Developing Emotional Intelligence in Corporate Leaders

It is no longer sufficient to simply ask for leadership from employees.  Leadership must be defined, boundaries set, and behavioral expectations laid at the feet of those granted the awesome responsibility of leading others.  Thirty-plus years of research have resulted in the conclusion that the most successful and competitive leaders in the world share four core characteristics: the power of irresistible attraction, a motivational approach to a shared vision, the ability to arouse brilliance in the team, and recognition of the individuals who make up the greater whole.  Simply put, these leaders each have well developed emotional and psychological intelligence.  The challenge inherent in developing this kind of competitive leadership is translating these four talent areas into trainable curriculum.

Emotional Intelligence has recently received a good deal of attention.  Whereas in years past being emotionally in touch would have been considered a weakness, today it is strength.  Having emotional intelligence means maintaining not only the awareness of internal impulses and natural reactions, it means having the ability to control those impulses.  As awareness builds, so does the capacity for sharing appropriate empathy for others.  A natural by-product of the previous three is the power of the leader to elicit the desired response from those who report to him.  The ultimate goal is to be well versed in each of these four areas all while focusing every ounce of emotional intelligence on the overarching goal, whether personal or professional.

It might seem to some as if having emotional intelligence amounts to having the ability to manipulate personal responses in an effort to get what is needed from others.  Perhaps so.  After all, is it not part of a leader’s responsibility to rally the team to achieve something greater than can be accomplished alone?  No matter how it may seem on the surface, manipulation is never a goal of true leadership.  In fact, pseudo-transformational leadership theory reveals that there are people in leadership positions who are adept at using manipulative tactics to retain power.  Ultimately, their behavior results in a loss of productivity due to fear, distrust, and the alienation of the team.

Emotional intelligence is not the manipulation of self or others.  The difference is intent.  Leaders believe in their own ability to achieve.  It is one of the things that draw others to them.  But even more than that, leaders believe in the ability of others to elevate the process of achievement.  They encourage innovation and creativity in others the likes of which develops a competitive and lively spirit.  That kind of encouragement comes through appropriate social interactions, professional speaking skills, and the ability to effectively communicate across lines of diversity.  This kind of workplace environment is contagious and can impact entire organizations.

Leadership development requires psychological intelligence in addition to emotional intelligence.  Psychological intelligence can be boiled down to two words: attitude and approach.   Training psychological intelligence begins with developing hope and resilience and culminates with self-efficacy and learned optimism.  Each of these four developmental areas is distinctly psychological in nature.  Much like emotional intelligence, these require a level of awareness of the skills and authority over them.

The development of hope begins with the clear definition of attainable yet challenging goals.  Once defined, roadblocks to achievement are presented and multiple pathways are explored.  The result is the leader’s ability to redirect team activities when necessary and perseverance in times of change.  Resilience logically builds from the preparedness mindset found in the development of hope.  Acknowledging that change is constant requires that leaders think two steps ahead which results in an attitude of flexibility in the face of a trial.

Psychological intelligence completes the leadership development paradigm with positive self-efficacy and learned optimism.  A key component in self-efficacy is confidence.  Having the confidence to take on challenges and then to put into those challenges the kind of effort necessary to succeed speaks to a leader’s psychological capital.  On the surface, it seems rather redundant to train a leader in self-efficacy.  After all, are leaders not already confidant and capable?  The answer is most are, most of the time.

Everyone experiences moments or even phases of life when confidence is shaken.  A mistake is made, an innovative design falters, a sales goal is left unmet and the leader becomes hesitant.  It is natural, both emotionally and psychologically, for failure fallout to occur.  The key is not to block out or ignore the resulting fear but to embrace it…examine it for what it is worth…and then determine how to avoid making the same mistake twice.  Then, move on to whatever comes next.

Which leads to the much-needed psychological asset of learned optimism.  How essential is it to be able to brush aside the disappointments and look forward with a positive attitude?  How refreshing is it to be around someone who sees the silver lining rather than the blackness of the storm?  Learned optimism is the key asset in becoming psychologically strong.  Human beings are naturally negative, masking that negativity in realism.  Especially in business, it is widely acceptable behavior to be chameleon like depending upon the expectations of the boss, the organizational culture, and especially in politically-sensitive situations.  It is this practiced pessimism that leads to an expectation of negativity.

Learned optimism steps in and attempts to disrupt this process.  With a strong belief in the organization’s mission, a firm understanding of where the leader’s purpose fits with the accomplishment of that mission and the acceptance of self the leader is trained to approach situations from an optimistic perspective.  Practical exercises reinforce a belief in every person’s positive attribution and purpose with a focus on what it will take to succeed both now and in the future.

A common misconception is that this kind of leadership development is reserved for the executive level employee.  Leadership development through emotional and psychological intelligence has been proven to impact sales force moral judgment, increase trust between client and sales person, improve customer service satisfaction, vastly increase innovation and creativity, and improve financial viability of organizations across a span of industries.  Organizations with well-developed leadership programs will benefit from supplementing their current training programs with specific topics previously discussed.

The combination of emotional intelligence and psychological intelligence results in the kind of leader who has the charisma others seek out, the ability to motivate teams toward a common goal, a sincere desire to coach growth, and a constant search for greater knowledge.  Leadership development curriculum must focus on both ends of the spectrum while recognizing that emotional and psychological growth is a process that requires professional and practical instruction.

RD Kosor


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