Tag Archives: Emotional intelligence

Leadership and listening beyond the words

Last week, we launched our flagship leadership coach training product, Ignite, in Italy. I had the great pleasure of spending time with our partners in Rome.  They ran the course for a dozen leaders and coaches keen to learn our model.  My job was to listen, observe and support – and my biggest challenge was the listening.

I think it would be fair to say that learning new languages has never been one of my strengths – although I’m happy to be convinced this is merely a belief, and look forward to some offers of great coaching on this topic! Over the years, about the furthest I have got is to learn how to order a beer and ask for the bill. I’m proud to say I can now do this in eight different languages.

However, this limited vocabulary was going to be of little use to me as I observed my colleagues run the program. I had also promised to say a few words to kick the thing off, and thought it might be a bit early in the day for a beer, so I added another phrase to my vocabulary – “Mi dispiace, non parlo italiano” which ( I hope) means “I’m sorry, I don’t speak Italian”.

They were very tolerant of me and, after I’d finished, I sat quietly at the back of the room and watched the experts get on with running the course. As I was listening, I saw what a great practical example this was of what we always knew about learning – that it is about more than just the words.

It is often said that only 7% of the success of our communications is down to the words we use. Albert Mehrabian published research in 1981 where the 7-38-55 rule first appeared – 7% of the message is conveyed by words, 38% by tone of voice, and 55% by body language. In fact, his research was much narrower, about how we convey and interpret feelings – the rule determines how much we like someone when they’re talking about their feelings. It’s been incorrectly applied more widely over the years.

However, other studies have come up with a range of different ratios showing the importance of words versus the non-verbal elements and there clearly is a contribution to the success of our communication from both. When we deliver our leadership coach training programme, we are always flexing our style between trainer, facilitator and coach. My inability to understand Italian became less important as I could clearly see my colleagues using these different styles.

It was a great reminder about some core lessons about listening. It’s a vital skill for coaches to have and, of course, for leaders too. There are many reasons why this is so. For example, how often do we hear about major disasters that have ruined the reputation of companies where somebody in the organisation could see it was going to happen but nobody listened to them.

Also, when you think back to the great bosses, that you have had, my guess is that one quality they all share was that you felt listened to, and that builds loyalty and engagement.

The good news is that it’s possible to build this muscle – and the bad news is it needs constant practice. If you’d like to look at slightly different approach to improving your listening, then I’d recommend  “The Listening Book” by W.A. Mathieu.

I’d be really interested to hear your tips on building the skill of listening; how it impacts on your leadership, and any books you’d recommend. Buon ascolto!”

Leadership and Only Connect

I had fun earlier this year taking part in a TV quiz show on BBC4, called Only Connect, hosted by Victoria Coren. I formed a team with two old friends of mine and, because it had been my idea, they wanted me to be captain. I’m still not sure if this was a leadership privilege or a curse. The show was broadcast a couple weeks ago and so we are finally allowed to talk about the result. I’ll save you the trouble of watching it and tell you that although we lost, some kind people said that we emerged with some credit.

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Influential leadership: what you need to know

Captain’s Blog

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What’s the one thing about leadership you need to know?  What is it your boss needs to know you know?

It’s got to be said: everything a leader says or does creates an impact. Body language, the way he or she walks into the room; what they say and the way the say it.  The leader has the single biggest impact on driving performance: up or down.

Team members are looking for direction from our leaders, explicitly or otherwise; and our leaders hand down that direction in the subtlest of ways.  The team will pick up on a vocal nuance, a raised eyebrow, or the way papers are shuffled at the beginning of a meeting.  The interpretation they make of these actions will impact upon what happens outside that room as they apply the direction they’ve ‘heard’.

I’m hearing this feedback from the leaders I coach and members of their teams, as well as from directing my own teams.  The good news is that their experience is backed up by organisational research evidence.  To remind myself of these sources, I turned to the work of Daniel Goleman, the ’emotional intelligence’ expert, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee, who together wrote a book published in the US under the title ‘Primal Leadership*’ and in the UK as ‘The New Leaders’.

Their focus is on the ‘resonant leader’ and they used a “global database of 3,871 executives in which several factors that influenced the working environment were assessed”.  Two key findings were that “leadership styles affected financial results, such as return on sales, revenue growth, efficiency, and profitability”; and “leaders who used styles with a positive emotional impact saw decidedly better returns than those that did not”. 

What this tells us, regardless of whether you work for the private, public or not-for-profit sector, is that your bottom line – however measured – is impacted on by your leaders.

Cutting to the chase, what’s the one thing we can do as leaders to improve our bottom line (however measured)?  Find out what motivates the people who work for us – one by one – and play to their strengths.  Leadership isn’t all about us; it’s about a successful team and we unlock that success when we know what their strengths are and what really motivates people.

Watching the Australia/England cricket highlights this week I heard a great line which I’m paraphrasing here: ‘play to your team’s strengths, not to the opposition’s weaknesses’.  We can only do this when we truly get to know the people who work with and for us.

So if you’re having a tough week at work and the signals you’re getting from your boss are driving down your motivation and performance, print this out and leave it in a prominent place.  Your boss needs to know how to unlock your success and he/she needs to know that you know it too.

 

*Quoted from: “Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence”, Goleman D., Boyatzis R., McKee A., Harvard Business School Press, 2002, pp53/54.  The reference to the original database is set out on p.265.