Why You Can’t Lead From the Neck Up

A client of mine was once chastised by her boss for shedding tears at a farewell gathering for one of her peers. They were standing together listening to their colleague’s farewell speech. As tears began to trickle down her face, he quickly ushered her into an adjoining room. He was irate.

“Pull yourself together! You are a leader in this organization. People are watching you. This is place of work. This is no place for emotion.”

Even as he admonished her, he was contradicting his own point. He was triggered by her tears and, as a result, not in command of his own emotional reaction. And unfortunately, his inability to tolerate her genuine and appropriate expression of sadness revealed more about his own leadership deficits than hers.

Leadership is not purely a cerebral exercise. It demands that you engage and develop all of your core capacities. A growing body of research in the fields of leadership development, positive psychology, emotional intelligence and human health and performance, all seem to point to the same thing. Leaders who attend to and develop all of their core human capacities – mental, emotional, physical and spiritual – are more effective on virtually every metric of leadership success.

Developing Beyond Intellect

Developing a leader’s mind goes beyond the accumulation of experience and knowledge. It also includes the development of greater overall mental capacity. To effectively address the enormous challenges we face, we need to develop new, more sophisticated ways of seeing the world and making meaning of it. We also require the maturity to use this capacity to serve a purpose beyond satisfying our own need for power, influence or material success.

In our leadership development practice, we have seen what happens when leaders break through to new ways of seeing. As they challenge long held assumptions and develop new ways of processing and integrating their experience, they develop more sophisticated ways of responding to challenges they face. They unlock greater creativity and higher levels of adaptability and mental agility.

At the same time, while this is powerful, people are rarely moved and inspired by intellect and mental agility. They will not, by themselves, build trust. For that, leaders need to create what emotional intelligence pioneer, Daniel Goleman, calls “emotional resonance”.

Heart and Resonance

“Great leaders move us. They ignite our passion and inspire the best in us… Great leadership works through the emotions.” (From Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis and Annie McKee.)

Over the past two decades, researchers have been studying the impact of emotional intelligence on leadership performance. According to the data, leaders who demonstrate strong emotional intelligence competencies perform better. For example, competency research in over 200 organizations worldwide cited in Daniel Goleman’s book Working with Emotional Intelligence, suggests that about one-third of the difference between average and top performance is due to technical skill and cognitive ability while two-thirds is due to emotional competence. In top leadership positions, over four-fifths of the difference is due to emotional competence.

Conversely, research by the Center for Creative Leadership found that the primary causes of derailment in executives involved deficits in emotional competence. The three primary ones were difficulty in handling change, not being able to work well in a team and poor interpersonal relations. (For more information on these and other studies linking emotional intelligence with leadership performance, visit the The Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations web site.)

Fueled and Ready: Physical capacity matters

One of the first questions I ask new or prospective clients is, “How much sleep are you getting?” I have seen dramatic improvements in my clients’ sense of well-being and impact by improving their sleep habits alone. I’ve also observed that reducing their sleep deficit improves their mood, focus, creativity and resilience.

Tony Schwartz and Jim Loehr decided to apply their expertise in working with elite athletes to the study of the performance of corporate executives. In their book, The Power of Full Engagement, they observed that professional athletes spend 90 percent of their time training to be able to perform at their peak only 10 percent of the time. In contrast, most organizational leaders spend very little time exercising; take few, if any, real breaks during the day and often operate with moderate to severe sleep deprivation. And yet, they are expected to perform at peak levels eight, twelve or more hours a day. “In a study of eighty executives over a nine-month period, those who worked out regularly improved their fitness by 22% and demonstrated a 70% improvement in their ability to make complex decisions as compared with non-exercisers.”

Other studies have found compelling links between exercise and a reduction in absenteeism, an increase in concentration, improved short term memory, productivity, job safety and stress reduction.

Taking care of your physical well-being is not optional. Your capacity to lead effectively depends on it.

The Leader’s Navigation System

There are probably few topics more taboo in a typical business setting than spirituality. And yet, to ignore the impact of spirit on leadership is to ignore the leader’s central guidance system. It is akin to trying to fly an aircraft with no instrumentation.

Attention to the spiritual aspects of what it means to lead, is to imbue your leadership with purpose, meaning and fulfillment. A critical aspect of spiritual development in this context is alignment, that deep sense of inner peace and resonance when your leadership is serving a purpose beyond your immediate narrow personal interests.

Alignment also requires that you be clear about your values, the things that matter most to you. Clarity of your values can guide your decision-making and support you to make choices that bring an inner resonance and peace. When you are unclear, your pursuit of success can drive you in ways that are unhealthy and destructive.

Developing spiritual capacity also sustains you during hardship. It gives you access to that quiet voice that emerges in your darkest and most discouraging moments and gives you the courage to keep going.

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About the author:

Cathy Jacob

Cathy brings a unique skill for deep listening, an unwavering belief in her clients and a gentle sense of humour to her coaching practice. She opened a full time coaching practice in 2004 and in 2009, she co-founded Fire Inside Leadership to expand the impact of leadership development and coaching in her community and beyond.

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