In today’s rapidly evolving business environment, the traditional norms of leadership need to be revised. The boardroom, a focal point for strategic decision-making, requires a fresh leadership approach that underscores authenticity, self-awareness, and a careful equilibrium between challenging and supporting CEOs.
Identifying Authenticity Gaps
While gauging a leader’s authenticity and self-awareness isn’t an exact science, certain tools help shine a light on these essential traits. One way to measure authenticity is to assess the alignment between a leader’s self-identified values and their colleagues’ perceptions. When these do not overlap sufficiently, it could indicate a disparity between a leader’s intention and others’ perception, revealing potential authenticity gaps.
Similarly, self-awareness can be evaluated by contrasting a leader’s understanding of their strengths and weaknesses against feedback from their peers. This contrast fosters critical conversations about the role of self-awareness in potential CEOs and how a self-aware leader’s strengths and weaknesses might serve the company’s strategic needs.
Key Qualitative Attributes
Our work with boards, CEOs, and C-suite teams across various industries gives us a first-hand view of the evolving definitions of effective leadership. It’s becoming increasingly clear that quantifiable metrics doesn’t solely determine a leader’s success. Instead, it lies in understanding the qualitative attributes that result in success. This includes a leader’s behaviour, their ability to build teams and develop talent, and fundamentally, who they are—not merely the numbers they produce.
There are powerful psychological foundations behind this shift in leadership paradigms. The Big Five personality traits—Openness, Conscientiousness, Extraversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism—have been found to correlate with leadership effectiveness (Judge et al., 2002). In a meta-analysis of 222 correlations from 73 samples, Extraversion emerged as the most consistent correlate of leadership across various settings and leadership criteria, while Neuroticism showed a negative correlation. Overall, the Big Five traits had a multiple correlations of .48 with leadership, providing strong support for the leader trait perspective when traits are organised according to this model (APA PsycINFO Database Record, 2016). Leaders scoring high in conscientiousness and openness often exhibit heightened self-awareness and authenticity, underlining the value of incorporating these psychological elements into leadership evaluations.
The Role of the Boardroom
However, the success of this new leadership approach largely hinges on the practices adopted within the boardroom. Boards must expand beyond the conventional focus on governance compliance, cultivating an environment that encourages performance excellence. This strategy rests on diverse leadership styles, effective board structures, stakeholder engagement, and fostering a positive organisational culture. Central to this is the board’s ability to model ethical behaviour, uphold core values, and promote equality, diversity, and inclusion.
Moreover, soft skills, such as empathetic listening, clear communication, and emotional intelligence, emerge as a vital element in this context. Assessing these skills through methods like board process simulations can be particularly beneficial. These simulations mimic high-pressure environments, enabling the development and refining of these essential soft skills.
A critical aspect of the board’s role is striking a balance between challenging and supporting CEOs. This dynamic greatly influences the company’s overall performance. Boards must ensure optimal decision-making and performance while also providing a supportive environment for CEOs who often face high-stress roles. Yet, care must be taken to avoid falling into ‘support’ or ‘challenge’ traps. Cognitive biases can lead to overemphasising CEOs’ successes or difficulties based on initial perceptions, often creating a negative cycle of escalating tension and deteriorating performance.
In conclusion, the complexities of modern leadership necessitate a shift away from traditional boardroom practices. Embracing an approach centred on authenticity, self-awareness, and balanced dynamics between the board and CEOs can foster better conversations, higher-quality decisions, and stronger organisational foundations. As we continue grappling with an unpredictable world, it’s critical that our leadership frameworks evolve in tandem, ensuring a more effective and modern boardroom.
Judge, T. A., et al. (2002). Personality and leadership: a qualitative and quantitative review. Journal of Applied Psychology, 87(4), 765–780. https://doi.org/10.1037/0021-9010.87.4.765
In the world of investing, Charlie Munger is a legendary figure, celebrated for his sage-like wisdom and insightful aphorisms. As Warren Buffet’s right-hand man, his approach is a testament to the power of effective decision-making and wisdom, which he famously accredits to his ‘multi-disciplinary’ approach—a rich mosaic of insights from various academic disciplines, including applied, organisational, and social psychology.
Munger’s perspective is unique and practical because he harnesses these theories and translates them into real-world applications. His approach forms an interesting amalgamation, merging business acumen with psychological theories—a powerful combination that leads to meaningful, insightful, and profitable decisions.
