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Being skilled at what you do doesn’t automatically qualify you for leading others in that same field. Steve Pettit looks at the importance of emotional intelligence for truly effective leadership.

If you’re in a leadership role, have you ever pondered the series of events that led you to this privileged position?

One of the factors may be your outstanding ability in a particular discipline – perhaps sales, personal training or group fitness. It stands to reason that if you’re good at doing something, you must be good at leading others to do it. Or does it?

As fitness businesses grow, opportunities are created and a certain fluidity enables movement between roles. You might have begun as a gym floor instructor and evolved into a personal training manager. Or maybe you started as a sales consultant and now find yourself running the facility or even the entire company. Alternatively you might have started your own business or invested in a franchise which thrust you into multiple leadership roles.

Whatever you’re doing, regardless of what level you’re at, if someone relies on you for inspiration, direction, motivation or accountability, guess what? You’re in a leadership role.

One of the most common mistakes made in leadership development is believing that a great technician will be a great leader, and not affording the development time and focus required to make that outcome more likely.

Manager or leader?

What makes a manager and what makes a leader? The difference is simple. A manager is appointed to a role because they possess skills that will derive an outcome, most likely performance-based. A leader, on the other hand, possesses not only the IQ and technical skills, but also a level of ‘emotional intelligence’ (EQ) that engages their team to want to perform at their highest level.

IQ and technical skills are now considered as entry level requirements for leadership roles. EQ has been identified as being twice as important as technical skills and IQ – so why is it that we know so little about it?

Daniel Goleman is widely credited with progressing the concept of EQ in his book Emotional Intelligence. He defines it as consisting of five categories: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.

By examining just a couple of these areas it is possible to see how these seemingly simple characteristics can affect your ability to lead others.

How you see yourself and how the world sees you

The concept of self-awareness is not well understood in business, despite the ancient Greek saying ‘know thyself’ being of vital importance for leaders. In this age of heightened public scrutiny, with its demand for greater transparency, it is more important than ever for leaders to understand how they are perceived. What are your strengths and weaknesses? When did you last question how you are doing in your leadership role? Ultimately those around you are the only ones that can answer that question and help you gain self-awareness.

A 360-degree review, whereby all team members provide anonymous feedback to each other, including managers and leaders, is a great way of establishing whether there is alignment between how you see yourself and how the world sees you. An internet search will reveal multiple resources for getting this process started. By providing a level of confidentiality to those who you ask to provide feedback, you will receive more honest – and therefore useful – responses.

In addition to asking others for feedback, you need to ask yourself some searching questions. The first of these is, why would anyone be inclined to be led by you? What is it about you that makes those around you want to be better?

Is it:

  • The standard you set?
  • The vision you’ve helped create?
  • The faith you have?
  • Your own work ethic?
  • The balance you promote?

Seek first to understand

Empathy is an incredibly important skill. As Jim Collins notes in his celebrated book Good to Great, highly effective leaders have a large dose of humility, and they are there to promote the efforts of the team because they have the EQ to understand that a high performing team will most often be stronger that a high performing manager.

Imagine that a team member that you have charged with an important task comes to see you on the day the task is due to be completed only to advise that due to unforeseen circumstances it has not been completed – and in fact has barely been started. Alternatively, a sales advisor misses budget for the second month in a row and as a consequence you post a loss for the quarter.

Do you:

a) Slam your fist on the desk demanding answers?
b) Reach for the disciplinary action paperwork?
c) Discuss the employee’s incompetence with your colleagues?
d) Seek first to understand?

All going well you have ruled out options a, b and c as your first position, which leaves you with one of the best pieces of advice in communication: seek first to understand. You have two ears and one mouth, and as a leader it’s a good rule of thumb for the proportion you should use each, i.e. listening twice as much as talking.

When communicating, use the skill of empathetic listening, also known as active listening. Empathetic listening ensures you understand the position of who you are talking to through summarising key points and asking additional questions to fill in any gaps in the information they have provided.

When you have all the relevant information in the above scenario, an effective leader reflects. Jim Collins talks about the window and the mirror: based on his research, Level 5 leaders (the highest level of leadership) looked out of the window to credit others for success and looked in the mirror to apportion responsibility when things didn’t go to plan.

A leader with high levels of EQ will firstly ask what their part has been in an outcome. When things have not gone well they will be the first to stand up and take responsibility (looking in the mirror) and they will look out the window to see how they can help their team achieve greatness.

One way for a leader to assist their team’s development is to allow them to trip but not fall, as this is when wisdom is created. To do this you need to have a good understanding of the requirements of their role and task. Think about the mistakes you’ve made in your career and the lessons you’ve learnt. If you were never given the opportunity to get something wrong, how would you have learnt to effectively handle the situation on a subsequent occasion? It is natural to want to protect your team from making mistakes, but if the outcome can be controlled and a lesson learnt, you will enable your team to grow into a more robust solutions-orientated group.

Ralph Waldo Emmerson is quoted as famously saying ‘What you do speaks so loud that I cannot hear what you say.’ To put it another way, actions speak louder than words.

Think about how this relates to you in your leadership role – what example do you set? If it’s that of a leader who understands the impact of EQ, you will engage your team and increase your likelihood of achieving great and long-term success. If it’s that of a manager who simply oversees the processes necessary for the team to achieve short-term outcomes, you may find yourself simply needing to manage.

The great news is, the fundamentals of emotional intelligence can be learnt.

Steve Pettit, BCom BPhEd
After many years of fitness leadership, Steve has become a highly respected figure in the industry. He has worked with some of the world’s leading fitness providers, including Les Mills Asia Pacific, Zest Health Clubs and Les Mills International. He is now the CEO of the Australian Institute of Fitness, QLD, and is currently completing his MBA.

Benefit from Steve’s leadership insights at FILEX 2014 where he will be presenting:

  • Are you emotionally fit for leadership? • B2C

For more information on Steve’s session check out where you can also register for the convention or the all-inclusive Gold Pass packages that include access to the essential Business or PT Business summits and breakfast events.

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