Leadership is a broad topic that is arguably challenging to define and more of a journey than a destination. Although complex, most will agree that leadership possesses four core elements: a leader, follower(s), the presence of influence, and an objective. People strive to be great leaders, but they aren’t always able to describe what it means to become one or how to identify when they have.
With an extensive number of variables and characteristics associated with leadership, it’s important to understand that the foundational base of leadership is the relationship between a leader and follower(s). Undeniably, this relationship is the conduit for communication, management of perceptions, motivation, and willingness to collaborate. The leader-follower relationship is the “ship” in leadership. The problem is that the relationship value component is often overlooked or undervalued when leaders are faced with competing priorities.
Recent research shows that the quality of the leader-follower relationship significantly influences the follower(s) performance and commitment. The quality of the relationships between you (the leader) and your followers is based on individual perceptions. At times, your perspective may not align with the perspective of individuals on your team. This lack of alignment fosters a potential for stress on the relationship, decreased leader effectiveness, communication challenges, and/or may result in feelings of frustration or resentment by the follower(s). However, if managed effectively, differences in perspectives can be leveraged to enhance problem-solving, creativity, and ultimately increase an organization’s competitive advantage.
So how do you navigate leader-follower relationships? According to Harvard Business Review article “Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance,” a leader’s principal responsibility is effectively managing emotions. Your mood as a leader has a profound effect on the culture and relationship between you and your team; therefore, your ability to effectively manage your emotions and the emotions of others is critical to the success of the business.
Following Daniel Goleman’s model from his book, Emotional Intelligence, emotional intelligence is composed of four essential elements: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management and relationship management.
Although the concepts are simple, the execution of these elements quickly becomes complicated. Here are four tips on how to enhance your emotional intelligence as a leader and sustain healthy leadership relationships.
Monitor your personal feelings and emotions by asking yourself, “How do I feel right now? Am I happy, sad, mad, frustrated, or feeling a different emotion?” Then ask yourself, “Why do I feel this way?” The more often you check the status of your emotions and identify the source or trigger, the higher your self-awareness will increase.
When first learning to enhance self-awareness, I recommend that you keep a journal of your emotions throughout the day. This will assist you in the process of routinely checking the status of your emotions and highlighting any emotional patterns and/or correlations with specific events.
Mastering self-awareness is dependent on your ability to identify your mood, feelings, and emotions in the present moment, then connect those emotions to a source or trigger.
2. Social Awareness
Observe and identify the emotions and feelings of your team members as you engage with them. Watch their body language, listen closely to what they are saying, and monitor for changes in emotions and mood. Be conscious of the fact that the words people communicate will not always match their body language. When this occurs, ask validating questions to confirm the individual’s true perspective. You may not always get a clear answer, but you will often discover there is more to consider than the initial answer.
You have the power to make situations better or worse in every interaction; there is always something you can say to dampen or improve it. Notice that I did not say, “solve the problem” — just improve the situation.
Providing a proper response is easy during the good times, but it can be infinitely more difficult during times of stress or conflict. In the midst of stressful or intense situations, take a deep breath and wait five seconds before responding. This mental timeout will allow your brain time to logically process the information and increase the probability that you will respond rationally. In addition, prior to responding, think about what response will create the best result and avoid responding with charged emotions, retaliation, insult and or an attempt to seek justice.
4. Relationship Management
A leader skilled in relationship management is similar to a surgeon who can navigate multiple changing variables while constructing positive changes. The relationship between you and your team is delicate, and your ability to apply precision to the navigation and management of emotions increases your potential for leadership effectiveness.
Mistakes are easy to make; so how do you give direction, assign difficult tasks, provide feedback, hold people accountable and maintain trust? Well, it’s not simple, and there is no single magic bullet for success, but, there are things you can do to position yourself for success. Be honest, concise, consistent and clear with your communication. Before criticizing someone’s performance, reflect on whether you provided clear and specific guidance.
Maintain an unyielding, ethical commitment to make the right decision, even if it costs you personally. Invest in the success of others. Provide your team members one-on-one support, spend time with them, listen to their ideas and demonstrate an authentic interest in them as people. Unfortunately, not all leaders treat and engage their team members like they are on the same team. What would your team members say if you asked them, “Do I support you as a leader?”
The pursuit of leadership excellence is an ongoing journey that requires effort, an open-mind, self-reflection, and a willingness to receive constructive feedback. Leaders who take the time to establish and foster authentic and non-threatening relationships with team members will increase their leadership effectiveness and organizational performance.
By Ben Weber
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Management is a task most of us simply learn on the job—and those jobs are changing at a rapid speed. Now, it’s more common to talk about learning mindsets and skills training as if leadership is yet another talent you have to develop yourself.