Businesses are dealing with increasingly complex and challenging environments at a time when both recruiting and engaging talent seems to be a major problem.
In addressing this challenge it is important that any advice is made as simple as possible, but not simpler. While effective strategies for winning in business with emotional intelligence are cognitively simple, they are behaviourally complex – simple does not mean easy!
1. Use anger wisely
All emotions are useful in some way and I think anger has gotten an undeserved bad reputation. Anger, if used intelligently, has two very useful properties. Firstly it causes us to focus on a target and secondly it increases our confidence in our solution.
Therefore, once you have developed a decent plan, you can use anger to get people focused on implementing the plan. Getting your team a little riled up is a perfect way to stop the paralysis by analysis that slows down many organisations. While anger may not be very helpful in creating plans, it is very helpful in getting them done.
2. Leverage your pessimists
Organisations tend to overly value positive employees, the ones who are ‘agile’ and readily accepting of change. The people who point out problems and issues tend not to be welcomed and, in extreme cases, can be ostracised by the group: “We all agree with John’s plan, what’s your problem?” However, pessimists are the ones who are most sensitised to risk and error. They may be the ones who are saving you from making a major mistake. If you can find a way to tap into their insights you will risk assure your plans. Remember, an optimist invented the aeroplane, but it was a pessimist who invented the parachute.
3. Avoid terminal politeness
Sometimes cultures develop in organisations where the challenging or difficult conversations are avoided, at least explicitly. If we think a colleague has presented a terrible idea we will say nothing in the meeting, but strongly criticise the idea afterwards to our ‘allies’. We can do this to avoid getting into conflict, to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or simply because we feel we won’t be listened to anyway. Developing an ability to have the challenging conversations in the moment and in public will enhance both the effectiveness and efficiency of your interactions.
4. Decide, for goodness sake!
When we are faced with ambiguous, high stakes decisions the safest thing to do often seems to be not to make a decision. We can avoid accountability by kicking the can down the road, e.g. by looking for more research, data or analysis. Another ‘great’ tactic is to look for consensus. But bear in mind that leadership is not a democratic act. If you are in a leadership position you have to take decisions where there are many good options and when there are none. You need your team to be clear that you are taking a decision, but you don’t necessarily need them all to agree with it.
5. Create emotional safety
The higher up you go in an organisation, the more likely it is that the people around you are ensuring that you get a particular perspective on what is going on. The information you receive will be filtered through the impression management motives of the people providing it to you. With this type of data integrity problem you may become the most dangerous person in the organisation. It is important that you make it safe for people to bring you bad news, so that you increase the likelihood of you getting the unvarnished truth in time to do something with it.
Dr. Colm Foster is director of Executive Education at the Irish Management Institute.
Colm has over 20 years’ experience with Ernst & Young in Ireland and Australia and Diageo.
He has operated as a leadership development consultant to organisations in the US, Asia and Ireland – specialising in emotional intelligence, while lecturing in a number of business schools in Ireland and Singapore.
Colm Foster along with Ros O’Shea will lead our IMI CPD For Managers session on ‘A Practical Guide to Ethical Leadership‘ on December 6th 2016.
This article was also featured on Business and Finance.