The power of incentives: An intersection of economics and psychology
Munger emphasises the importance of incentives, an intersection of economics and psychology, in shaping human behaviour. “Show me the incentive, and I will show you the outcome,” he famously said. In applied psychology, the operant conditioning theory by B.F. Skinner aligns with Munger’s philosophy. It suggests that behaviour is learned and maintained through immediate consequences or rewards. In organisations, this theory’s implications are vast. By understanding the impact of incentives—be it financial, social, or psychological—leaders can drive behaviour that aligns with the company’s strategic objectives.
Cognitive biases and decision making: A Mungerian perspective
In his famed address to Harvard University in 1995, Munger laid out 25 standard causes of human misjudgement—a compendium of cognitive biases that he believes significantly impacts decision-making. These biases are psychological tendencies that can cloud our judgment and influence our decision-making processes. They include confirmation bias (favouring information that confirms our pre-existing beliefs), social proof (the tendency to see an action as more appropriate when others are doing it), and availability bias (relying on immediate examples that come to mind when evaluating a specific topic or decision), among others.
In addition, Munger also discussed biases such as over-optimism, anchoring, and the contrast effect, highlighting how these can distort our understanding of reality and lead to erroneous decisions.
In the field of organisational psychology, these cognitive biases are recognised as significant barriers to rational decision-making. They create an environment susceptible to phenomena such as groupthink, where a desire for harmony or conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome. These biases can also engender substantial resistance to change, as individuals often favour the familiar and view potential changes with a degree of scepticism and fear.
To mitigate the effects of these cognitive biases, Munger emphasised the importance of cultivating cognitive flexibility and self-awareness in our thinking patterns. Cognitive flexibility involves shifting our thinking and using different thinking strategies in different scenarios. On the other hand, self-awareness is the conscious knowledge of one’s character, feelings, motives, and desires. By being aware of our biases, we can better question our initial judgments and decisions and consider alternatives.
Munger also advocates for the idea of using mental models, drawing from a variety of disciplines, to aid in decision-making. This multidisciplinary approach to thinking helps counteract the narrow-mindedness that can result from over-reliance on a single perspective and encourages a more comprehensive understanding of problems, ultimately leading to better decision-making.
Harnessing social influence: Understanding the psychology of persuasion
Munger often references Robert Cialdini’s principles of persuasion—reciprocity, commitment and consistency, social proof, authority, liking, and scarcity. He asserts that these principles don’t just operate on an individual level but can significantly influence organisational culture and drive business outcomes.
For instance, the principle of commitment and consistency can improve organisational efficiency. When employees commit to a task or goal, they are more likely to follow through. Similarly, the principle of social proof plays a role in shaping corporate cultures. People tend to conform to the behaviours of the majority, which can either drive productive work ethics or create a toxic environment.
Navigating the latticework of mental models
Munger advocates for the latticework of mental models, suggesting that one must understand various disciplines to make effective decisions. This is where the role of interdisciplinary knowledge, specifically a blend of applied, organisational, and social psychology, becomes paramount.
One of the key insights of this approach is the understanding that organisations are not just economic entities but psychological and social entities as well. Leaders who appreciate this complexity are more equipped to drive their organisations towards sustainable success.
Conclusion: The intersection of wisdom and psychology
Munger’s wisdom, grounded in various psychological theories, provides a robust framework for understanding and influencing human behaviour in organisations. By weaving together insights from applied, organisational, and social psychology, he teaches us that wisdom is not just about knowledge but also about understanding human nature and leveraging it for collective progress. His philosophies echo the timeless essence of these psychological theories, reminding us that at the heart of every organisation, the human element counts the most.
Leading by example is a long-standing trope. So far as it concerns setting the tone—it is the foundation for all that follows. However, one cannot expect to manage others effectively if they do not manage themselves well. That means being aware of your emotions and thoughts, processing and regulating them, and effectively dealing with high levels of sustained stress and its ripples.
Not a mantra but a mindset
Mindfulness, or being mindful, is an idea that many of us are familiar with. We hear it used in various contexts and situations, yet, for many, it is as ambiguous as ubiquitous. Although it is slightly more complex than it seems, once we grasp its underlying meaning, the rest quickly falls into place.
Both an act and state of being, mindfulness implies being aware of the present moment and, crucially, understanding its effects and impermanence. It is a concept that has been explored in Buddhist teachings for thousands of years but has reached a critical mass contemporarily because it is really about how we navigate our human experience. Here are some beginning parameters:
- Mindfulness is not the same thing as meditation; instead, meditation is an exercise in mindfulness. One is a mindset the other is a formal practice. One cannot easily meditate during the day, especially at work, but one can be mindful anytime, anywhere.
