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Podcast: How leaders can develop their emotional intelligence

Shannon Houde, Founder and Managing Director, Walk of Life Coaching

 
As leaders continually adapt to the ever-changing world of work, emotional intelligence has become an increasingly important trait to possess to effectively build trust and confidence with their teams.
 

So today, we’re joined by Shannon Houde, Founder and Managing Director of Walk of Life Coaching, Certified Executive Coach, and Author of the book, Good Work. Shannon is here today to share her expert advice to help leaders develop their emotional intelligence.

 

1. To begin with, please could you introduce yourself to our listeners?

(01:00) Absolutely, thank you for hosting today, this is one of my favourite topics, emotional intelligence for leaders, so thank you for having me.

I have been running a coaching business now for more than a decade to help leaders unleash their own potential of being able to create impact both for our planet and the people they work with, as well as the bottom line profit numbers.

2. What are some of the main challenges your clients are facing at the moment?

(01:38) In terms of emotional intelligence, I think a lot of us are challenged by coming out of the pandemic and rebalancing our lives in terms of mental health, also in terms of the pace of change and pace of the lives we had before the pandemic.

So, what I’m seeing is a great increase in people, leaders, managers, emerging colleagues trying to get a grip on their lives. Figure out what is their purpose? What is driving them? What gets them out of bed in the morning? How can they recalibrate their lives a bit post-pandemic to stay more in balance, and to really make a difference to start doing more than just making an income? That’s the umbrella that I work within the sustainability, environmental, and charity sectors.

I think that’s the benefit that’s come off the back of this pandemic. We’ve had more time to reflect on who we are, and how we are all part of a solidarity movement together as a global culture.

3. Can you explain what we mean by the term emotional intelligence?

(02:58) Absolutely, it’s quite all-encompassing and quite complex in some ways because it covers so many different areas. Basically, it’s our ability to understand ourselves, manage our own response, listen, understand others, and then be able to manage those relationships. So, it’s this holistic ability to navigate our interactions with ourselves and others.

4. Why do you think it’s become more important for leaders to be emotionally intelligent?

(03:37) I think it goes back to that same issue of pace, right? We’re in this fast-paced digital world, with lots of pressures, dual-income families, lots of economic challenges that we’re all experiencing personally as well as professionally. To be able to have the insights about our self to best be able to respond to life challenges, and to continue to influence and grow with others in our context, both personally and professionally.

5. What are the benefits that the emotional intelligence of a leader can have, not just for them but on the team and ultimately the wider organisation?

(04:25) There are about six main themes when I think about the benefits of having high EQ (Emotional Quotient) or EI (Emotional Intelligence) as we can also call it.

One is the ability to strive to meet or exceed high standards. So, you increase your ability to deliver results in a softer way rather than plunging forward, thinking only about goals and results. You do that in a softer way, and you end up being able to reach a higher standard.

You’re also able to adapt to change and help make change happen. As we know, the pace of change now in business is so rapid and innovation, staying ahead of the market, and being agile and responsive to global effects on our businesses is important for leaders.

They’re also able to maintain their effectiveness under stress, look for ways to overcome obstacles, show empathy and insights in their relationships, and resolve conflict, lead others, and cooperate. All of this allows an emotionally intelligent leader to be able to better influence, coach, and develop others, and bring out the best in themselves and others.

6. What do you think are some of the tell-tale signs that people can use to spot when they’re working with an emotionally intelligent leader?

(05:56) Well, there’s a model that I’ve been trained on and I’m a coach for, which is Daniel Goleman’s Coaching Programme that he runs. He’s the father of emotional intelligence whom rebranded it back in the 1990s, has written many books on this and he now has a coaching programme to help coaches like myself bring this more into business, and line-up with leadership development.

And the framework that he uses is a very simple, four-quadrant framework where we look at; Are you self-aware? Are you able to listen and understand yourself? Are you able to feel emotion and recognise how your body is responding to stress or a challenge?

The second quadrant is then being able to self-manage that. How do you respond to that? How do you manage and adapt for yourself for your own response to those external challenges? How are you able to monitor and be mindful in your actions off the back of those insights you have about your own self-awareness?

And then, the third quadrant is social awareness. Are you aware of others? Are you able to listen and understand others? And then are you able to manage those relationships effectively?

Now, the cross-cutting skill that sits across all four of those quadrants, self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management is empathy. And empathy is a word that some of us don’t really understand, or we think it’s a little too soft but, it’s actually the key skill. Simply put, I think what empathy really means is listening without responding. It means really sitting with someone else and hearing what they are saying, to try to seek to understand where they’re coming from.

