Leadership Backpack: What Will Lead Us To A Better Future?
What is the trait we most admire in leaders? What strengths are most commonly associated with leadership? With a website like Glassdoor, where leaders are publicly evaluated and ranked by their collaborators, are we currently living a paradigm shift, and expect of our leaders much more than intelligence, business competency and communication skills?
What kind of leadership will help us create a better Future, one of greater inclusion, integrity, and trust?
We believe there is something every leader should carry in their backpack, that must inform their decisions and the way they do business, something that must be elevated and prioritized as much as intelligence and emotional skills.
Leadership was traditionally thought of in terms of title and position. With those two things came the power to call the shots. Leaders were often portrayed as extroverted, loud and charismatic individuals, even though these qualities have little correlation with effective leadership. Therefore, we cannot define leadership by title, hierarchy or personal attributes as such. Nor is it about managing people. The tasks of supervising, planning, monitoring and so forth belong to managers. We need great managers to manage, as much as we need great leaders to lead. The distinction remains significant.
If leaders are not there to manage, leaders are there to care for the people that take care of the business. They’re there to create the conditions in which people can bring their whole and best selves to work, they’re there to create a culture that feels safe, from which creativity, innovation, and collaboration can emerge. They’re there to support the unfolding and use of human potential towards a goal that addresses a certain challenge and moves us closer to a Future of greater, healthier, and better possibilities.
Leadership is ultimately a human development facilitation process. One in which the leader models and exemplifies the values that guide business decisions and the norms of explicit and implicit behavior expected throughout the organization.
It is no surprise that we need, and expect of our leaders' different types of intelligence. Undoubtedly, no one can sustain and lead an organization forward without business intelligence, the competence, and know-how of what it takes to succeed in a given activity. But intellect and business savvy alone are not enough, there’s increasing awareness around the need for emotional intelligence (EQ) in our leaders.
If leadership entails the ability to establish and mobilize relationships with collaborators, partners, and clients, then emotional intelligence, is one of the most important skills in any leader’s backpack. It refers to the ability of recognizing, understanding and responding wisely to one’s own and other people’s emotions. It allows for a leader to walk into a meeting, read the mood of the participants and adjust the communication appropriately to meet the needs and intention of the interaction.
It’s what lets a leader set foot into a factory and sense the predominant emotions of those working there and know that hopelessness or fear are settling in and the organizational climate needs to be transformed. Without emotional intelligence leaders miss out on valuable information, the one that enables people to feel seen, validated, cared for and appreciated, and that alone is enough of an obstacle to effective leadership.
Daniel Goleman, one of the foremost authorities on emotional intelligence in the workplace notes that:
“No matter what leaders set out to do - whether it’s creating a strategy or mobilizing teams to action - their success depends on how they do it. Even if they get everything else just right, if leaders fail in this primal task of driving emotions in the right direction, nothing they do will work as it could or should.”
A big organization hired Ross to fix their financials. For seven years he committed to the endeavor of turning the numbers around and kept most of his attention geared towards the results he was trying to achieve. But everything he worked so hard for was falling apart. Employees were quitting, teams were struggling to get along, and the culture became toxic. Ross failed to care for the employees and how the cost cutting strategies affected them. When employees believe their feelings and struggles are completely ignored by those in charge, inevitably the company morale suffers, and productivity and engagement plummet.
When it comes to Emotional Intelligence, there is a skill that leaders should pay close attention to. Empathy is the ability to sense other people’s feelings and understand their perspectives. It’s what allows people to read the cues of what’s being felt, the unspoken emotions and thoughts. There are two different types of empathy: cognitive empathy and emotional empathy. With cognitive empathy, we take an active interest in other people’s perspective and how they came to think the way they think. With emotional empathy, we sense what other people are feeling and that, in turn, triggers an emotional response in us.
This way of attuning to people acts as a glue, that fosters relationships, makes people feel seen and understood, while granting us information about how to communicate with the other person, what they value most, their beliefs, needs, and aspirations.
Daniel Siegel, a psychiatrist at UCLA, calls the brain areas that create this resonance the “we circuitry”. According to him, “being in a we bubble with another person can signify chemistry, that sense of rapport that makes whatever we’re doing together go well -whether it’s in sales, a meeting, the classroom or between a couple.”
Researchers at the Center for Creative Leadership looked at a sample of 6,700 leaders from 38 countries and found that empathy is positively related to job performance, and managers that show empathy towards their reports are viewed as better performers by their bosses.
Kristen Hadeed, CEO and founder of Student Maid started her company while she was still in college, and soon discovered that she needed to develop basic leadership skills. On her early days, she landed her biggest contract to date, 600 apartments to clean, proceeded to hire a team of 60 people, but failed to approach them effectively. As she stood in her office, eating her salad by herself, she was shocked to see her whole team walk in to quit their job.
Humility saved the day. She had the courage to tell them that she just started her company and had no idea what she was doing, she needed their help. Her team stayed and she learned one of her most cherished lessons. That humility and humanity are the core of a healthy organization.
In her own words: “student Maid’s success boils down to one thing and one thing only: we’ve created a place with humanity at its core. A place where people feel accepted for who they are, where they are encouraged to fail and embrace their imperfections, and where they are empowered to reach their potential. “
Decency (DQ) takes intelligence and emotional intelligence a step further. It requires that a person not only has empathy for another but that she genuinely cares, and sets out to help and support the other person. While leaders can score highly in both IQ and EQ, and still fail to consider the impact of their choices in other people and act solely in their self-interest, decency is the nudge towards doing the right thing. Decency takes empathy and compassion and translates them into action.
Ajay Banga, the CEO of Mastercard, was one of the first to bring decency into the spotlight. In a talk in front of the students of Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, Banga said:
“IQ is really important. EQ is really important. What really matters to me is DQ (decency quotient)”.
Decency asks that we contemplate positive outcomes for those we work and interact with so that everyone in the workplace feels respected, valued and cared for. As it turns out doing the right thing for yourself and others, creates a work environment of trust, joy, and fun. And that tends to bring out the best in people.
One of the ways of understanding the role and importance of decency in the workspace is to reflect on the cases where decency failed, and unfortunately, there are far too many examples of it.
The subprime crisis is one such example, where big financial companies acted in their own self-interest, engaging in risky behaviors that culminated in a crisis that affected most of us worldwide to some extent. The financial sector is still, to date, the least trusted industry according to the 2019 Edelman Trust Barometer, which measures public trust in institutions.
When people believe leaders and companies act in ways that jeopardize other people at large, the breach in trust makes the company's long-term survival and success unlikely. The effects from distrust are long-lasting and difficult to repair.
In the Information Era, where distrust can spread as quickly as an article gone viral on the internet, we can either use the tools are our disposal to make sure we elevate and promote decency or we can suffer the consequences later.
We believe that it is imperative that we consider decency when we hire people, when we let go of people, when we give feedback, when we hold meetings, when we choose our clients and partners.
Any Future we’d be proud to create, requires a heaping dose of decency. It’s when we take care of others as well as we do of ourselves, that we each stand a better chance of enjoying the present as much as the Future.