How do you motivate people to do what you want? Do you stand in their shoes and take time to understand their perspective, just as Sheriff Christopher Swanson did in Michigan on the weekend? Putting down his protective gear and walking with the crowd outraged by the death of George Floyd last week, he clearly demonstrated empathy and a great understanding of communication. Despite his powerful language,
“We want to be with you all for real,”
his use of non-verbal cues and tone of voice was far ‘louder’ in speaking to those around him.
Sheriff Swanson spoke with authenticity. His position of power, used with integrity, provided a natural opportunity to gain the respect of protestors and he became one of them, but leading with a sense of calm and emotional awareness. Swanson is a natural leader.
Contrast that to police in Washington. Their presence in the news this week is for all the wrong reasons, using control and intimidation that builds fear and anxiety, activating the brain’s fight-flight-freeze system.
This scenario might feel far-fetched in terms of the lengths people in authority will go to, but the parallels with businesses are there. Demands to return to the workplace, the threat of legal action, the ‘I’m boss and this is how we do it’ approach are all hindering progress. Employees aren’t able to empathise, problem solve, be creative, plan and communicate clearly when they’re in a state of high emotional arousal. And that stops people from trusting and supporting each other.
Daniel Goleman cites that emotional intelligence is twice as important as intellect for leadership. Yet Harvard Business Review found that even though most people believe they are self-aware, they estimate only 10%–15% of people actually fit the criteria. It’s a common misconception that people who are experienced as leaders and managers are emotionally competent but their job title often inflates a false sense of confidence about performance.
When is the last time your reflected on your own emotional skills based on feedback, questioning assumptions and checking out your approach with an independent ear? In fact, when is the last time you consciously thought about how to demonstrate emotional awareness in your communication? Are you focusing on driving the business forward, determined to ride out the storm at any cost, or are you positioning your role as someone to lead a joint venture with your teams, identifying what people are seeking, how to meet their needs and how to plan for a future that works for all? Acknowledging anxieties with empathy, providing reassurance and regular check-ins and showing that you want to get it right for your employees reduces their threat response and increases the feeling of emotional safety.
The trajectory for beliefs and behaviours in your company is set by you, in your position of power, and that is significantly shaped by the degree of emotional intelligence present. Being interested in what other people think, feel and experience, focusing on building emotional connections, and creating a culture where people can be their best are what stands great organisations apart from others.
What would people say about your organisation?
What would people say about you?
People in positions of authority are rarely experts in everything necessary for great leadership, and when they think they are, it is worrying. Use professionals around you to listen and guide. I provide a friendly ear to hear what you’re finding challenging and to explore what might help. Free guidance… why not?
Harvard Business Review: What Self-Awareness Really is (and How to Cultivate it), Jan 04, 2018
New York Times, 31 May 2020
BBC News, 1 June 2020