What that offers a leader is an ability to really be able to position whatever their own agenda is through the lens of the other person. That allows leaders to lead change as well as shift mindsets, gain buy-in, and build morale that is actually not forcing things on others but rather having them feel that they’re leading that journey.

So empathy, really is that key tell-tale sign of an emotionally intelligent leader. They don’t always have all the answers, they don’t feel they need to have all the answers, but they’re going to engage, enable, and empower others on the journey through good listening and empathy skills.

7. It’s an interesting model you’ve just talked us through there and the first element you mentioned was self-awareness. Just how important is it for leaders to recognise their own emotions, perhaps when they’re excited or frustrated, and the impact this can have on their teams?

(09:05) Again, I think we rush through life in a way, right? We rush through meetings, we go from meeting to meeting, we go from goal, target or KPI to the next one. And being able to just actually sit and feel what’s happening in our bodies, and being mindful of that gives us this mini-break, almost 30 seconds of mindfulness that allows us to take the time to process what’s happening internally, so that we can choose how we want to respond to others.

And what that impact, insight or emotional intelligence around self-awareness brings is that we then become less reactive, forceful, or contentious because we actually are giving ourselves this little mini pause where we’re just tapping into what’s really going on for us. What am I really thinking? How am I really feeling about that? What was said or what just happened? And this allows us to then proactively respond in a way that considers the audience and the other person in that conversation. It really brings people along with you rather than it being a top-down approach for a leader.

8. I know that our listeners in this podcast are leading teams, departments, and entire organisations. Do you have any tips that you can share on how these leaders can develop and improve their self-awareness?

(10:40) Well, that’s a journey. I think that’s a lifetime journey, to be honest. Those of us that have been on it, you’re never done. But if you’d like to get started in terms of building your own self-awareness, I definitely think there are things you can do on your own like reading certain books by the likes of Daniel Goleman around emotional intelligence. There are also books by Stephen Covey that I think are extremely helpful, “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”. So, if you want to self-study, you could do some of that. There’s also a book called “The Chimp Paradox” by Steve Peters, who I think is really a life changer.

But it’s about developing new habits. The first step is wanting to change or develop that self-awareness. If you have that, the rest is going to be easy because you’re already motivated. You can either do it by reading books and trying to do it on your own. You can join a mindfulness-based stress reduction or mindfulness course. You can download apps like Insight Timer where you can be self-trained about how to develop mindfulness.

But really, mindfulness is about pausing, sitting still, and listening to self. That’s what self-awareness really is. It’s about being able to hear what’s really going on for you, and how you are processing the externalities coming in at such a fast pace. So, it starts with the motivation to want to develop that self-awareness skill or self-regulation skill, and then it’s about what is your learning style to get there.

The second aspect of the model you talked us through is self-regulation. I can certainly, in myself, sometimes be aware of my emotions or my mood is fluctuating. I think the thing that I struggle more with is then regulating those emotions.

9. What can leaders do to improve their ability to self-regulate?

(12:37) Great question because this is the action piece. You can sit, think, reflect, and gain insight, but then what are you going to do with that information? So, it’s about developing your own self-control around your emotional response. Again, it’s about taking that millisecond of a pause between what you’re hearing come to you, what your externality or your input is that you’re getting from someone else, and then giving yourself permission to pause before responding.

If you think about impactful thought leaders, public speakers, or politicians even, they’re very intentional about how they’re responding and what they’re saying. So, I think slowing down and taking a pause is the most important simple task you can do to start self-regulating better. It’s really shifting from reacting in a knee-jerk response to responding in an intentional mindful way to whatever that situation or conversation is that you’re in.

10. And I’d imagine that this self-regulation and accountability, will also help leaders to develop trust within their teams?

(13:58) Absolutely, if you think about your personal or professional relationships, trust is always the bedrock. It’s easily destroyed and it’s harder to build. So, this is a very solid way to start building that because people feel heard. They feel listened to, valued, empowered, and all those things are what builds positive morale and culture.

11. How can leaders understand their own teams drive to succeed? And why does it matter to identify this?

(14:40) Well, that’s probably the main reason, right? We all have different learning styles. We all have different motivations. Those motivations can change over time, but if we really want to shift behaviours, or we want to shift mindsets, or we want to gain buy-in, build morale, or whatever it is we’re trying to do that’s interacting with another human or a group of humans in a team. It’s back to that empathy piece where we really need to be able to understand the other person, to understand the audience of who we’re working with, and who we’re trying to collaborate with so that we can meet them halfway.

