New Leadership through the Lens of Emotions

Emotions and specifically emotional intelligence are synonymous with effective leadership in today’s organisations. How leaders manage their emotions, mange their relationships and make changes to their emotional style have been topics of conversation for some time. Recent studies about the benefits from positive emotions offer new insights.

Daniel Goleman’s pioneering work tells us that whilst IQ is the best predictor of what kind of job you will be able to hold. It typically takes an IQ of 115 or above to handle the cognitive complexity, facing a professional or top executive. The paradox is, once you’re in a high IQ position, intellect loses its power to determine who will become the most productive and effective leader. How you manage yourself and your relationships – your emotional intelligence matters more.

In a high IQ job pool, Goleman says that soft skills like discipline, drive and empathy mark those who emerge as outstanding. EQ (emotional quotient) typically accounts for 80% of this leadership success. This finding holds as true for CEO and board level leaders as it does for any other leader, according to research from Mullwood Partnership.

Given the critical role emotional intelligence plays in leadership success, surely mastery of how we manage ourselves, manage our relationships and adapt our leadership style to increase effectiveness must be at the heart of every leader’s development?

Negative Emotions: Narrow Choice and Develop Specific Action Tendencies

Most readers of this blog will have had some leadership coaching on how to manage their own emotions and the emotions of others in the workplace. The mantras, ‘take the heat out’, ‘keep a cool head’ and ‘don’t let your emotions interfere with business’ are probably familiar to you.

The problem with this advice is that it only helps us to manage negative emotions. For our ancestors, negative emotions helped them to narrow in on a specific set of actions, saving their skin in the moment. (Often, in life and death situations.) Whilst our operating environment has changed, we still rely on this ancestral script. For example, if we are fearful, we want to escape, if we are angry we want to attack, if we are sad we want to withdraw and if we feel shame we want to disappear.

Leaders learn early on that letting rip with the full power of our negative emotions isn’t required, except in emergencies, and it doesn’t necessarily produce the best results in the workplace. Through self-management we learn to constrain our negative emotional spectrum and help others to do the same. We become masters in the art of emotional neutrality, able to block out our hard-wired action tendencies and do what is required in the moment to take the heat out and keep a cool head.

Emotional management is an important skill. When you need to have difficult conversations, make tough decisions, close facilities or make people redundant, ‘keeping your powder dry’ is essential. However, being able to manage negative emotions won’t make you an emotionally intelligent leader. For that you also need to understand positive emotions and how extraordinary performance requires focus on both negative and positive psychology in the workplace.

Positive Emotions: Broaden and Build

Professor Barbara Fredrickson from the University of North Carolina one of the world’s leading scholars in emotion science says that positive emotions open us up. They broaden our momentary thought-action repertoires and widen the array of thoughts and actions that come to mind.

For example the experience of joy creates the urge to play, to push the limits and be creative. Interest creates an urge to explore, take in new information and new experience, pride encourages us to dream big and achieve more and inspiration aspires us to excellence. This broadening builds enduring personal resources such as creativity, learning and change agility, resilience and the capacity to get out of the weeds and see the big picture. These resources function as reserves that can be drawn upon when you need them.

Our day to day experiences of positive emotions function like a daily diet, which can be rich in all kinds of nutrients like eating five or ten fruits and vegetables a day. We need a variety of positive emotions and a steady diet to keep us learning and growing and becoming the best versions of ourselves over time. It’s not the case that eating one piece of broccoli this year is going to make you healthy! You and those who work with you need a steady diet of positive emotions, day in and day out.

In the Future of Management, Gary Hamel says that for organisations to be fit for the future they need to be fit for human beings. He identifies the biggest challenges facing organisations today as:

    • Accelerated change: Building a company that can change as fast as change itself.
    • Hyper-competition: Building a company where innovation is the work of everybody, everyday.
    • Creating new knowledge: Building a company where people are willing to bring the ‘gifts’ of their initiative, creativity & passion.

To meet these challenges we need leaders who can unleash and mobilise the full potential, imagination, initiative and passion of every employee, every day. If you want to inspire, engage, even elevate people and produce extraordinary performance in the process you need to become a positive ‘climate engineer’. The tiny engine that will power your leadership climate is positive emotion.

Psychology Insights for Extraordinary Organisation Performance

Back in 2005, I was HR Director for BAE Systems Air Support. Looking for new ways to drive the extraordinary performance required to execute the business strategy I turned to the new field of positive psychology.

The business was doing well with a solid order book, £1 billion turnover and profit in line with expectations. We also had a superb management board with a shared ambition to double the size of the business in the next five years. Our strategy was to move beyond the design and development of military aircraft and provide new services, namely maintenance work and capability upgrades for in-service aircraft.

This was unchartered territory, we needed approaches that would help us engage our workforce with the new strategy, encourage extraordinary performance from our people and build from our leadership strengths during a time of significant change.

