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How to be a High EQ Leader: Communicate

High EQ Leaders Communicate With More than Just Words

How to be a High EQ Leader: Communicate

For this blog series, I asked some of my favorite leadership experts this question: “What do high EQ leaders do that sets them apart?” Their responses were both informative and inspiring. Some expressed similar ideas, but each person’s approach added depth to this important question. This is the fourth in the series, and I hope you read and enjoy all of them.

One of the most inspiring and insightful leaders I have ever know was an assistant superintendent in the school district where I worked. In this fast-growing district of about 40,000 students, the position carried a lot of responsibility and many challenges.

As I observed this man hold often-contentious meetings with union leaders, present untested ideas at school board meetings, attend functions with sometimes-skeptical teachers and staff, and calm angry or concerned parents, I saw an exceptional ability to communicate in ways that often had little to do with the words he spoke.

He supervised risk management, student accounting, technology, and testing and measurement. Before he left the school system, one of his greatest responsibilities was to oversee the strategic planning process - to align the activities of the district to the community-driven plan for the future.

In addition to curriculum and student testing, the plan included two strategy areas that were my responsibility - Trust and Collaboration and then Leadership. The plan contained core values and objectives for student performance. In the plan were action steps to meet each of the objectives and a detailed process to measure the plan’s success.

From this plan came many valuable activities: a 1-to-1 initiative that assigned laptops to individual students, a new district-wide curriculum, extensive senior projects, leadership coaching, and much more. The strategic plan amounted to an attempt to restructure the entire district.

Certainly not everyone got on board. There were cynics and naysayers, but this man’s tireless efforts to achieve the goals of the strategic plan earned him admiration and respect even from those who disagreed with him.

When the superintendent of schools took another position, many people in the community suggested that this assistant should become the new superintendent. However, he did not seem interested in moving in a direction that was not part of his own strategic plan.

As I think about his impact, I consider a host of important leadership skills. He was well-organized and knowledgeable. He was articulate. He knew how to draw on the resources of the community, and he held people accountable for doing a good job. But, above all, I believe the key to his success was his ability to communicate his passion for student and staff achievement.

His ability to communicate was much more than just words. 

One of his communication skills was an ability to tell engaging stories about everyday occurrences that carried a special message for the audiences he wanted to influence. I learned that he kept a file of interesting experiences, which he would describe in vivid detail. Before speaking engagements, he considered which stories might convey a meaningful idea, and I understand that he practiced what he would say and how he would say it.

Another skill was his ability to listen and reflect on what he heard before commenting. People who talked with him  did not always agree with his decisions, but they knew he heard what they had to say.

Just as important as these skills was his physical presence, which could command attention, encourage group interaction and creativity, or convey a sense of calm and security. He seemed to understand that each situation called for appropriate and varied leadership presence.

His work and these skills left a lasting impact on students and staff in the district he served.

For this series of articles, I asked some of my favorite leadership authorities to tell me what high EQ leaders do that sets them apart. Tamara McCleary, Charlee Hanna and Shawn Murphy each talked about the ability to communicate through listening, speaking and physical presence, which this leader demonstrated so well.

Tamara McCleary responded:

Emotionally intelligent (EI) leaders set themselves apart by developing truly communicative and collaborative connections in the workplace and their personal and social tamara mcclearyenvironments. This type of leadership facilitates two-way communication with individuals and with groups, subordinates, and peers. In today's society, many individuals are stuck in "broadcast-mode" telling everyone who will listen, or even those who have already tuned them out, their ideas, thoughts and emotions.  High EI leaders are engaged in listening intently to and observing what is going on around them. An EI leader takes the time to respond rather than to react, and they pick and choose what, when and how to communicate for maximum impact.  An EI leader is an active listener, ever observant and responsive to the needs of others as well as themselves.  EI leaders incorporate conscious awareness not only to their own internal functions but more importantly applying this awareness and consciousness to all of their outward action and communication in the world.

Charlee Hanna wrote:

Emotional Intelligence includes listening.  The Chinese symbol for listening includes the following symbols:

Charlee Hannathe eye=observe the speaker

the heart=feel what the speaker is trying to feel

the ear=hear what the speaker is trying to say

What is not included is the mouth because listening does not include your own point of view.

Joy Guthrie of Vizwerx Group is a marvelous example of the listening part of "Emotional Intelligence."

Her work requires her to listen very hard to what is actually being said and also understand what the speaker intended to say.  She must ask questions for clarification. Not for her own comeback, but to better understand the speaker. In the end she must be able to draw a picture accurately portraying the intended message, then work with the speaker to draw a picture of what needs to be communicated.  She uses all parts of the Chinese symbol of listening.

Shawn Murphy focused on leadership presence, how leaders show up and communicate their readiness to lead and to serve.

Shawn MurphyIn this era where management actions are under greater scrutiny, emotionally intelligent leaders have greater awareness of how their influence positively or negatively impacts people. The awareness is just the beginning, however. These leaders also take action to correct and redirect how they show up as leaders. In short, emotionally intelligent leaders purposefully manage their presence to do good for people, the business, even customers.~ Shawn Murphy

To be an effective communicator who can inspire passion and productive action:

  • Know your mission and fully demonstrate a passion for that mission.
  • Filter all discussions and all decisions through that mission.
  • Tell stories that support and further that mission.
  • Genuinely listen to what is said and what is not said. Ask questions. Be curious.
  • Allow other people the opportunity to shine.
  • Be aware of personal presence. Think about appropriate behavior for different situations.
  • Be willing to learn from others.

I have not stayed in touch since this man left the school system, but I learned a lot from him. With his exceptional ability to express his own ideas verbally and non-verbally and his willingness to listen and learn from others, he often turned adversaries into partners and detractors into friends.

These are some of the communication skills High EQ Leaders demonstrate. What other skills come to your mind? 

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If you would like to learn more about emotional intelligence or you want to find resources for your practice, check out our Emotional Intelligence Portal. It includes an unparalleled collection of articles and links to books, surveys, organizations, videos, audio recordings, images and useful products associated with this important leadership topic. Some of them hold creative commons licensing for your personal and professional use.


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