Emotional investment

Don’t underestimate the value of emotional intelligence in strong leadership.

There has never been a greater need for strong leadership in this country as there is now. You only have to look at the political moves playing out in federal parliament or listen to the findings of the Banking Royal Commission to realise that we are right to be asking serious questions about what integrity and leadership needs to look like. Leading with strength and authenticity, attracting the right talent to work in your business, having a healthy workplace culture and achieving strong financial growth, can all be attributed to the emotional intelligence of those sitting in the leadership roles.

Champion of emotional intelligence Daniel Goleman recommended to the world that the ability to manage one’s own emotions and those of others was more important than a person’s intellect. According to research from Harvard Business School, emotional intelligence – commonly referred to as emotional quotient (EQ) – is twice as important as intellectual ability (IQ).

“Investing in building EQ bench strength is possibly the most important investment you will make.”

Historically, the corporate world has heavily valued IQ, measuring it thoroughly before appointing people to positions of influence. Being “smart” was a direct reflection of your ability to do business. In more recent times we have generally acknowledged that this thinking does not equate with building successful relationships. We’ve seen organisations invest in teaching their teams to have courageous conversations and provide quality feedback, to take time to initiate activities that build the self-awareness of those who are responsible for the development of people. But have we really understood what is possible if we truly value EQ in our leaders?

Words such as “authenticity” and “collaboration” are constantly used when we refer to expectations of our leaders today; they both require an ability to deeply understand the experience a person creates for others. On the surface this creates conversation around what we mean by personal brand, but more strategically this is a true ability to work robustly and respectfully with others. We want to report to people who are emotionally healthy and resilient. We admire leaders who are confident in their ability to navigate conflict and say sorry if they get it wrong. We want those setting the strategy to tell the truth and bring optimism to the room. Australians want leaders who are strong in their values, beliefs and life experience. My experience as a success coach tells me that these attributes equate to trust, and we can’t have strong leadership without it. In fact, this may be more important than inspiration.

Patty McCord helped create the high performing workplace culture that now exists at Netflix. In her best-selling book Powerful she essentially tells us that traditional approaches to leading people through performance appraisals and bonuses don’t work. Certainly, we are not all working in Silicon Valley but what people need and want from leaders is global. This is not about what some might call soft skills. Sure, listening and rapport-building matter. Resolving conflict and negotiating are seen on most of our CVs. Being likeable does count. But what we are really talking about here is not soft. It’s critical. It’s essential.

The challenge for small businesses and global organisations alike is to move at pace and to do it with innovation, while tapping into the potential of the people who are actually doing the work! Leaders need to leverage both their instincts and intuition. If your current role or the team you are leading want to be successful, then investing in building EQ bench strength is possibly the most important investment you will make.

Lisa Stephenson, founding director of Lisa Stephenson Consulting and author of “Read Me First”

This story first appeared in issue 24 of the Inside Small Business quarterly magazine.