.

The opportunities for emotionally intelligent leaders to make an impact are enormous. Emotional intelligence can be improved through focus on these points.  It is worth the effort as all research has shown that an emotionally intelligent leader runs a more effective program.  So don’t be afraid to get in touch with your feelings.  It is not a sign of weakness, but rather a sign of higher intelligence.

Stay tuned for part 2 and the discussion on Contextual Intelligence. Part 3 will be on Strategic Intelligence.

Jim Turner – Director of Business Relations (North America)

Gould Design, Inc.