Outstanding leaders inspire and help people manage their emotions. These leaders know the most powerful ways to motivate people are not just through rational arguments, but through care, compassion, building others, and positive vision. How do you build these leadership capabilities?
May to June 2013, together with an international enrolment of over 50,000, I studied a Coursera course on Emotional Intelligence. I enjoyed vignette teaching videos, assignments that got me asking for (at times scary) feedback from colleagues and friends, and read research papers on brain science. These helped me better understand the benefits of emotionally aware leadership. In this article I’ve distilled my key insights from this highly recommended learning experience.
Learning 1. Resonant Leaders care, and create experiences with the people around them. They help people to understand context and share the greater good of what is being worked on. They inspire and empower others. These people create contagious positive emotions that empower and build more leaders around themselves.
I’ve been fortunate enough to work for two different resonant leaders over the past several years; and looking back can see these hallmarks in their style. Both these people achieved ambitious goals. Their teams admired and followed them “above and beyond”. This occurred in response to authentic care, personal connections, and shared vision.
Learning 2. Leaderships’ silent killer is long term emotional stress. Leadership, particularly senior leadership, can be hard. With many demands to satisfy, pressures and criticisms to withstand, constant adjustments to negotiate and exceptions to deal with the silent killer of leadership is long term chronic emotional stress. Research links such stress with a heightening of the sympathetic nervous system – constricting blood vessels, diminishing immune system function, impairing cognitive functions, perception and emotions. The body prepares for fight or flight responses. Unchecked, long term chronic emotional stress erodes a leaders ability to remain calm and positive – elements critical to empower creativity and confidence in themselves and teams.
Looking at periods where I’ve held stressful senior leader positions I can identify with the sapping of my emotional reserves (i.e. I become cranky and impatient and can tend to get short). I’ve also had chronic coughs, problems sleeping, and have put on weight. I now realise it’s important to renew in face of stress and not ignore such signs.
Learning 3. Resonant leaders overcome chronic emotional stress through hope, compassion, mindfulness, and playfulness. These four key elements have been shown to create the positive emotional feedback loops needed to replenish the parasympathetic nervous system and to power innovation and inner growth. These elements are what power some leaders to retain their spark despite pressure, and to exude positivity to others.
Have you worked for an outstanding leader who seemed always calm and positive?
Did you see these elements in them?
Once again I can answer yes to these two questions when thinking back to a couple of outstanding leaders I’ve worked for.
Action – How to renew, build more resonant relationships, and be a better leader:
- Find your Hope / Vision. People get inspired when they see meaning and identify themselves with larger and more noble aims than the everyday. In one example the CEO of a company that manufactured values for steam piping understood this. He started his annual general meeting taking about small town hospitals and a new generation of babies being born. He showed how crucial hygiene and linen services were only possible because their steam valves reliably move air and steam throughout countless facilities. Find the vision in what you do.
- Practise Compassion. Genuine leaders pick up on and share the pain, joy, and growth of others. They connect. They care enough to listen and sense others emotions. They act to do something about the needs of their people. Get connected with people. Take time out to walk the floors, listen, get to know people.
- Practise Mindfulness. Resonant leaders practice mindfulness – remaining in the moment, being genuine. They take time to be aware of the effect on others of their words and actions. Mindfulness is also strongly linked with reflection, meditation, connecting with our spirituality. Practising mindfulness has been shown to relieve emotional stress and be a wellspring from which these people can then have the calm and strength to lead others. Take time for you. Reflect by writing a journal or taking time to meditate.
- Encourage Playfulness. Positive emotions have been shown to be contagious (as are negative emotions). Laughter, fun, good times with friends, family, team-mates, or even pets have been shown to activate the parasympathetic nervous system. Play renews people, overcoming the effects of chronic stress & rebuilding positivity. Take time to play with people (or pets) you love. Encourage social events.
Do these ring true?
What actions can you start practising today?
- 4 simple ideas for great leadership
- YouTube Video – Robert Sapolsky – Stress Response: Saviour to Killer (5 mins 10 secs)
- YouTube Video – Barbara Fredrickson: Positive Emotions Transform Us (7 mins 36 sec)
Acknowledgement: The information in this post must be credited to the Coursera Course “Inspiring Leadership through Emotional Intelligence”; run by Richard Boyatzis from the Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland USA) May – June 2013.