- It is less something for you to do and more a state of being that is best characterised by awareness and acceptance. The latter is not passive but a means of moving on to what comes next.
- Regarding and building upon the last point, mindfulness is deriving positives from what is happening now or not allowing the negatives to alter the future detrimentally.
In the current era we live in—defined in part by its relentless pace, high visibility, technology-driven communication overreach, and burn-out-oriented lifestyles—mindfulness is a necessity. You may already be practising it without knowing that you are. If that is the case, expand from that base. What is more, the better you become at being mindful, the more likely you are to minimise stress and potentially gain some of these additional mental health benefits:
- Externally, better emotional regulation and reactivity.
- Internally, plugging deeper into somatic experiences (i.e., sensations and emotions).
- Broader self-awareness and an attuned understanding of one’s habits and patterns.
- A reduction in mental fatigue, an increased capacity for focused decision-making and the power to contend with anxiety and doubt.
- More clarity at points of physical fatigue.
Not surprisingly, mindfulness-based relaxation techniques also boost overall well-being. In this way, it is a foundation for everything that comes after. Moreover, its evident slant towards processing somatic experiences and managing a range of psychosocial dynamics promotes healthier relationships. Within leadership, your greatest skill is adroitly managing your charges. The second to that is managing yourself. Mindfulness holistically aids both.
It starts within
Self-management is the bedrock of employee management. It requires being and projecting calm, impulse control, applying short, medium, and long-term vision, making hard decisions at difficult moments, reading and responding to subtle or hidden cues, navigating factors outside of one’s control, and overcoming consistent stress. Let us expand on the last since effective stress management buttresses the potentiality to execute most leadership tasks.
Stress is universal, but leaders contend with the highest levels of review and scrutiny because they are ultimately responsible. They face numerous and sometimes-unknowable problems. If the unexpected provides some mitigation for setbacks, it does not shield anyone from the fallouts of unmet objectives. There must always be answers or solutions. For this reason, leaders must be answerable to the present, future, and sometimes even the past. Eliminating stress is, therefore, not a reasonable goal when these are the stakes, and its triggers are particularly multi-layered for those making decisions. Rather than seek the impossible, or hide from the inevitable, stress management is then a twin pillar of performance and leadership.
Under the surface, the amygdala is the area of the brain that processes feelings and memories associated with anger and fear and governs strong or sudden emotions. Duly, it is responsible for the fight-or-flight response. When facing a perceived threat, the amygdala will send information to other parts of the brain to prepare the body to face the situation or flee. While its primary role may relate to survival, it is also essential to daily functioning. Without this, we risk amygdala hijacking, losing control, and generating overemotional or irrational responses to situations that should not elicit them.
Additionally, research indicates that the amygdala influences cognitive functions such as memory formation, decision-making, attention, and social behaviour. Studies suggest that intense or chronic stress is linked to unwanted neuronal activity in the amygdala (Correll et al., 2005). Tangentially, synaptic plasticity, which is the ability for synapses to strengthen or weaken, and is tied to learning, may be impacted by stress (Vouimba et al., 2004). If nothing else, these findings reflect that the brain’s capability to respond optimally to anxiety or tense moments and carry out some basic cognitive tasks can be weakened by prolonged stress. One’s overall psychiatric state can be eroded or made erratic (Radley et al., 2015). These streams of neural activity also steal resources from the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain utilised for effective problem-solving. If stress is unavoidable and destructive, dealing with it, and being able to reset amid tremendous pressure, is of the utmost importance.
Training your mind and body
There is not a more competitive environment than the world of elite sports. Today’s most successful teams hire specialists from inside and outside the game to maximise all aspects of performance. Routinely, mindfulness coaches work with athletes to overcome performance constraints like anxiety, doubt, distraction, and physical and mental fatigue. These problems extend beyond sports; we must also learn to push back these disruptive forces.
On an upcoming episode of the 1% podcast, we sat down with Christian Straka, a former professional tennis player who is now a mindfulness-based mental performance coach for Adidas running. He is a member of the International Mindfulness Teachers association and works closely with the Mindful Awareness Research Centre at the University of California Los Angeles. It is one of many. The fact that these types of organisations and institutions exist reiterates interest in and the value of mindfulness. Christian himself views mindfulness as ‘the next great competitive edge.’