Positive Psychology

Scouting for ideas I discovered the fledgling field of positive psychology. This offered a profoundly different approach to the way organisations, manage and create value through people. Positive interventions are unique in that they are aimed at optimal functioning rather than just functioning.

Imagine a person recovering from surgery and visiting a physiotherapist. The physiotherapist engages the client in physical activity with the goal of recovering ‘normal’ functioning. In other words moving along a scale from say a -3 to a zero.

Now think about a person visiting a personal trainer at the gym. The trainer engages in many of the same activities, running the client through repetitive physical exercise, but this time with the aim of taking an already healthy body and making it perform even better. For example this time moving from +3 to +8.

This simple explanation gave me the light bulb moment I had been looking for.  I realised that many of the approaches in use within organisations for leading and managing people stop short. They deliver neutral levels of performance at best. Not bad but not that good either.

I began to believe that there was as much, or more to be gained from capitalising on strengths and positivity as there was in trying to overcome weaknesses and fix problems. We needed to generate extraordinary levels of performance. It was time to try a different approach.

It was a risk, it could have gone badly wrong. However positive psychology is built on a foundation of careful study and empirical evidence, so the risk didn’t feel so large.

By 2007 we had a number of ‘first of their kind’ availability contracts under our belt and had doubled business turnover to £2 billion sooner than anticipated. In addition the leadership development, strategic change and employee engagement approaches we used were awarded a Gold Chairman’s Award for outstanding contribution to business success.

If you are looking for new approaches on how to improve leadership effectiveness, employee engagement and the execution of organisational and behavioural change, positive psychology offers impactful tried and tested solutions.

The Science of Emotions

At the heart of positive psychology is the science of emotions. Professor Barbara Fredrickson from the University of North Carolina is one of the world’s leading scholars. I recently had the opportunity to learn directly from Barbara in a cutting edge masterclass packed with insights on how positive emotions boost energy, relationships, performance and health. Of particular note, they provide the key ingredient for sustaining behavioural change.

Look out for future blogs where I will be talking about some of the leading edge ideas from emotion science and positive psychology and how they can be applied in the workplace.

Read more about the BAE Systems case study.

CEOs what do they need to be good at?

Recent research from Mullwood Partnership offers a relevant and insightful answer to this question. The research describes how the role of the CEO is changing and examines the wider range of skills that are now required in order to perform and lead effectively at this level.

How must existing CEOs adapt and what needs to change about how we identify and develop the next generation of CEOs?

During 2012 Andrea Adams, Triumpha’s Managing Director (for those who don’t know her) had the opportunity to collaborate with Mullwood Partnership. They invited her to write up their first piece of major research called, ‘Broadening the CEO Selection Pool: where will our future leaders come from?

The findings summarise the views of 135 business leaders from around the world and clearly identify the experience, skills and behaviours that make a ‘stellar’ CEO as opposed to a merely ‘good’ one.

The Key Points

The research reveals that:

  • The best future CEOs will not necessarily come from the traditional routes of Finance and Operations, the talent selection pool will need to be wider.
  • Pre-requisites for today’s CEOs appear to be proven capability as an MD, followed by depth in their chosen sector and a multi-functional background.
  • Aspiring CEOs need to:
  • Express interest in becoming an MD/CEO. Don’t assume others know of your ambitions.
  • Build breadth as early as you can in your career by working outside of your home function.
  • People leadership is the CEO’s supreme differentiator. It singlehandedly distinguishes the best CEOs from the rest.

For more, download a copy of the full research report, Broadening the CEO Selection Pool: where will our future leaders come from.

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Talent Management in the Downturn

For organisations to be fit for the future they need to be fit for human beings according to Gary Hamel. We agree with his statement and in this article we consider some of the most pressing talent management challenges facing senior leaders and HR professionals as we emerge from the downturn.

Key points include:

  • The down turn is not just economic its psychological and emotional. Employees are tired and need help to reignite their passion, productivity and creativity.
  • Talent management approaches must help employees to find meaning at work. Leaders need to be able to convey the true spirit of their organisation and how its purpose goes beyond making money to also making a difference.
  • Translating external customer expectations into internal behaviours attunes the workforce to the needs of the market and leads to an informed employee voice.
  • To future proof their organisation leaders need to embrace what it means to be human and balance this with the needs of the business.

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Leadership Coaching: How CEOs & Senior Leaders Build Resilience and Capacity for Change

Where do you turn when you want to improve leadership effectiveness, resilience and capacity for change? Leadership coaching is a proven approach, so we invited Ann Scoular, founder of  Meyler Campbell and author of the Financial Times Guide to Business Coaching  to join a Triumpha network event group of CEOs and HR Leaders to share her views.

We transcribed the event so if you would like a copy of the transcript, please use the download link below.

Key Discussion Points

  • How to think clearly and effectively using the ’Big 5’ approach.
  • Key insights from neuroscience about behavioural change and how to sustain performance over time.
  • The hallmarks of effective leadership coaches.
  • 10 tough questions to ask a leadership coach.
  • An explanation for teenage behavior and why education is worth the effort.

