Critical E.I. Competencies Now and for the Future
Although the prospect of embarking upon a leadership role can sometimes be daunting, we’ve established the main factors to think about to get started.
It’s not just about knowing what we should do but also about practising it on a day-to-day basis.
In this article we look at the importance of self-awareness, empathy and adaptability in leadership development. Whilst recognising the need for a full range of emotional intelligence competencies in leadership, we would argue that mastery of these three critical competencies is a priority now and for any future development of leaders themselves and the organisations within which they lead.
Having recently conducted a Learn-and-Lunch session on Leadership for ICAEW, it lead me to consolidate my thoughts, particularly in the light of the difficulties arising from the pandemic, whether economic, political or fiscal.
I no doubt read more than my fair share of articles on leadership. Perhaps this makes me a bit blasé about the topic: Isn’t this old hat? Don’t we all know this already?
Of course, if this were true, we wouldn’t see so much ongoing discussion in the media about the challenges of leadership during the pandemic; nor would there be so much debate about which global leaders are doing a “good” job and which ones a “bad” job.
Good leadership does not stem from knowledge alone, though. It’s not just about knowing what we should do but also about practising it on a day-to-day basis. In this article I will share my perspective on both: what we know about good leadership and also how we go about practising good leadership.
So what do we know about good leadership?
Over the last year, we have been inundated with articles proposing new theories on leadership with snazzy new titles and lots of advice on leading through the pandemic. Whatever your preferred medium – videos, podcasts, social media posts or just old-fashioned reading a book or article, there is plenty out there.
So far, though, I haven’t seen anything substantially different from the theories that have been around for the last 20 years and more. What has changed is the emphasis on emotional intelligence (“EI”) in leadership. It’s no longer desirable but essential. When we look at the skills now espoused as essential for leaders, the list includes adaptability, creating a vision, empathy, communication, change-management … and so on.
If we take Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee as an example, their book, The New Leaders, was published nearly 20 years ago. What is in their list of emotionally intelligent leadership competencies?
c. Social awareness
d. Relationship management
How many of these have come to the fore in the midst of the COVID crisis?
In order to survive the past year, leaders have had to draw on potentially untested, ignored or under-developed skill sets as they show empathy, demonstrate resilience, lead from the front and are a catalyst for change in a rapidly changing landscape.
They need a full range of EI – Emotional Intelligence – capabilities. Notably, resilience isn’t on the list, but let’s come back to that topic later. Given the above, I would suggest that we have a pretty good idea of the elements of “good” leadership.
Good leadership in practice
So let’s move on to consider how good leadership is practised. Clearly, this is not so easy as it sounds, otherwise everyone would be at mastery level already. It’s helpful to prioritise a few of the EI leadership competencies. This gives us a starting point, making the challenge of personal leadership development more manageable. Also though, practice of these initial competencies will naturally lead to better understanding and practice of many of the other EI competencies.
Pre-condition – open mindset
If you take the view “This is me – like it or lump it”, then:
- Not everyone will like it/you.
- More importantly, it takes away the opportunity for continuous learning.
- It also presents an inflexible, closed attitude to the world around you.
One of the first things you learn when training to be a coach is that you can only coach someone who wants to be coached; otherwise it is a waste of everyone’s time. The same is true in leadership development: you can only develop as a leader if you see the need for development and want to progress. Many see a leadership role as the ultimate goal of their career – the end of the journey. This should not be the case – it’s the start of a new career as a “leader”. Many of the challenges a leader faces are untested on the journey to leadership – there is so much to learn!
Priority 1: Self-awareness
So with the pre-condition of an open mindset, priority 1 is self-awareness (and making time for reflection). Self-awareness is critical for self-development, whatever you are doing, whatever your goals.
The important aspects of this are:
- An awareness of personal strengths and blind spots (accurate self-assessment)
- An ability to read one’s own emotional responses
- How we are perceived by others and the impact of our actions on them
- Our key strengths and possible blind spots
- Preferred communication style
Linked to this though is the ability to make a realistic assessment of one’s current position. In coaching we start with the question: “Where are you now?”
