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 sixth and last of the series, and I hope you will read and enjoy all of them.
High EQ leaders are self-aware and they manage their emotions. They communicate, empathize, build relationships and inspire others to do great things. These are the topics I have included in this blog series.
However, the most far-reaching actions of leaders often depend on their active focus on building an environment that improves people’s lives and working conditions — their intentional efforts to build a culture where people can come together to solve problems collectively.
As I have watched the Ken Burns PBS special on the Roosevelts, I have revisited my interest in Eleanor Roosevelt, sometimes called First Lady of the World. She has always been my hero, but this week I looked more closely at her inspiring life and powerful leadership, which shown through despite tremendously difficulty and challenging circumstances throughout her life.
In a time when women were supposed to focus on their families and perhaps reach out to their closest neighbors, Mrs. Roosevelt became involved in political activity and social justice. She delved into issues of economic and social equality. She actively worked to create a culture that was more tolerant, more equitable, more compassionate, more inclusive and more politically active.
She invited new ideas and expected the criticism that often followed her activities. Specific actions showed the kind of world she worked to build.
When she visited soldiers in army hospitals during WWII, she asked about each soldier and actively listened to his or her story. She was genuinely curious and empathetic.
In a Woman’s Home Companion article in 1933 entitled “I Want You to Write to Me,” she said, "Do not hesitate to write to me even if your views clash with what you believe to be my views." She welcomed differences of opinion. By January 1934, 300,000 Americans had written her letters telling of their struggles and concerns. (Black, ND)
When the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow world-famous contralto, Marian Anderson, to perform in their hall because she was black, Mrs. Roosevelt organized a concert in which Anderson sang at the Lincoln Monument, and she very publicly resigned her DAR membership. Then, she did not attend the concert because she did not want her presence to overshadow the performance (Gerber, 2002). She promoted diversity and did not seek personal attention.
She invited African-American artists and political figures to the White House. When educator Mary McLeod Bethune visited, Roosevelt met her at the gate and walked arm-in-arm with her to the White House door to avoid problems with her staff (Cook, 1999). She did things because she believed they were the right thing to do. (Black, ND)
She publicly insisted that her husband, President Franklin D Roosevelt, appoint Frances Perkins, a noted labor reformer who in 1911 had seen young girls jump to their deaths in the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, as the first woman Secretary of Labor (Gerber, 2002).
Roosevelt started a Gridiron Widows party held at the same time as the annual male-only Gridiron Club dinner when the President, his cabinet and members of the press enjoyed an evening out. (Gerber, 2002)
After her husband’s death, Roosevelt was appointed to the American delegation to the UN where she worked on issues related to refugees after World War II. However, her efforts to draft and win approval of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) may have had the greatest impact around the world. This document serves today as the measure of how governments should treat their citizens. (Black, ND)
Eleanor Roosevelt was able not only to affect those who knew per personally, but she effected changes that were felt globally. She shaped the culture of a country and made an impact on people in nations around the world.
The idea of leadership is usually limited to businesses, single-interest groups or discreet organizations. A leader is often seen as a person who comes into direct contact with his or her followers. Even though few can have the kind of impact Eleanor Roosevelt had, it is important for leaders to consider what they CAN do to create a culture that brings people together to make a difference. It is important to think about what kind of impact is possible.
The wonderful leadership authorities who inspired this focus on culture-building are Chris Edmonds and Scott Mabry. Their answers to my question about what High EQ Leaders do that sets them apart, prompted my look at the importance of culture and specifically at the work of Eleanor Roosevelt.
Their insightful responses to my question are below:
Chris Edmonds wrote:
Emotionally intelligent leaders don’t leave their team culture to chance. They intentionally create a safe, inspiring work environment for every team member, every day. They help team members understand exactly what is expected of them from a performance standpoint (clear goals) and from a values standpoint (clear behaviors). With clear goals and clear valued behaviors in place, the leader can easily and promptly praise aligned behavior and redirect mis-aligned behavior. Emotionally intelligence leaders create Workplace Inspiration with clear goals and clear values so every team member THRIVES.
Scott Mabry replied:
Emotionally intelligent leaders pay attention. They recognize what is being felt not just what is being said.
They allow these observations to inform their decisions. When they are working with a team, they ask questions that bring the emotions to the surface so they can be affirmed and, if appropriate, acted upon.
These leaders recognize that people do what they do based on what they feel more often than what they think. Knowing that emotions are responsible for much of what goes on in an organization, they make it a priority to get out of their office and observe the way emotions are being expressed in the workplace. They regularly test the impact of their decisions and actions on the emotions of others; knowing that in their role they have a powerful influence on the team's emotional health.
They are also aware of their own emotions and how they are expressing those emotions verbally or non-verbally. Being self aware, they are better able to tap into emotions that best serve the situation at hand while managing those that may cause harm to themselves or others.
They practice personal habits such as meditation and silent observation that help them detach from impulsive emotions to see what is really happening.
This may be a stretch but I think some leaders with strong emotional intelligence see the entire organization as a single being with a range of emotions that affect how it responds or reacts to the challenges it will face.
Finally, these leaders understand how to balance emotion and intelligence, leveraging the best their mind and hearts have to offer.
With these thoughts in mind, what can leaders do to shape the culture of the people they influence? After looking at Eleanor Roosevelt’s work and the responses of Chris and Scott, I offer the following suggestions:
- Be clear on your mission.
- Define the culture that will support that mission.
- Focus on culture with intention. Develop and implement a plan that will create a safe, inspiring work environment for every person, every day.
- Remain curious. Ask questions. Listen. Pay attention to what is being felt and not just what is being said.
- Build connections between different groups and individuals.
- Provide time for causal and professional interaction.
- Clearly communicate hopes, dreams and expectations.
- Promote collaboration.
- Trust others to find solutions.
- Take risks.
Culture building is a very complicated and often frustrating process. It is easier to discuss than to implement. However, a safe, productive culture can occur only after serious thought and vigorous action.
Who are the people you influence? What limits the power to influence others? What other culture-building suggestions come to your mind?
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- Black, A. M. (ND) The Eleanor Roosevelt papers project: Anna Eleanor Roosevelt (October11, 1884-November 7, 1962) The George Washington University, http://www.gwu.edu/~erpapers/abouteleanor/erbiography.cfm Accessed September 22, 2014
- Cook, B. W. (1999) Eleanor Roosevelt, Vol. 2: 1933-1938. New York: Viking.
- Gerber, R.(2002)) Leadership the Eleanor Roosevelt Way: Timeless Strategies from the First Lady of Courage. New York: Penguin Books.
- Prior, K. O. (2011) 10 Secrets of Successful Leaders. Entrepreneur http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/220518 Accessed September 22, 2014