If athletes turn to mindfulness for marginal gains, you should too. So how do we train our minds to perform better in comparatively more mundane circumstances? Think of mindfulness as you would fitness. Develop a routine. There are health-based apps for yoga, relaxation and other related practices. For those starting from scratch, there are one-stop mindfulness apps offering everything from instruction, guided meditation, sleep schedules and data sets for mind-body health. Helpful as these are, mindfulness is about more than using technology. Eventually, it has to come from a deeper place. We must be the gadget, as Christian advises. Hence, the change must come from within. That means making mental health more of a priority.
Incorporating mindfulness practices is not always easy for those whose schedules are already overburdening, and we frequently assume we do not have time. That stance may seem practical and inconsequential, but it is an example of the mental training paradox, which has to do with rationalising a lack of personal investment in committing ourselves to mental health. We make excuses for not caring for our minds like we would our bodies. We should be wary of these thoughts. Even minor changes can spark significant transformation down the line. Forbes Health offers these tips for the workday:
- Set reminders to be present – check in with yourself periodically; this allows you to reset and focus on the immediate.
- Sense the bottoms of your feet – this promotes interoceptive awareness and deescalates your flight or flight mechanism.
- Taking deep breaths – helps restore your parasympathetic nervous system, ushering in a calmer state by delivering oxygen to your brain, which helps you think clearly and make better decisions.
- Focus on your heart – now shift attention to the area around your heart; use box breathing or take slow breaths until you feel at ease. This exercise cools the body’s stress response.
- Reframe your perspective – recognise stressful or unwanted thoughts and blunt their effect by relativising outcomes or situations
- Be aware of your body – notice where you are physically expressing stress, tension or anxiety, then try to release it through progressive muscle relaxation by tightening different body areas and releasing them.
- Push the pendulum the other way – acknowledge that some things may create unease inside you, but appreciate what is going right.
Replenishment, rest and recovery, reframing
Emotional intensity wears us down. Focus is lost more easily when fatigued. There is an obvious need to deal with stress when it surfaces, but what about after? How do we stop a cycle of mental and physical erosion, which feed off each other? The most important answer is allowing oneself means of replenishing and modes of relaxation during and after the workday.
Recovery does not pertain to the body alone. It is a means of dealing with and overcoming stress, and its role is paramount relative to performance. Rest matters. Simply put, we cannot reach our peak physical or mental performance levels—and sustain them—without establishing a consistent and healthy sleep routine. The same can be said for de-escalation and relaxation at home. Establish firm boundaries between your work life and personal life.
Reframe your relationship with stress. Many believe overcoming intense periods of pressure created a foundation for later success and shaped who they are. Surveys show that we associate these points in our professional lives with growth. We repackage it as fuel. The suffering is made to appear necessary. It is not. Just because stress is inevitable in the corporate world, we should not celebrate it. Mindfulness teaches us to work well through difficult moments, to minimise the damage, and give us a basis to recover after.
At points of acute stress, be aware that the current moment is temporary, and take concrete steps to reduce your anxiety and tension. This awareness separates the very best performers from everyone else. It is not entirely about skill or talent but about aptitude to deal with the moment.
Stress filters out
Workplaces are social ecosystems. That last word is intentional; it implies a purposeful balance. As discussed in a previous 1% Extra article, leadership, organisational structure, the material office environment, and opportunities for cooperation and promotion contribute toward cultures of meaning. Scientific research and analysis from the Harvard Business Review show that these factors also affect employees’ well-being, happiness, sense of purpose, and performance. Stress, as an element, is a fifth column. It disrupts the balance in the workplace, impedes productivity, and creates low morale.
Thus, try to reduce the impact of the inevitable. Many companies offer training on how to mitigate stress, which sheds light on adverse health effects. Encourage others to take up these types of programmes if available, and implement them if they are not already. Mental health is not and should not feel like a stigma. Do not let people get stressed out about being stressed out.
Learn to recognise and eliminate stress factors in your control. You may be one of them. Through expectations and demands, managers can escalate a group’s anxiety level. Actively support team members by displaying a level of investment in them. This small act shows that you are aware and supportive. As a leader, this is a skill you should have and rely on to inspire.
The corporate professional landscape often generates stress as a fait accompli. Therefore, navigating obstacles in one’s mind matters as much as navigating everything else. Mindfulness, as a force encompassing reflection, perspective and responsiveness, is not a marginal gain. It is a must. Being mindful throughout the day supports mental and physical health and strengthens your outward demeanour and social relationships.
