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Leadership fundamentals- Emotional Intelligence and Systems Thinking

Leadership fundamentals- Emotional Intelligence and Systems Thinking
Michael Horton - Senior Vice President & Country Manager Australia & New Zealand | February 5, 2015

I was sent two fantastic articles on leadership thinking this week. Articles that outline concepts that I strongly subscribe to – Emotional Intelligence (Emotional Intelligence, Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance, Daniel Goleman, Richard E. Boyatzis, Annie McKee, from the December 2001 issue 8.95) and Systems Thinking (Cultivating Systemic Thinking in the Next Generation of Business Leaders, Atwater, Kannan & Stephens, Utah State University). The first one was sent to me by HCL HR and the second by a colleague.  On the later article, the colleague’s context was in regards to the approach of optimizing mining systems, but the value is held in the broader aspects of how to go about managing a business. I believe that understanding and linking these two key concepts together gives anyone a solid basis from which to be an extraordinary leader – at any level of the organization.

The emotional intelligence article describes how research shows that high levels of emotional intelligence in a leader can set the scene for trust, information sharing, healthy risk taking (our big bets for example) – and encourages learning. Low levels of emotional intelligence create a less than healthy environment where fear and anxiety creep in. Fear can be a good motivator in the short term, but engagement and enthusiasm drop off immediately after the blow torch turns off.

Someone with high emotional intelligence is perceptive of others and regularly in able to be in an optimistic, authentic and high energy mood. This can’t be faked though, as people will see right through this if it is not authentic. Some are blessed with this persona naturally and some have to work very hard at it. It’s about getting your own house in order.

A good culture, set in place by leadership with high emotional intelligence is one thing, but then how does the organization go about operating in a highly effective way? This is where I think Systems Thinking comes into it – the other side of the coin if you like. Systems thinking is about having all of the organizational components working together in the same direction – to common goals, working to the big picture…sales, delivery, marketing, HR, finance, admin, facilities. All of the departments. The opposite of this would be analytical (traditional) thinking, where organizational components are studied managed and altered in isolation. The problem here is that in real life, no department ever works in isolation to any of the others.

The sailing ships of old are great analogies of modern organizations, where a captain with high emotional intelligence leads the ship and crew to complete successful voyages (as opposed to mutiny) – and systemic thinking is used to manage all of the components of the ship in a way that it sails fast and without failure. Sailing manuals of old highlight that a ship sails at its best when all of the various components, ropes, pulleys etc, have equal strain on them. It’s the very same in our modern organizations. 

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