“I was quite disappointed with the leadership course I attended recently,” confided Colleen to me as we nursed our respective glasses of Sav Blanc at my nephew’s birthday party.
Colleen was a close family friend and someone who has a very successful career starting and managing a small professional services firm. In her 50s, I would describe Colleen as business savvy, emotionally intelligent, very self-aware, curious, and someone who has done extensive professional development over the years of her career.
She was currently enrolled in an expensive, but quite exclusive year-long leadership program at a well-known business school. As a leadership facilitator, I’m always curious when I hear this comment both socially and professionally.
“Tell me more about the program.” I leaned in to hear more.
She described one or two of the activities that she’d participated in during the first (week-long) residential session. They seemed targetted to help bring participants back to their core leadership styles, strengths, and weaknesses — a good thing, I thought. As with most people in an adult learning situation, we tend to cherry pick particular experiences in a learning situation that, for whatever reason, ‘stand out’ to our brains, positive or negative. This is because our experiences are potentially influenced by any number of cognitive biases. Based on extensive study by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman throughout the 1970s, ‘cognitive bias’ is a general term that is used to describe many observer effects in the human mind, some of which can lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, or illogical interpretation. It’s something everyone should be aware of, but leaders in particular. [See this list of cognitive biases for the range of influences on your thinking.]
“I like the course, and I’m getting a lot out of it,” Coleen continued, “but I’m learning more about me, not about leadership.”
Curious, I asked what she’d hoped she’d get ‘more of’.
“I thought there would be more how-to on leadership”. (It’s likely that Coleen was at that moment under the influence of expectancy theory, which states that the behavioral process of why individuals choose one behavioral option over another. It also explains how they make decisions to achieve the result they desire.)
It got me thinking, Is there anything left to learn about leadership?
You’ll be pleased to know that the short answer is yes. To do that, though, we need to learn a bit more about ourselves — so, in fact, the program that my friend was attending sounded like it was on the right track to me. There are many leadership ‘theories’. There are many leadership ‘models’ available commercially. Many facilitators, trainers, authors, coaches (me included) have developed their own models based on what behaviours they’ve seen and observed in years of business experience.
An element of leadership that all of us professional facilitators have advocated for many years now is that of emotionally intelligent leadership. Dr Carolynn McCann of the University of Sydney concluded in her 2008 research that emotional intelligence gave a 29% increase in workplace performance when ‘used’. A subordinate working for a leader or manager who demonstrates more emotional intelligence than one that doesn’t, can’t, or won’t use emotional intelligence, doesn’t need a statistic to tell you that.
The ability to know one’s self, to be aware of one’s emotions and moods and the impact of aforementioned moods and emotions on those with whom they interact is the essence of emotional self awareness. It is also the cornerstone of the GENOS model of emotional intelligence.
The pivotal learning point here is that emotional intelligence is changeable. Moment to moment, situation to situation, day to day it can vary. Your ability as a leader, as an individual to know yourself and to continue learning about yourself is pivotal to leadership success. One simply does not go to a leadership course and ‘get’ what it means to be a good leader. People are complicated individuals. Some days we get it right, some days not so right. With that said, I believe there is still a lot to learn about leadership. And mostly, that is learning about yourself.