Use the numerous apps, therapies, activities, and meditative outlets available. Anything that works has merit, at least in the short term. However, by approaching feelings of anxiety, mental and physical exhaustion, or any other manifestation of stress through mindfulness, you may see more significant benefits in the long term. In this regard, it is wide-ranging and far-reaching. It is exponential, so add it to what is already benefitting you. During high-pressure situations, it offers a sense of calm. As concerning matters pile up in your inbox or fester in your head, it brings focus and positivity.
Incorporating mindfulness into your day can be simple, even during the busiest times. Engaging in a few brief positive exercises can have a lasting impact. Every hidden advantage counts even more as the stakes rise. You need to be at your peak when things are on the line. When that is impossible, you need to perform well through adversity. Remember, influential leaders do not ignore stress or suppress emotions; they contend with them like they would any problem or task. That means finding mindful solutions.
Achor, S. (2012, January 1). Positive Intelligence. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2012/01/positive-intelligence
Borst, H. (2021, November 16). How To Practice Mindfulness On The Go. Forbes Health. https://www.forbes.com/health/mind/how-to-practice-mindfulness-on-the-go/
Correll, C. M., Rosenkranz, J. A., & Grace, A. A. (2005). Chronic Cold Stress Alters Prefrontal Cortical Modulation of Amygdala Neuronal Activity in Rats. Biological Psychiatry, 58, 382–391. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.biopsych.2005.04.009
Dalton, S. (2022, December 16). Creating and fostering cultures of meaning. Steering Point Leadership Advisory Firm. https://steeringpoint.ie/insights/creating-and-fostering-cultures-of-meaning/
Frothingham, M. B. (n.d.). Fight, Flight, Freeze, or Fawn: How We Respond to Threats. Simply Psychology. Retrieved January 27, 2023, from https://www.simplypsychology.org/fight-flight-freeze-fawn.html
Guy-Evans, O. (n.d.-a). Amygdala Function and Location. Simply Psychology. https://www.simplypsychology.org/amygdala.html
Guy-Evans, O. (n.d.-b). Amygdala Hijack and the Fight or Flight Response. Psychology Today. https://www.simplypsychology.org/what-happens-during-an-amygdala-hijack.html
McDermott, N. (2022, August 12). What Is Mindfulness—And How Can I Incorporate It Into My Daily Routine? Forbes Health. https://www.forbes.com/health/mind/what-is-mindfulness/
Radley, J., Morilak, D., Viau, V., & Campeau, S. (2015). Chronic stress and brain plasticity: mechanisms underlying adaptive and maladaptive changes and implications for stress-related CNS disorders. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 58, 79–91. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.neubiorev.2015.06.018
Vouimba, R.-M., Yaniv, D., Diamond, D., & Richter-Levin, G. (2004). Effects of inescapable stress on LTP in the amygdala versus the dentate gyrus of freely behaving rats. The European Journal of Neuroscience, 19(7), 1887–1894. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-9568.2004.03294.x
What if we approached mental fitness the way we approach physical fitness? That is to say, conceiving it as necessary and making it a priority. What would that regime entail if it were a daily act, and what might be gained as a result? What if we resituated emotionality in our profession as a catalytic force, not a disruptive one? Thus, shifting the workplace from a rational environment to a place of outward feeling and engagement. The answer to all these questions is related to the development and implementation of emotional intelligence.
The science of social dynamics
Emotional intelligence is ‘the ability to understand and manage emotions’ (Cavaness et al., 2020). Crucially, within this definition, knowledge and application are linked by awareness. Being self-aware and aware of others’ emotions are similar, albeit different skills. Both are equally valuable, and today’s leaders should use each to their advantage to manage the people they are in charge of and the projects they are tasked with completing.
Research affirms that emotional intelligence and personality are critical factors for achieving organisational goals and adapting to an ever-changing professional landscape (Eby et al., 2000). This outlook is self-explanatory as well as scientific. Emotional intelligence, or emotional quotient (EQ), has been a source of theory since the 1920s. However, it was only in the 1990s that we came to have a broader awareness of it through the work of psychologists John Mayer and Peter Salovey, who first coined the term. Notably, Daniel Goleman (1995) established a framework for its analysis and posited that EQ is, in fact, a better predictor of success than IQ, which had been the dominant metric of excellence. In truth, standardised tests cannot accurately measure any form of intelligence; therefore, EQ or IQ scores are arbitrary.
