Do you like people? I’m not asking whether you are an extrovert or an introvert. That’s another matter entirely. I’m asking whether or not you value and prize a sense of connection with people. Here’s one way to find out: how gracious are you? How well do you recognize, care about, and enhance the feelings of other people? Those are key emotional-intelligence factors that are not only important as life skills, they are also important as leader skills. Without graciousness, leadership flounders. Read on to see how that works.
My wife, Megan, and I are now about half-way through our time in Israel, living and working with people who are interested in learning the coach approach to evocative leadership. The whole experience has been very exciting, not only because people are finding value in our work but also because we are learning so much about yet another culture. I have a friend who says that one of his goals in life is to visit as many countries as possible before he dies. That’s not a bad goal.
On Friday night, Megan and I had the opportunity to visit an orthodox Jewish synagogue with some new friends. The synagogue was one of nine congregations, all of which were gathering at the same time for Friday-evening prayers in a large, multi-story community center. Outside there were countless clusters of people, playing, conversing, and enjoying one another’s company. It was a delightful expression of extended family and community.
After the prayer services had finished, we went over to our friends’ home for dinner. They had cooked all the food earlier in the day, per the orthodox custom, and then served it to us in the right order (first wine, then bread, then fish, then meat) with the right prayers. At each point they explained the customs and made us feel right at home. Simply put, they were gracious hosts.
We, in turn, were genuinely interested in what they had to share with us. We enjoyed looking at their daughter’s Bat Mitzvah album as well as their son’s Bar Mitzvah poster, which took place in the past week as he had just turned 13. We also tried our best to learn a few Hebrew words and to talk with their youngest son, who was just beginning to learn English. It took a while for him to learn how to pronounce my name, but once he connected the dots between “Bob” and “Sponge Bob,” he had it down pat!
So what, you may be asking yourself, does all this have to do with leadership? A lot! Everyone knows that leaders have to be good at schmoozing. But authentic graciousness is far more than something you do to win friends and influence people. Graciousness is something you do to be human.
Ten years ago, in the wake of the attacks in America on September 11, 2001, I wrote a series of Provisions titled, “Be Nice and Brave.” I turned those two words into acronyms for Neighborly,Interested, Connected, and Etiquette plus Bold, Responsible, Action-oriented, Versatile, andEnduring. Although I wrote that series as more of a general prescription for life, I now see the connections to leadership as being quite instrumental.
Most leaders cozy up readily to BRAVE. It seemingly fits at least the Western vision of leadership to charge ahead into battle. Bold, Responsible, Action-oriented, Versatile, and Enduring just sound like leader words. But NICE? That word is another story. Not every leader identifies with being nice, and many would openly disavow the word.
What leader worries about being neighborly, interested, connected, and polite with people? Certainly many leaders seemingly get to the top without that (witness Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel with his infamous penchant for letting F-bombs fly) but the best leaders, and I suspect even Mayor Emanuel, have excellent people skills that make them seem approachable and caring regardless of how much stress they may be under.
That takes intentionality, effort, and practice. One of the hardest and yet one of the most important of all leader traits to develop is to be calm under fire. The biggest enemy to graciousness is time-urgency. When we think that something has to happen right now, in a particular way, or else, that is when we are most likely to lose our cool. Our communication become demanding and self-centered, the exact opposite of graciousness.
And, ironically, the more time-urgency we feel and communicate, the longer things will generally take. Without graciousness, we lose the lubricating juice of positive social relations that makes people want to cooperate to get things done. So the machinery gets mucked up by our own impatience. It becomes a vicious cycle of demand energy. When leaders insist, people resist.
Fortunately, releasing impatience, demand energy, and self-absorption is something people can learn to do. Unlike IQ, which measures a person’s cognitive abilities and tends to remain more or less constant over time, EQ, which measures a person’s emotional intelligence, tends to be more fluid and developmental. People can actually raise their EQ, in other words, far more than they can raise their IQ. And doing so generates big benefits.
Research indicates that EQ is far more predictive of success in just about every endeavor, including leadership, than IQ. Emotional intelligence means, at a minimum, that we are aware of our own feelings and needs, as well as the feelings and needs of others, plus that we are able to manage those dynamics in effective and constructive ways.
It may seem obvious that those are mission-critical abilities when it comes to leadership, but did you know that those abilities also correlate to physical and psychological health, to positive social interactions including marital happiness, to performance at school and in the workplace, to self-actualization, and to overall subjective well-being?
Such correlations are so well established in the literature at this point that no one disputes the importance of cultivating a high EQ. To quote a prominent researcher in the field, Reuven Bar-On, “The implication of these findings is that EQ more than IQ affects our ability to do our best, to accomplish goals, and to actualize our potential to its fullest.”
Now there are many ways to both assess and to strengthen one’s emotional intelligence, and it is beyond the reach of this Provision to discuss them in any detail. One thing, however, is clear: there is an inverse relationship between impatience and emotional intelligence. The more impatient we are, the less emotionally intelligent we tend to be, and vice-versa.
That makes graciousness a key indicator of emotional intelligence. If we are courteous and kind with people, if we are interested in and sympathetic with people, if we pay attention to the reactions of people and to whether or not our way of being is putting them off or inviting them in, if our presence makes people smile, then chances are good that our EQ is of leader-like quality.
Often those reactions are subtle and non-verbal rather than obvious and verbal. Here in Israel, where we do not read, speak, or understand the language, we find ourselves relying even more on body language, facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, and other mannerisms to determine whether or not we are coming alongside and joining up with people or pushing them away. In every social setting, the join up of graciousness is important.
And that’s especially true when it comes to leadership. That’s the gist of my wife’s first book Trust Matters. Without good emotional intelligence, without good social skills, without graciousness, leaders will alienate the very people we need to work for us and with us. With graciousness, however, all manner of tough work is readily tackled and successfully completed.
In our book Evocative Coaching, Megan and I describe the world-famous horse trainer, Monty Roberts, as one of our role models. Monty is famous for his ability to win a horse’s cooperation rather than force a horse’s submission. On that basis, Monty has successfully and happily started about 10,000 wild horses. That is his life’s work.
How does he do that, usually in 30 minutes or less? Through high emotional intelligence. Monty pays attention to how the horse is reacting to his presence and then he channels that energy in constructive paths. Monty writes that such listening to the silent language of horses has enabled him to “cross over the boundary between human (the ultimate fight animal) and horse (the flight animal). It has enabled me to create a strong bond of trust such that horses have been willing to try for me, over and over again.”
And isn’t that what every leader wants? Don’t we want to evoke willingness such that people try for us over and over again? That happens only when we let go of impatience and express graciousness in all that we are, all that we say, and all that we do. It must be authentic and it must be consistent. When this happens, when we cultivate this kind of emotional intelligence, all manner of things become possible in life and work.
Coaching Inquiries: On a scale of 0-10, how would you rate your graciousness? What might you be willing and able to do to increase that score? How could you pay more attention to the way you are coming across with people? How could be more of a gift to those you work with and lead?
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LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.
Your last Provision, Discipline Matters, was a real challenge for me. Thanks for making me think.
May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.
Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
President, LifeTrek Coaching International, www.LifeTrekCoaching.com
CEO & Co-Founder, Center for School Transformation, www.SchoolTransformation.com
Immediate Past President, International Association of Coaching, www.CertifiedCoach.org
Author, Evocative Coaching: Transforming Schools One Conversation at a Time, Online Retailers
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