Emotional Intelligence, Emotional Agility, and Leadership

Their interconnected nature in a very successful leader

Emotional intelligence is a topic that I have covered many times here in this setting. And I have explored the relationship between higher levels of emotional intelligence and overall success in life. Therefore, it is worthy of some additional coverage because of the major influence it has on your success as a leader. More importantly, it is worthy due to the fact that these are skills that can be learned and developed.

The key to understanding the link between emotional intelligence and leadership is the development of the sense of how our persona and how we communicate our ideas are being received by those that we are leading. Can we agree that most of our communication is non-verbal? A fellow writer on this site and a dear friend for many years has a mirror on his desk that was given to him in a training session more than 20 years ago. It serves to remind him that even when we are on the telephone, when we’re smiling, the attitude transmits and is received by the person on the other end of the line.

Intuitive or Learned

For many leaders, this is intuitive. For many, it is not. This is not to be considered as an indictment against those to whom it is not intuitive. There are many leadership styles and there are many successful leaders who don’t care one whit about “Emotional Intelligence”.

But my point is that as a leader we should want to care about how we are perceived by those we lead. We should learn that part of “seeing the big picture” is being able to communicate that picture in authentic and personal ways to those around us. We should want to use words and approaches that are meaningful to the receiver.

Emotional Intelligence has been likened to the graphic equalizer control in music. It tweaks the sound with a range from high to low and it adds depth and color to the sound. The actual lyrics or the musical melody are only a small fraction of the message in the music.

Emotional Intelligence can be learned, developed and maximized with a little awareness and little more effort. And it is incumbent upon us as leaders to do whatever we can to maximize our effectiveness.

The Leadership Application

So many of the world’s problems, and the issues that organizations, businesses, and people face every day can seem intractable and unsolvable. Leadership consultants Ronald Heifetz, Alexander Grashow, and Marty Linsky discussed a new way to lead the charge to change in their book in 2009 entitled, “Adaptive Leadership”.

Adaptive Leadership calls for moving beyond outdated approaches and embracing new skills and attitudes to guide your organization in the 21st century. Adaptive leadership combines established ways of leading with new skills and new perspectives for dealing with unprecedented challenges.

As many of you are aware, I have just finished writing a book about this need for adaptive leadership. I chose to talk about it in terms of being “agile” in our leadership. I don’t believe the words are interchangeable. But they are certainly synergistic. And this new book is all about making this topic applicable to every leader, regardless of their inherent leadership style.

Adaptive or Agile

The differences for me are subtle. But they are real. An adaptive leader is usually discussed in terms of their ability to bring change to an organization or to guide the organization through a change that may be thrust upon them. Agile leaders, on the other hand, are more concerned with the people and the processes that will be affected by the change. And, perhaps even more important, they are able to adapt quickly as each situation unfolds.

If it were easy, everyone would be adaptive or agile leaders and everyone would be successful. It is important to note, that in most organizations, the status quo is acceptable. Growth is considered good, while change is often viewed as bad. The problem is that people tend to create an environment in which they’re most comfortable, regardless of how dysfunctional it may in fact be. People fear the loss of the familiar far more than they fear change. Many will even resist change when they know that it’s a good thing and necessary in order for the organization to survive and remain viable to its mission.

As leaders, we must adjust our approach to assessing and address how we guide people through their “losses” (real or imagined). We must learn to discern between “technical” and “agile” issues.

This is the crux of agile leadership. For example, in a merger or an acquisition, grafting together two firms’ computer environments is actually a technical job. A team of certified systems or software engineers can handle that task. However, figuring out how, and discovering the synergies between each company’s culture and values is an agile leadership challenge that requires a healthy understanding of the role that emotions and emotional intelligence plays in the ultimate success of the merger.

So what is the emotionally agile leader to do? 

Agile leadership is built on the foundation of higher degrees of emotional intelligence than the typical leader may possess. Finding a way to bring convergent organizations and teams together while keeping the energy, enthusiasm, knowledge, wisdom, values and the energy that created that original organization is crucial to finding new ways of leading and facing the new challenges that come our way on a daily basis. Agile leadership happens when we communicate and connect on a level that is not solely based on facts and data.

And here is one final leadership truth. People don’t learn by staring in the mirror; they learn by engaging with others. Agile leaders welcome different viewpoints and resolve conflict across organizational and individual boundaries. But conflict is inevitable. And change is disruptive. Agile leaders must be willing to go the extra mile and they must prepare for and offset these emotional reactions that our followers will experience.

What kind of leader are you? 

Do you see a need for agile leadership in your organization? Do you see yourself as an agile leader? And if you are not one currently, do you see yourself developing the skills to become one?

The Emotionally Agile Leader is all about helping you develop the skills to adapt to this chaotic world in which we live.

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I am the husband of a beautiful and wonderful woman. I am the father of two of the greatest kids on the planet. I am a father-in-law to a great young woman. And I am Papa to three very special grandchildren. In my spare time I am an active blogger and writer. And if there is any time left over, I work with small non-profit organizations and churches on the topics of change management, crisis intervention and leadership development.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.