Nevertheless, the significance of Goleman’s postulation is that we need emotional intelligence to succeed. He is certainly not alone in reaching this conclusion. For instance, Forbes magazine has written about the topic no less than twenty-seven times since 2019 and deduces, again and again, ‘emotional intelligence has become a prized trait in leadership’ (Santilli, 2022). Seeking marginal gains from every angle, many companies now enlist psychologists to create ‘competency models’ to identify, train and promote employees.
Conducting later research for the Harvard Business Review, Goleman studied two hundred large global companies to decipher the role of emotional intelligence in the workplace. His data suggested that those traits traditionally associated with leadership—e.g., mental intelligence, determination, fortitude, and vision—were insufficient diagnostics of success. He concluded, ‘To be sure, intellect was a driver of outstanding performance. Cognitive skills such as big-picture thinking and long-term vision were particularly important. But when I calculated the ratio of technical skills, IQ, and emotional intelligence as ingredients of excellent performance, emotional intelligence proved to be twice as important as the others for jobs at all levels’ (Goleman, 2004).
Signs of emotional intelligence
Granting that emotional intelligence is ostensibly incalculable or more substantive than measurable. Some tests can give us a baseline for where we stand. The Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT) is one example and can be taken online by answering prompts for around 30–40 minutes. For some, this may be a useful starting point.
More fundamentally, a point of sincere reflection is the primary means to begin. The commitment to do so, and follow through with filling your gaps, will positively impact your professional and personal life. Some characteristics that may reiterate one’s emotional intelligence include (but are not limited to):
- Knowing one’s strengths and weaknesses and being able to identify and express emotions.
- The ability to regulate and utilise a full spectrum of emotions.
- Self-motivation to achieve goals while filtering out negative self-talk.
- Having empathy for and comprehending other peoples’ emotions.
- Effective communication skills.
- Being curious about the feelings of others.
- Managing relationships and responding appropriately to conflicts.
Goleman’s framework for evaluating emotional intelligence lists the first five bullet points as core metrics that reveal a truer EQ. The last two are subsidiary qualities. It can be argued that the others constitute investment and follow-through and gesture to a sense of emotional credibility that is indispensable.
Maybe the most surprising finding in Goleman’s research is the value of emotional intelligence at the highest leadership levels. In a subset of the data, he compared star performers against average ones within senior leadership positions. The numbers revealed that almost 90% of the differences between those who stood out and those who did not trace back to deficiencies in emotional intelligence and not cognitive abilities. Hence, not only is emotional intelligence relevant to performance at all levels of the corporate sphere—it is one of the most significant ways that strong leaders distinguish themselves.
Social awareness and authenticity
Embedded into any serious discussion of emotional intelligence is a secondary conversation regarding social awareness, which is ‘your ability to accurately pick up on emotions in other people and understand what is really going on with them’ (Bradberry et al., 2009). In practice, it is the ability to read people around you and respond with empathy. Accordingly, it combines components of Goleman’s framework but emphasises the relationship of the self to others; and, critically, deprioritises the first and prioritises the latter.
Some industry leaders profess social awareness is the most significant facet of emotional intelligence (Golis, 2012). It is invaluable insofar as it is instrumental toward the ability to positively effect change in the emotional drives of others, leading to improved performance. Others avow that social awareness contributes to authentic leadership and is communicated through:
- Intonation allows us to reconcile the grey spaces that exist in digital communication. Through tone, we leave little room for interpretation and can project confidence in and consideration for others.
- Checking in may seem like inconsequential small talk, but connecting with your team displays concern, if not empathy, and potentially builds trust in cooperative situations.
- Active listening means pausing the monologue in your head to listen to others with your body and brain. If your mind is preoccupied with constructing your reply, you cannot hear what is being said. Nor are you able to pick up minor verbal signals or diction that may reveal concerns, doubts, or any emotions beneath the surface.
These skills may seem basic, and they are, yet many of us fail to realise how we may appear or come across to those around us. In this regard, empathy is not performative. Paying greater attention to these granular social details provides the foundation for communicating genuine concern for others.
At the top, social awareness relative to emotional intelligence equates to efficacy. That is a statistical and intuitive fact. Those with social awareness are likely to have the other fundamental skills that make up a strong EQ and will be more able to execute essential leadership tasks such as dissecting groups and interpreting how individual personalities work (or do not work) together, delivering feedback and conveying personal investment to those who play a part in determining whether you succeed as a leader. Remember, their success is your own. In this regard, social awareness is ultimately relationship management.
The importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace—and especially in leadership circles—cannot be overemphasised. It is vital. Without it, the power of cognitive intelligence risks dilution if you are less able to communicate your ideas and coordinate their execution. In daily social situations, it is everything. ‘A high IQ, coupled with high EQ, is an optimum combination for individuals to excel in meeting organisational objectives’ (Cavaness et al., 2020).
Transformational leaders are credited with high emotional intelligence, while those who do not display it perform worse on evaluative metrics. Although EQ’s impact on personality and leadership is widely accepted, it is less certain whether emotional intelligence can be learned or is innate. Scientific research points to a genetic component involved; be that as it may, psychological development research contends that nurture is a factor. Ergo, emotional intelligence is indeed something that can be acquired with time and effort. What is more, it may even increase with age.
As an intangible, emotional intelligence encompasses communication skills, conflict resolution, and successful collaboration. As a tool, it provides a range of methods through which we can better manage our behaviour and the behaviour of others. It should inform our words and decisions and help us to bridge across disparate personalities to foster a collective social climate. The benefits are readily apparent, and relatedly, harmonious workplaces notably have fewer conflicts and decreased absenteeism (ibid).
Building relationships across an organisation is intrinsic to success, but knowing how to do this is increasingly difficult within a corporate landscape that is continually changing due to globalisation, diversity, generational shits, innovation and evolution. Against this backdrop, the interpersonal skills associated with emotional intelligence are not new age. They are a necessity.
Reflecting on his observations, Goleman (2004) surmises that ‘to enhance emotional intelligence, organisations must […] help people break old behavioural habits and establish new ones. That not only takes much more time than conventional training programs, it also requires an individualised approach.’ EQ cannot be learned or boosted in seminars or training courses alone. It is experiential and requires a personal commitment. The power, then, is well and truly within us.
Bradberry, T., Greaves, J., & Lencioni, P. M. (2009). Emotional Intelligence 2.0 (31565th edition). TalentSmart.
Cavaness, Keith, et al. “Linking Emotional Intelligence to Successful Health Care Leadership: The Five of Personality.” Clinics in Colon and Rectal Surgery, vol. 33, no. 4, July 2020, pp. 195–203, https://doi.org/10.1055/s-0040-1709435.
Eby, Lillian T., et al. “Perceptions of Organizational Readiness for Change: Factors Related to Employees’ Reactions to the Implementation of Team-Based Selling.” Human Relations, vol. 53, no. 3, Mar. 2000, pp. 419–42, https://doi.org/10.1177/0018726700533006.
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Goleman, Daniel (2004, January 1). What Makes a Leader? Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2004/01/what-makes-a-leader
Golis, Christopher. (n.d.). Emotional Intelligence For Managers.
Grandey, Alicia A. “Emotional Regulation in the Workplace: A New Way to Conceptualize Emotional Labor.” Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, vol. 5, 2000, pp. 95–110, https://doi.org/10.1037/1076-8922.214.171.124.
Santilli, M. (2022, March 24). What Is Emotional Intelligence? Forbes Health. https://www.forbes.com/health/mind/what-is-emotional-intelligence/
Ugwu, L. I. (2011). Emotional and general intelligence: Characteristics, meeting points and missing links. Asian Social Science, 7(7), 137-140.
Following The 1% Podcast with the brilliant and funny Des Bishop, a background thought came to the foreground with further reflection. At the outset of the episode, we settled into our conversation by talking about how past errors or indiscretions helped position us toward a new course. In that regard, we can follow a negative trajectory downward, exacerbating what has gone wrong, or gain clarity and make necessary changes by understanding how and why certain events unfold against our desires or best-made plans.
Making the most of your mistakes
Many know this but may not want to hear it. The concept may be anathema to your sense of being and thinking, and you may not even be willing to process the possibility in your workplace. Nevertheless, let’s talk about it. No matter how cautious, discerning, motivated, prepared, and skilled you are—failure is inevitable. So why does it happen, and why are we afraid of it?