Self-awareness enables us to make an accurate assessment here; but we also need to accept it for what it is and be honest with ourselves about both the good and the bad so that we can then move on.
Coaching can be helpful for arriving at that honest self-assessment. An external coach works from a position of unconditional positive regard, objectively and with no judgement, thereby nurturing the level of honesty with self that the client needs as a starting point.
At its simplest, leaders should frequently practise self-awareness and reflection:
- Analyse how you are feeling
- Search for the triggers of emotional responses
- Assess well-being – particularly levels of stress
- Review own performance – good and bad
- Consider what changes can or need to be made
Priority 2: Empathy
How many times have we heard about the need for empathy in these difficult times? But are we clear what empathy is? I find that those who are naturally empathetic don’t realise they are doing anything different from anyone else, so often find it hard to describe. Those who learn empathy and dial it up when they need to are sometimes more aware of the various competencies they need to employ to be more empathetic.
For me there are common themes in any definition of empathy: seeing another person’s/group’s perspective easily, listening effectively, being authentic.
Goleman defines empathy as follows: “Quickly attuning to the emotional state of a person or group, leaders with empathy are able to stand in the shoes of the other person and see their perspective.”
In order to practise empathy, we need to be open to others’ perspectives, listen effectively and show authenticity as genuine compassion and concern for the person or group perspective.
Self-awareness and empathy are the basics for understanding ourselves and others and building better connections. These two capabilities underpin many of the other EI competencies.
However, there is one more EI capability I would highlight as a priority: adaptability.
Priority 3: Adaptability
In order to make the most of our own self-awareness and understanding of others we need to be adaptable. This has probably been mentioned in every article on leadership since COVID became a crisis. Self-awareness is no use to us if we don’t then apply it to understanding others, how we impact on them, how they are different from (or similar to) us and how to better connect with them.
If we learn to be adaptable, we are naturally learning to flex our leadership style and incorporate some of the other leadership competencies. The more we adapt, the more competencies we exhibit. This is why adaptability is so high on my leadership priority list.
How can we learn to be adaptable?
In my experience, personality profiling tools can miss the mark if they are not utilised effectively because the person profiled learns about their own personal preferences and behaviours but not how to adapt those behaviours to better connect with people who have different personal preferences or styles.
This is where coaching can add real value and help individuals apply what they learn about themselves to their own specific circumstances and experiences and understand how to adapt and and flex in their role.
At the heart of the Insights model is that we each have all four colour energies within us, that combine to give eight different personality types. The skill is to learn to dial up or dial down each colour energy as needed in order to better connect with the person in front of us, or to adapt to the situation at hand.
The Insights Model of Transformational Leadership has eight dimensions of leadership:
Each of the eight dimensions is associated with one of the eight personality types in the Insights model.
Our self-awareness enables us to identify our natural leadership strengths, but the leadership development is in understanding and building up leadership capabilities in all areas and learning to use the other dimensions of leadership as the situation or person requires.
The same principles underpin Goleman’s leadership styles. He identified six styles of leadership, four of which he identifies as resonant styles and two as dissonant:
Whilst, on the whole, some styles are better than others over the longer term, it is recognised that each style has a place in certain circumstances. This is why the situational perspective is important when looking at “good” leadership.
Why isn’t Resilience on my list?
In our current environment, no article on leadership would be complete without talk of resilience, so why isnt it on my list?
Resilience is a hot topic with clients at the moment, so I have been developing workshops and resources building on the Insights Discovery 8-factor resilience model. I had already taken this resilience model to create a personal planning framework for resilience (opposite). I like the Insights model as it gives us eight areas that we can focus on to continue to build our resilience and take care of ourselves and others.
Now, as I consider Goleman’s list of EI competencies, it has struck me how much overlap there is in the two models.
A leader with strong EI capabilities is likely to have a good base of resilience.
Take a look at our series of articles about Resilience.
Time to make a start
As we said at the outset, the prospect of embarking upon a leadership role can sometimes be daunting, particularly today. We would encourage any leader to start with the basics, our three priorities, and work on these every day. Remember, it’s not just about knowing what we should do but also about practising it on a day-to-day basis.
EI in leadership is no longer desirable – it is essential!