I think where we see this challenged is when we’ve got very top-down authoritarian leadership styles which can work, can get the results, but you lose the people along the way. So, I think that’s the big shift and being able to be a team leader is bringing the people on the journey with you in a way that they feel they’re almost leading it.

12. When you are in a leadership role and you do want to bring your team along with you, or role model your own motivation and commitment to an organisation’s ambitions, how do you go about doing that? How do you bring people with you?

(16:03) We say a lot of it, building buy-in, right? Again, it’s using your techniques of empathy, listening, and enabling others to feel that it’s their journey, it’s their agenda. You’re not pushing something on them but you’re walking alongside them. And this is a universal human thing, it doesn’t really matter what your personal motivation is, but that alone will motivate people to act, be loyal and build that trust. Those are the key pillars that allow us to really be able to shift behaviours, mindsets and bring people along with us.

13. I wanted to talk about empathy which I’ve thought about in terms of my personal relationships and charitable giving, but it’s also the fourth competency in the model you mentioned. What can leaders do and what should they be doing to demonstrate empathy towards their teams?

(17:05) Yes, it’s the cross-cutting piece of the model, we‘ve got the four quadrants: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management, and what cross cuts all four of those quadrants to be a successful emotionally intelligent leader, empathy sits in the middle. So, it’s basically the cross-cutting skill that holds all those four quadrants together.

And in order to implement that or to use that to your advantage as an emotionally intelligent leader and bring the teams along with you, there’s four things I always say to do as a way to do empathy, if there’s such a thing, and to convert your emotional intelligence to be more empathetic.

The first is to stop and pay attention. Look at the verbal cues of your team. What words are they using? What is their body language? And starting to process those non-direct cues in communications. We do a lot of communicating that’s non-verbal, and I think it gets lost. So, being more aware of that, processing that, and then being able to respond differently based on what kinds of non-verbal cues you’re getting. That’s the first one.

The second one is to let yourself feel their emotions. You’re not just imagining what they’re feeling, and you’re not being sympathetic. You’re really letting yourself step into their shoes. I call it “crossing the bridge”. You’re on the other side of the bridge, you’ve let go of your own agenda, you’ve let go of your own story’s in your head. And you’re truly allowing yourself to see and feel something from that other person’s perspective.

The third one is to listen and accept their interpretation. Listening is the second most powerful way to create a connection. But listening without being judgemental and without trying to change their mind so that they agree with you is the first most powerful way. So, it’s about listening and accepting their interpretation or their world view without being judgemental.

And the fourth and last is to pause between stimulus and response to consider your outcome. So, you’re in control of managing those emotions and how you respond influences how others are going to respond back to you. That’s that pause piece, it’s a millisecond. It doesn’t have to be a lot of time, but it’s that processing just before you respond, or you speak that really allows you to improve that connection with others.

Absolutely brilliant advice there. Some of which I think, just from my own experience, is really, useful but also really challenging to apply, and also to apply consistently as well.

(19:57) Well, that’s the thing. We think, “Oh, we can’t really teach an old dog new tricks.” But we now have neuroscience proof that if you start practising this, and sometimes that does take a coaching relationship or something a bit more structured to shift your own behaviours. But we have proof now through neuroscience that it is possible to retrain our brains, to retrain the way that we respond. It takes time and as we know breaking habits or starting new ones takes hundreds of days, but it’s possible and that scientific backing on that is really motivating.

14. The final competency that you mentioned was social skills. Just how important is both verbal communication and body language in emotional intelligence when leaders are communicating with their team, whether that’s delivering a new policy or in the day-to-day interactions that they have?

(21:03) Communication really is probably the most important skill any of us have. At the centre of everything we do, no matter what, our jobs are people, right? What do we do with people? We communicate whether that’s through a text, email, verbal, or non-verbal. We are all communicating all day every day with other humans.

So, if you think about the amount of time we’re using and flexing that skill set, it’s probably the most important. Underpin your communication skills with that empathy, you’re going to improve on your ability again to bring others along and help others to see your perspective because you’re actually prioritising their perspective.

