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LEADERSHIP: A journey to becoming emotionally intelligent

I heard a most disturbing comment from a top executive about the CEO of the company – “He does not believe in the soft stuff; it’s all about results!” The reason I found this disturbing was that the ‘soft stuff’ being referred to was people and relationships; the ‘results’ being money and profit!

There are probably a number of people out there thinking – ‘a CEO after my own heart’. There are probably also a number of leadership practitioners out there saying that this approach is archaic.

I definitely side with the leadership response. One would think that where leadership principles and practices are constantly proving to be related to high performing teams, employee engagement and remarkable results, more CEOs would know better. Sadly, this is not the case.

A controlling management style is still strongly favoured, as it gives quick results, while leadership still seems to be the ‘nice to have’.

The overall problem, I believe, is the rigid focus on short term results. Shareholders and the management team, in general, see the bottom line in terms of profit against target and think they have arrived. What they miss, is that they are not tapping into the true potential of their people; potential that really makes a company remarkable – and ultimately MORE PROFITABLE!

Why the outdated approach? 

There are a number of reasons as to why a controlling management style is the preference for many CEO and managers. The biggest factor is the false sense of security of being ‘in control’.

Control offers certainty, which brings with it a sense of power for the CEO or manager so that he or she feels important. Leadership, however, is just the opposite, as it aims to empower employees and make them feel important.

A possible an underlying reason for this need for power could be self-interest. CEOs or top managers who are determined to continue on the purely profit driven path do so because it is good for them. And when I say good for them, I am referring to their bank balances and opportunities for promotion.

Their relationship is with the shareholders not with their people. In fact, they probably care very little for their people, except when it is necessary to ‘sell the masses’ a story to get them to work. They are solely concerned about the figures so that their incentives grow.

After all, they are incentivized to grow the business so there is no reason for them to concern themselves with growing the people. They leave this to the Training Manager. The problem though is that in this type of environment, the Training Manager probably thinks the same way!

People are not stupid; they soon come to realise that they are not really valued. They realise that training in the company is done to meet the numbers (BBB-EE scorecards), not because employees are valued. The result is an organisational environment built on poor engagement, distrust and unhappiness. This is of course denied by top management, as they get the praise for bringing in the money. After all, the figures don’t lie!

Where could this thinking come from?

One could argue for upbringing and background, but ultimately, I believe it is role-modeled behaviour that is the cause of this misguided approach. Role models are very powerful influences and they condition a person to see the world in a very specific way.

Leadership guru, Simon Sinek talks of all the start-up CEOs in Silicone Valley, who have read Steve Jobs’s story, and now believe that to be successful they have to be a…holes!

People idolize the success story based on the money, as the world communicates that money is power, fame and esteem.

What is lost in this process is the importance of people and ultimately, the impact on the people. In a scene from the movie Taken, the human trafficker pleas for his life; stating it was not personal only business. Likewise, companies come to treat employees as commodities; to be traded for the CEO’s and top management’s self-interests.

Managers need to remember that they are in positions of authority. Good or bad, people will look to them for the standard as to what success looks like and how people should be treated.

When someone is vulnerable and insecure in their own private life, this approach of control and power becomes very attractive to them. They will look to any form of role-modeled behavior that helps them escape their insecurities. What better way to do this than to manage for control and power?

How to avoid falling into this trap?

To avoid this trap, CEOs and managers have to develop emotional intelligence competencies.

The competencies, as identified in Daniel Goleman’s model relate to the four domains of EQ. These are self and social awareness, as well as self and relationship management. The competencies are areas that can be developed and have been shown to be instrumental in true success. These are, as per the domains:

  • Emotional self-awareness, accurate self-assessment and self-confidence;
  • Empathy, organisational awareness and service orientation;
  • Self-control, transparency, adaptability, achievement drive and initiative;
  • Inspirational leadership, developing others, influence, change catalyst, conflict management, building bonds and teamwork and collaboration.

This is the ‘soft stuff’. It is however, a place from where remarkable things happen. A place where untapped potential is unleashed, true connection happens and genuine success is found. Money is not real success; it’s a never-ending struggle for more and more. To me that sounds like a place of real discontent.

The research into the impact of emotional intelligence is vast and widely accessible. To think that today’s top CEOs still insist on practicing long outdated management practices shows that while they may be educated they are not wise.

A wise CEO will know that his first priority is to take care of his people. He empowers them to become the organisation’s success story – not him. He does this by focusing on the ‘soft stuff’ – the stuff that really matters! This is leadership, where the people really matter.

Bruniquel & Associates (Pty) Ltd

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