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EQ for Leaders – Tuning into others

One of the traits I notice in myself is that I am quick to find faults in others, and slow to recognize their gifts and strengths. I wonder if this is a defensive mechanism for me to feel safe- cocooned in the false belief that I am better than others. It’s exhilarating to think I’m on top of the heap.

And at times when I’m confronted with the stark, clear, irrefutable data that someone around me is smarter, capable, more competent, I feel very small. It’s painful and even threatening.
Competition and comparisons are deeply coded into my DNA, and it requires effort to watch it without getting caught up in it. But in order to relate meaningfully with people around me, I want to be in a space of balance- where beyond the shortcomings, I can deeply appreciate their beauty and grace, otherwise I’m shutting off doors of connections.

From my conversations with leaders, I find it’s not very different for them. Much of humanity is brought up on a diet of receiving messages of ‘not good enough’, and we get embroiled in our own quest to find self-worth. We feel disappointment at low performance; overwhelmed at the enormity of objectives; maybe even defeated with a setback; angry with a team; self-doubt at whether I’m good enough, and our own craving for appreciation. The leader then feels pressured and tends to focus on critical thinking – how to make improvements in the status quo, improve quality, and drive for excellence.

But an emotionally intelligent leader swims past these emotions to find inner resources to provide a positive climate and make employees feel respected, valued and significant. Bringing in this energy charges the environment, creates a heart connection where people contribute willingly and enthusiastically. Needless to say, if the feelings are not genuine and honest, it rings false, and falls flat on the face.

Demonstrating this positive regard can be done by small gestures like :
1. Acknowledging team member’s feelings: Notice energy levels around you- and relate it to the expressions you are seeing- whether of agreement, excitement or conversely – discomfort, confusion. Ask them: ‘I see from your expression you are not fully convinced. Tell me your concerns’.
When people’s feelings are not acknowledged, lingering feelings clutter effective action.
But by validating emotions, you are helping them feel understood, so that they can move forward unhindered.

2. Show that you care: A good leader knows when to push: ‘I hear your concerns about the stretch targets, but I believe you have the potential. You know the market like no one else.’ And alternatively to look at the worried face of an employee and say: ‘I heard your mother was hospitalized today. What are you doing here at work? Take 2 days off and be with her.’

3. Tuning into the employees: It could be a good practice for the leader to walk through the department or area, and stop and ask employees how its going. Listen with an open mind, seeking to understand the speaker’s message, asking clarifying questions.
After joining Ford in 2006 as CEO of Ford, Alan Mulally stopped going to the executive dining room on the top floor of Ford’s world headquarters and ate in the cafeteria. He would pick a table with an empty chair, ask if he could sit down and then start asking the surprised engineers, sales reps or accountants how they thought Ford was doing and what it could do better.

4. Appreciate, praise, recognize: When the CEO of a mid-sized pharma company in western India travels to another location, he chats with the location head before entering the office, and asks: ‘Tell me the names of 3 people in the last few months who have done something special or went out of their way to achieve a work goal, and describe what they did’ And when the leader walks into the office premises, he greets everyone, and stops by these 3 tables and says: I really appreciate what you did last week with …..’
emotional-intelligence-tuning  into others
5. Connect them to the big picture: When you take the trouble of summarizing the year’s ‘hits and misses’ and share it with the employees in a town hall in the simplest language possible, and also convey your appreciation for their hard work so far, and what needs to do done further.you are making people feel significant and conveying their contributions are important.

6. Take risks on people: An effective leader notices talent and says why don’t we give this person an opportunity to grow. He takes risks on unproven material but keeps a watchful eye to applaud successes and give feedback and another chance in case of failure. This emotional investment develops people and wins their loyalty.
When an engineer at Ford sent a mail to Mullaly, complaining that Ford’s hood designs were too complex, the CEO asked him to come up to his office with the drawings. They studied them together and, on the spot, Mulally made the guy the head of new task force to address the problem.

7. Ask for feedback: As a leader it’s important to assess the messages you send to employees. Sometimes the best way to know what they are thinking is to ask. If you feel comfortable, tell them it will help you become a better leader. And when you genuinely listen, it will help improve relationships and bonds with employees.
Ask questions such as:
Is there something I can do to help you become more effective?
Is there something I can stop doing which will make you feel better?

Every person has different needs, so in essence the leader has to develop a radar to sense feelings and perspectives of others. Tuning in to people comes naturally to some , while for others it may have to be a learned skill. But it does require you to be in a state of calmness and curiosity, to watch your own emotions like a hawk. And know yourself so well that you can identify your triggers, and sense fear or anger arriving. And when they arrive, feel them fully without running away from them. Observing your feelings, accepting the ‘as is’ creates its own freedom. For if you don’t operate from a place of ‘knowingness’, your own feelings will create further feelings. E.g. disgust at your annoyance, disturbance at your anxiety and underperformance.

And as you maintain your stance as an observer, you will be able to watch all of these as though watching a movie. Without attaching yourself to any of the emotions. Knowing that emotions are like guests- they will come and go, but the real self will remain unaffected- just like the screen is blank even while the movie is being screened on it.

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