The verbal versus body language is also really interesting. I think we’re very focused on verbal communication, whether that’s written or verbal. In fact, body language tells us so much. So, starting with yourself, again, being aware of how your body is reacting to a certain situation, comment, challenge, or stress is as important as being able to watch others’ body language and response. They’re communicating to you not just through their words but through their body. Having a new radar up for that is going to give you new intelligence, new insights into what’s really going on for that other person.

I’ve seen it so many times more recently on video calls than in face-to-face meetings. Someone is delivering one message verbally and their body language is saying perhaps the complete opposite. That I’m not excited about this idea or engaged with this because my body language is really shut down, and it undermines or can undermine what’s being said verbally.

(23:01) Yes, exactly. If you’re just a little bit more attuned to that, you’ll be able to then process it and integrate it into how you’re going to respond to them. One thing we do in coaching is we often say, “I’ve noticed that your energy shifted when you said that.” So, we then explore. Why is their energy shifting? What has happened to them? What story in their head did that trigger? That’s the work you would be doing for yourself, and then helping to translate what others are giving you in terms of those feedback loops.

15. Is there anything else that leaders can do or skills that they need to possess outside of what we’ve already discussed, to help them develop and grow their emotional intelligence?

(23:46) I think it’s really that motivation and commitment. If you want to make these changes, you want to be a better leader, you want to be more emotionally intelligent both for your teams, for your own professional development, but also your personal life, don’t forget that this is all extremely powerful in building a life of happiness. This won’t just affect you in your professional life, but it will affect you across all your relationships.

So, if you’re motivated to do that, you’ve got the neuroscience that proves you can do it, and that you can retrain your brain. It’s about deciding what you’re willing to invest. Do you want to do a coaching programme with a coach and do one-on-one? Do you want to join some courses to learn more about this? Do you want to set aside five minutes a day just to sit and do a mindfulness practice? What are you willing to commit to, and what is your learning style so that you can start to integrate some of these practices and learnings into your day-to-day?

16. I’d like to finish with a question that we ask all our podcast guests. Outside of emotional intelligence, what do you think are the three qualities that make a good leader? And crucially, do you think these qualities have changed because of the pandemic?

(25:06) Yes, I love that reflection of pre-pandemic and post-pandemic. Again, I think as a leader, it’s about being able to read your audience. You have lots of different audiences as a leader, you’ve got your board, your investors, your team, and lots of different stakeholders that you’re going to be interacting with daily. So it’s being able to, again, read their response, understand where they’re coming from, and leveraging that insight about the lens that you should be trying to reach them through, or the communication style that you need to reach them through, so that you can bring them along with you and build that credibility and trust. That’s the first one.

I think the second one is probably being able to motivate others. Again, we all have different ways to be motivated. Some with a salary raise, others just want to feel recognised, but being able to understand what motivates those stakeholders, especially your team. So, those are the two key qualities that make a good leader.

I think the third one is just to have your finger on the pulse around, where is everyone going together? What is the future looking like? How do you engage others on that journey so that they feel that they’re empowered and enabled to create change and live into their own personal purpose? We are all very motivated by purpose, and that’s not something that we’re often proactively conscious of. But that is how we create happy, balanced, and successful teams and employees. So as a leader, I think that’s one of your key jobs.

Then has this changed as a result of the pandemic? I think this whole work-from-home video interaction has really been a challenge for leaders, teams, and employees. We’re now interfacing through a box or through a screen and it does change how we’re able to connect. We don’t feel each other’s energy, we don’t just grab a quick coffee and have a chat about something that’s non-work related.

So, I think the one main thing I would probably just encourage all of us to think about is, how can we have an offline conversation with our colleagues like we would if we were in the office more? How can that really help us to build that trust and relationship beyond what is on the agenda for that Zoom meeting or call? Again, really looking at others as humans and as like-minded individuals that were all in this together. We’re collaborating for a common goal so let’s also have a personal side to things even though we’re trying to achieve objectives on behalf of the business.

About this author

As an ICF-ACC certified executive coach, Shannon was selected as a Meta Coach to teach on Daniel Goleman’s Emotional Intelligence Coach Certification® course and is accredited in organimetric, The GameChanger Index®. She leverages NLP and mindfulness when helping clients break through personal barries and align to their values. Shannon pushes the boundaries of personal growth through designing innovative learning frameworks and collaborating across her global network. Previously she had a portfolio career herself, changing jobs every 1.5 years – as a hiring manager, a business strategist, and accountant and a CR management consultant for Deloitte, Corporate Citizenship, Barclays Global Investors, GE Capital, Adobe and WWF.

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