Are great leaders born, or made? The debate still rages on, but according to more research and anecdotal evidence, it’s a bit of both.
Malcolm Gladwell suggested in his book Outliers: The Story of Success that our genetically provided IQ functions as a differentiator for success – but only up to a score of about 115. Past that point, other attributes begin to play a much more significant role in separating great leaders from others.
Common to all of us and independent of our IQ score exists a plethora of traits that might be deployed and developed to generate what we consider ‘greatness’ in a leader.
If we wade through the avalanche of research and data on the topic, the superstar of all of these traits looks to be emotional intelligence, also called EQ. This isn’t surprising given the fact we know successful businesses are based on successful relationships. Emotional intelligence is the primary skill to generate effective engagements within your organisation.
By definition, emotional intelligence is the ability to recognise, understand and – most importantly – manage emotions in both yourself and others to create a desired outcome. We’ve known for a while that the capability can be developed, and that many organisations are putting their people through emotional intelligence training. But how do leaders then translate this learned skill into real-time application?
What does it look like and why is it valuable?
Leaders skilled in emotional intelligence:
- Have a heightened capacity to recognise emotional states by continually scanning the interactive climate of self and group;
- Proactively diffuse and ease tense situations that waste time, harm relationships and are counter-productive;
- Have a deepened sense of self-awareness, empathy and emotional agility;
- Have an awareness of and take personal responsibility for their defensive emotions, avoiding finger-pointing;
- Have the ability to respond to conflict in more constructive ways;
- Train themselves to anticipate rough water in vital meetings and create a strategic plan for how to stay afloat, objective and in control, while helping others do the same; and
- Play a tactical role in discussions and in implementing the results that follow.
By comparison, leaders ill-equipped in this space can find themselves slaves to their gut reactions, often burning bridges and defeating the common goal at hand.
Great leaders exercising emotional intelligence serve to tether interactions by focussing on solutions and productive results. They build positive interaction dynamics – the very framework supporting successful business outcomes and one of the hallmarks of great leadership.