Compared with only one generation ago, the amount of incoming data leaders need to process has multiplied hugely, and our processor (the brain) isn’t keeping pace. So where do we turn for that extra edge? Leadership coaching is often the answer.

Anne’s view is that working with a great leadership coach is “the equivalent of plugging in some extra processing capacity. With a great coach its like plugging into the National Grid – a surge of energy and clear focus that recharges the batteries and hauls us back to peak form.”

To download a copy of the transcript from this exclusive networking event, please enter your details below.

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Mapping a Strategic Approach to HR Leadership

The quality of HR Leadership in organisations is mixed. When we talk to HR professionals about working strategically, we typically find that ‘common sense is not common practice’. Sometimes people don’t understand what to do, or more usually they understand what to do, but they don’t do it, what we call the ‘knowing-doing’ gap.

Building the strategic capability of Human Resources leaders and their teams is essential. Strategic Human Resources has the potential to modernise management practice, bringing it into line with the needs of the 21st century organisation. HR leadership must strike the balance between business demands and the needs of the organisation and its workforce to adapt to change. This delivers sustainable value for all of the organisation’s stakeholders.

In this paper we cover:

  • How we have closed the HR leadership ‘knowing-doing’ gap in a leading retailer.
  • Five crucial conversations that strategic human resources leaders must catalyse within their organisations.
  • How Human Resources Leaders can build their confidence and strategic capability by working through a planned change process.
  • How to build appetite and expectation for a strategic Human Resources contribution among line colleagues.
  • A staged approach for developing and embedding strategic Human Resources capability in an HR team.

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How to Lead in the New Normal

The business environment will never be the same again. As the new decade unfolds, more and more business leaders and managers who have survived the recession and are rebuilding their organisations are coming to realise that their business models must be overhauled and that the old ways of improving performance and managing change will no longer work. Enter: leading in the new normal.

Leading in the New Normal Key points:

  • We need to steer away from the practice of employing people from the ‘shoulders down’. Today’s knowledge economy demands that we capitalise on individual’s from the neck up, releasing them from command and control management and liberating them to contribute more meaningfully.
  • Leaders must ‘future proof’ their organisations by building the strategic and cultural capabilities which enable them to win in their market place, adapt to change and produce the conditions where people can thrive.
  • Only by looking strategically at the people side of the business can organisations have any chance of delivering sustainable performance.
  • The importance of strategic clarity and having a compelling purpose that goes beyond making money to also making a difference.
  • The power of using pictures and creating the space for conversation in helping make change happen.

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Value of Organisation Development from the CEO’s Perspective

Organisation Development (OD) has had a bad wrap, often accused of being a ‘fluffy’ discipline with some practitioners demonstrating an unhealthy bias towards a people agenda disconnected from business goals.

However given the scale and complexity of the challenges facing today’s organisations, the contribution that organisation development can make to the success of organisations is vital. There is a need to design and develop organisations that are more adaptable, innovative, collaborative, inspiring and ultimately accountable. As such the natural place for the leadership of system-wide organisational change is the CEO.

CEOs need high quality Organisation Development support to help them lead essential business transformation. 
Key points in this article include:

  • The four most significant changes to the CEO role in the last five years.
  • The Leadership challenges that must be addressed are not new. We have been wrestling with them for a while. Today’s ‘stretch’ comes from the amplification of these existing challenges.
  • The one factor that differentiates the most successful CEOs.
  • Organisations that strike a balance between shorter term performance goals and longer term organisational resilience perform two and three times as well as those which only focus on health or performance respectively.
  • Creating and leading organisations that are adaptable, innovative, collaborative, inspiring and accountable used to be the concern of the few. It is now the concern of the many.

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The Changing Role of HR

The role of HR has changed. The industrial age practice of employing people ‘from the shoulders down’ is outdated. In today’s knowledge economy HR must capitalise on individuals ‘from the neck up’ to create a culture in which every employee is liberated and contributes meaningfully.

This article the Changing Role of HR was featured in HR Magazine’s Vision section, a series of in-magazine articles and web content exploring key themes of increasing importance in the future of work. Triumpha’s Andrea Adams was invited to close the series.

Key points in the Changing Role of HR include:

  • To be fit for the future an organisation must have a compelling purpose which goes beyond making money. It’s about doing well (making a profit) and doing good (making a difference).
  • Meeting human needs in the workplace is essential. Human Resources professionals need to design systems and approaches that provide meaning and shape how business is done.
  • People commit to what they help to create:
    •  Goals and change will most likely be accomplished when people are involved in co-constructing the goal, assessing the current state of affairs and defining the route map to move from the desired state to the desired goal.
    • Creating the space for conversations and dialogue which unifies effort and team spirit and supports employees to make the wider agenda relevant to their day to day work is essential leadership work.
  • Developing leaders who have the competence and character necessary to lead the web of complex institutions that have become so vital to the health of modern societies is essential.

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