Emotional Intelligence: Shadow of the Leader

(originally posted at www.thebusinessmediator.blogspot.com)

The very first CEO for whom I worked consistently referred to the importance of the "Shadow of the Leader”. His demeanor spoke of modesty and humility--no corporate jets, no extravagant cars or homes, and graciousness to all whom he encountered. Was he perfect? No, in fact he had tendencies towards micromanagement and, under stress, his graciousness bordered on paternalism. So, the emotional intelligence disciplines he practiced and the leadership characteristics he demonstrated created an organizational culture that encouraged respectfulness towards others, pursuit of a shared vision and high standards, but it stopped short of a high performance organization.

Why? Because emotional intelligence does not alone guarantee that an organization will exhibit collaborative behaviors. In this company, collaboration was sporadic and conflict frequent due to a lack of trust and transparency, perhaps caused by the leader's micromanagement. Indeed, there was often in-fighting between departments (silo mentality), and frequent break downs in communication. Despite this, having emotional intelligent leaders is vital for a sustainable collaborative culture to exist. The valuable lessons I learned from this CEO (both positive and negative) really crystallized when I had the opportunity to contrast his style with other leaders. It was then that I came to understand that while emotional intelligence does not ensure collaboration, it is key to facilitate it. More importantly, the absence of emotional intelligence can destroy a culture of collaboration. Like a blast of dynamite crushing rock that took years to form, a collaborative culture can take years to develop and a single act to destroy.

So, what are the characteristics that help create a collaborative environment? It begins with leaders who can create “resonance” through their emotional intelligence. In his book, Primal Leadership, Daniel Goleman teaches that through the domains of: 1. Self-awareness; 2. Self-management; 3. Social awareness; and 4. Relationship management, people can improve the mood and the productivity of people in their “shadow”. In addition, there are certain leadership styles that are more congruent with emotional intelligence and can support the culture of collaboration. For example, visionary leaders “articulate where a group is going, but not how it will get there--setting people free to innovate, experiment, and take calculated risks. . . .” (Goleman: 57). Other styles that support a positive and empathetic environment include coaching, democratic and affiliative styles. In addition, a leader needs to demonstrate authenticity in her practice of leadership, and must strike a balance in leadership style that is designed to align the organization, move it forward and harness its collective power. In short, a leader must communicate effectively, capture “hearts and minds” and create clarity. In contrast, those leaders with a “command and control” style will generally create an organizational climate colored with fear, inefficiency and lacking in commitment. Similarly, those whose pace setting style has outpaced those in their proximity, can create diminished enthusiasm and low morale due to persistently unmet standards. (Goleman: 72). I will describe the contrast in leadership below.

In one organization, I observed a leader who possessed a great deal of emotional intelligence, whose actions supported a collaborative culture. That leader was visionary in style, and created a picture of the future that inspired those around him. He demonstrated compassion, empathy and caring through his words and actions. People began to work together and to share ideas and take down the silos that had a tendency to exist. In particular, the leader had a high degree of social awareness and he managed relationships well. He also captured “hearts and minds” through his messages. The result of his messages and his methods was to align the people of the organization and create and sustain positive momentum. As happens in many organizations, the leader moved on and the new CEO was a textbook opposite-- a “discordant leader”.

I witnessed the destruction of the existing collaborative culture by a leader who was devoid of emotional intelligence. This leader displayed all of the negative aspects of a command style of leadership. That is, he “demanded immediate compliance with orders, but [didn’t] bother explaining the reasons behind them”. (Goleman: 76). While this style might have been effective during the recent downturn in the economy, the CEO lacked all of the key domains of emotional intelligence, and it was evident to all employees nearly immediately. As I like to say, "it isn't the 'what', but the 'how' that matters." So, when the new leader would make comments such as 'I am the CEO, you will do what I say' and become visibly agitated when people asked questions or offered alternative points of view, people started to jockey for position, withhold their opinions, leave the company (citing the change in the mood) and feel demoralized and despondent. It was a stunning transformation: people quite often said ‘it is just a different company’. He was the blast of dynamite thrown at the well-formed culture.

In sum, emotional intelligence is an essential ingredient to collaboration. However, it cannot just be practiced randomly, it must be authentic, consistent and capture the hearts and minds of the organization through a shared vision. This in turn helps to cast the beneficial outcomes of the “shadow of the leader”.

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