How to Be a Great Leader: Stay Human
We all have the ability to influence other people, and are, thus, all leaders in some way. And while leading by example is a known recipe for success, how to combine the actual ingredients for that recipe is often elusive. A huge part of what makes an effective leader is emotional intelligence, the capacity to be aware of, control and express one’s emotions, as well as handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.
Emotional intelligence, also known as EQ or EI, contains these five interconnected components:
5. Social skills.
So there’s a list of ingredients, but how exactly can those five elements be combined to result in great leadership? The first step is to remember this: You’re a leader, not a superhero. It’s OK to be human. In fact, it’s critical to maintain all of the qualities of a human, particularly the ones that enable other people to relate to you.
Here are six ways to do just that.
As counterintuitive as it may seem, great leadership relies on vulnerability. Humans aren’t perfect. We all make mistakes. We all fear something. A leader who can acknowledge and address his or her vulnerabilities is respected and emulated because vulnerability builds connection and trust.
(self-awareness, empathy and social skills)
Ken Kesey, professional storyteller and author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (among many other titles) once said, “You don’t lead by pointing and telling people someplace to go. You lead by going to that place and making a case.” This is what stories can do. Instead of telling someone what to do or how to do it, share anecdotes from your life with takeaways that exemplify your values, how you came to appreciate those values and what you like to see in other people. Sharing personal stories (and listening to other people’s stories) also exposes a vulnerability that, ultimately, builds trust. If you’re not a natural storyteller, find a storytelling workshop or encourage your organization to host a storytelling lab. You’ll discover that we, as humans, have been telling stories for thousands of years and are programmed to do it. (In fact, the Latin word “historia,” which is where the word “history” derives from, has the word “story” right in it—because narratives—illustrated, oral and written—are how humans have always shared information.)
Neuroscientists have studied why power corrupts and found that it impairs “mirroring,” a neural process that is a cornerstone of empathy. While it’s difficult to prevent power from having this effect on your brain, it is possible to remove yourself from power occasionally. To maintain a capacity for empathy, it’s important to not always feel powerful by participating in mundane obligations (e.g. buy milk, pay bills), recalling humbling episodes from your past, and interacting and relating (genuinely) with ordinary, less influential people.
(motivation and empathy)
Emotional intelligence requires inner motivation, and leadership requires the ability to inspire and energize other people. But if you want an innovative team that enjoys coming to work and comes up with fresh ideas, lead with compassion in order to nurture an environment where people feel comfortable expressing opposing opinions and taking risks. A supportive environment allows people to experiment with ideas without fear of ridicule or recrimination. Also toward that end, don’t be stingy with praise—but do be sincere.
Isolation has a huge price. If your team doesn’t know you, understand you and like you, then the reverse is also true: You don’t know, understand or like the individuals on your team. And that means that you can’t help each person play to his or her strengths. Only by getting to know individuals will you be able to recognize their limitations and special abilities and be able to adapt and find the best role for everyone on the team.
(social skills and empathy)
People push buttons. People disagree. And a good leader needs to know how to flip the script before arguments escalate and damage work relationships. One technique when someone flies off the handle is to simply stop the conversation and ask with genuine concern, “Are you OK?” A conflict-diffusing response like this, which interrupts the tempo of a heated conversation and subdues an amygdala hijack, is often effective.
Learn how to strengthen these human-centered leadership skills by bringing one of our research-backed programs to your organization. Connect with one of our client advisors to find out which program is right for your team.