Why we fail
Failure has many makers, and any of the causes below could prove costly. Yet, as a concept, it is something we should be less afraid of, if only because it is unavoidable and can aid us once we grapple with it. According to Shiv Khera, author of You Can Win (2014), we usually fail for one of seven reasons:
- Lack of persistence
- Lack of conviction
- Dismissal of past mistakes
- Lack of discipline
- Poor self-esteem
- A fatalistic attitude
Forbes magazine reiterates a lack of belief and expectation of sub-par outcomes and adds:
- The desire to not be disruptive even if required
- The instinct for self-preservation
- Losing sight of our agency
- Fear of risking what has been built and our legacy
- Real and imagined stagnation
Impatience, a lack of a clear plan, a missing long-term or contingent strategy, and poorly thought-out or unattainable objectives, can be included in the list.
Tuning in versus tuning out
Additionally, failure is frequently related to something happening in our lives. In other words, it is already within us and is a manifestation of an existing discomfort. Humans are complex entities, our psyches are even more layered and nebulous, and we are routinely impacted by unexpected and undesirable circumstances happening to us or around us. Moreover, the minutia of everyday life can easily influence all the causes above.
Therefore, to believe that unwanted aspects of our personal or professional lives can be wholly cordoned off from influencing job performance to some degree is naïve. That said, and as outlined in a previous 1% article, the ability to compartmentalise and conquer is necessary at certain moments, but what happens if and when we cannot do that entirely and are forced to face failure head-on?
Redirection through reappraisal
Random and not-so-random outcomes go against us or do not go according to expectations. Sometimes there is no logic for what has happened, at least in terms of the event itself. Befuddled as we are, we must act. In the corporate environment, often, there is little time or room for context.
What comes next—i.e., fixing it—requires consideration. Once we figure out how and why we can devise and execute a response. That does not simply mean carrying out damage control, although that, too, is a skill. Rather it entails an alteration of our mindset. We must reappraise the situation as well as ourselves. What was our role, if any, in this? What could have been done differently? What was learned, and how can we turn it into a gain? Mistakes can represent an opportunity, one specifically for change.
When we fail, we are highly conscious of the meaning of that setback and its repercussions. Our self-awareness is heightened, and we become more malleable and open-minded because we may be less sure of decisions or what is happening around us. Humans and markets are not always predictable or rational. However, these conditions help enact evolution and transformation, which are metonyms for progress. In that regard, failure precedes success.
Ad astra per aspera
You may know the meaning of the somewhat ambiguous, albeit ubiquitous, Latin phrase above (a rough road leads to the stars), but did you know that it adorns the memorial plaque for the astronauts who died on Apollo I? Not only is the phrase befitting, but its application to this tragic event is instructive.
On February 21, 1967, a cabin fire killed the three astronauts on board during a launch rehearsal. The mission had failed before it had even gotten off the ground. Rather than lose hope and stop, the American space programme looked inward and studied the series of mistakes that led to the accident in granular detail to learn from its errors. It saw fault within itself and did not attempt to shift blame or explain away the tragedy to either bad luck or the unknowable. Ultimately, NASA was better for it.
This shift was embodied by Gene Kranz, the legendary boss of Mission Control, who delivered this impassioned speech three days after the tragedy:
“Somewhere, somehow, we screwed up. Whatever it was, we should have caught it. We were too gung-ho about the schedule and we locked out all of the problems we saw each day in our work. […] From this day forward, Flight Control will be known by two words: ‘Tough’ and ‘Competent.’ Tough means we are forever accountable for what we do or what we fail to do. We will never again compromise our responsibilities. […] Competent means we will never take anything for granted. We will never be found short in our knowledge and in our skills. Mission Control will be perfect. When you leave this meeting today you will go to your office and the first thing you will do there is to write ‘Tough and Competent’ on your blackboards. It will never be erased.”
These words are known as the ‘Kranz Dictum,’ and they remain pillars of the programme. Surprisingly, Kranz’s 2009 book about the missions he was a part of is entitled, Failure Is Not An Option. Although inspiring, his title is a little misleading. Kranz, and everyone involved with Apollo I, failed. However, they were not defined by this and are instead remembered by their response. Two years later, the programme landed three men on the moon, one of the crowning achievements in the history of the human race.
Looking back, although NASA was interrupted by catastrophic failure to such a degree that it suspended crewed flights for twenty months, they were undeterred and used their mistakes as a catalyst for self-improvement. If we choose (and it is a choice) to use reflection, understanding, and growth as tools, every one of us can harness misfortune and miss-steps similarly.
References & Resources
Khera, Shiv. You Can Win: A Step by Step Tool for Top Achievers. Bloomsbury India, 2014.
Kranz, Gene. Failure Is Not an Option: Mission Control From Mercury to Apollo 13 and Beyond. Simon & Schuster, 2009.