By Annie McKee & Abhijit Bhaduri
Published in NHRD Network Journal April 2013 Volume 6 Issue 2
”Soft skills are the differentiator.” This simple yet powerful mantra is what drives learning and leadership development at top companies like Wipro, one of India’s most successful businesses. What are soft skills and why are they so important? The term “soft skills” is a holdover from the Tayloristic approach to management that has permeated organizations for close to one hundred years. In this model, only technical, easily measurable skills and IQ are valued (e.g. How much coal a man can lift on a well- designed shovel, or intellect, as measured by things like grades in school). And, while technical skills and intellect are important, the research is conclusive: emotional intelligence competencies such as self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management are at the heart of leadership effectiveness— and business success.
In recent years we have learned from neuroscientists that emotions impact our capacity for creativity, adaptability, and quick decision making. How we feel is linked to what—and how well—we think, as well as to our actions. It is EI, not IQ, that differentiates great leaders from their average, run-of-the-mill colleagues.
And EI goes beyond individual effectiveness. Emotionally intelligent leaders create resonance—a powerful, positive emotional reality in teams and organizations that is marked by hope, enthusiasm and the collective will to win. A resonant climate makes people feel good: committed, willing to work hard, and passionate about results. In the end, there is nothing “soft” about skills that enable us to understand, motivate, and inspire people. This is why wise business leaders, Chief Learning Officers, human resource professionals and learning leaders help their people to focus deliberately and unabashedly on developing EI.
But can people learn to lead with emotional intelligence? The answer is a resounding “Yes!” Despite the fact that folklore would have us believe that leaders are born, not made, it is in fact possible to develop EI. It’s not necessarily easy, however, and most conventional learning and performance management programs do not help people to develop these competencies. There are many reasons for this, including the following:
Many leadership development programs simply don’t focus on the right skills. There has been a proliferation of organizational competency models over the past two decades. The so- called “competencies” in many models are often an amalgamation of skills, values and vague language around organizational objectives and/or trendy jargon. When, as is often the case, these complex models are used as the basis for training, people leave programs confused and unable to translate the learning experience into changes in behavior. In addition, many of these models do not include the very competencies that really do make a difference—notably those linked to EI.to promotions, developing as our boss thinks we should and the like. It is also true that many achievements-oriented people want to advance their careers and will work hard to do so. However we have found that getting the next job or pleasing the boss are, for most people, not powerful motivators over time.
Learning methodologies (whether online, face to face, or blended) are often archaic. We’ve known for decades that adults learn best when the learning experiences include theory and models, reflection, dialogue, experimentation and application. This means that the learning experiences have to be just that—experiences. Far too many leadership development program designers force people to sit in chairs listening to lectures and/or watching endless PowerPoint presentations. The outcome: Billions wasted on leadership development programs that don’t foster learning for individuals or their companies.
So, how do we solve these problems? How do we provide meaningful learning experiences that result in real change for people and organizations? How can we help people to develop the competencies that matter—like emotional intelligence?
In this article, we have teamed up to share a summary of Resonant Leadership for Results, a learning program used to develop EI and achieve organizational objectives in stellar companies and institutions such as an international bank, a well-known government, pharmaceutical companies and many more. This program was developed by Annie McKee and her team at the Teleos Leadership Institute and has been conducted all over the world with thousands of people. Resonant
Leadership for Results has touched people from South Africa to Italy, Cambodia to the United States and many countries in between. In fact, key aspects of the program were developed as part of a complex project in India with a large fast moving consumer goods company. Some key outcomes of the program: 1) people developed EI, as measured by pre-and post-tests; 2) organizations improved on key performance outcomes such as top-line revenue, customer service and employee engagement; and 3) communities have more successfully tackled extremely difficult social issues such as HIV and AIDS.
Resonant Leadership for Results and the innovative programs at Wipro make a difference. Why? Because they focus on the right things (EI and resonant leadership), in the right ways (learning designs that tap into people’s desire to grow and change). As you read, consider your own personal journey to better leadership as well as the successor opportunities for change—in the learning programs provided by your organization.
Resonant Leadership for Results
Resonant Leadership for Results enables people to develop their emotional intelligence competencies, create resonance in teams and organizations, and build a compassionate, results-oriented culture. It is designed in such a way that it can be conducted in as little as three days, or for as long as three weeks, over one year. For the purposes of this article, we will review the three-day program, as it is most appropriate for middle managers in busy organizations.
Day one–Discovering my motivation to Learn: Adults learn best when they are fully engaged and committed to personal and professional development.
Said another way, we cannot force our employees to learn–especially when that learning involves complex competencies like emotional self-awareness, self- management, empathy and organizational awareness. We put this maxim front and center on day one of Resonant Leadership for Results. We start with somewhat typical activities and move toward deeper reflection and dialogues as the day moves on. For example, facilitators engage participants in kick-off exercises that help them to see their strengths as leaders. One such exercise, called “Me at My Best”1 calls on people to tell a story about a time when they were truly successful as a leader (at work or in personal life). When these stories are “analyzed” in small groups, it becomes completely obvious that emotional intelligence competencies, such as those in Figure 1, are essential for great leadership. This, then, is how the business case is made for developing soft skills–part one of motivating people to learn.
We have found, however, that a business reason to engage in the hard work of learning EI is never enough. If you doubt this, quickly list twenty eight things you would like to do or experience before you die–and then count how many of these are directly related to your current job! So, with this in mind, the rest of Day One of the program is dedicated to engaging people’s hearts–helping them to get clear about values, personal and professional history and where they want to go in life and at work. Facilitators adeptly guide the group in a series of activities that help them to explore themselves and get comfortable talking with other people about what is most important to them in life. Slowly, people build a picture of an “Ideal Self”– who I am when at my best, the values I will take forward in my life, and the kind of leader I want to be. The theory behind this
approach–called Intentional Change–has been developed by our colleague Richard Boyatzis. It’s been used as the basis for dozens of development programs, helping tens of thousands of people to learn, grow and change.
Day Two—Understanding myself as A Leader: By the end of the first day of the program, people have built surprisingly strong and trusting relationships. Once this environment is set, people feel safe and can begin to look at the “Real Self”: who I am as a leader and a person now. It’s not always easy to look at oneself honestly. For this reason, we help people to see that there are often factors in the environment that interfere with their personal effectiveness. Sometimes, these outside forces seem to be beyond people’s control but in fact are within their power to change.
For example, organizations can be intense and sometimes brutal places. As smart, adaptable human beings, we often learn how to deal with things like power, politics and dysfunctional leadership practices by behaving in ways that make us less than proud. To help people explore these kinds of “hot” topic, we create activities and simulations that unleash real behavior and reactions to scenarios. People can then see themselves in action, and they also see what drives them to behave as they do. Debriefs of activities and simulations tend to be intense and personal. Conversations further learning about how each individual deals with hot topics like power (his or her own and others’), bad bosses, ambition, competition, success and failure. As people become aware of these dynamics, they are in a better place to make good choices about their own behavior.
Day Two, then, is highly customized to the nature of the external forces that interfere with good leadership and the creation of a resonant environment. The activities help people to understand who they are now and how they can impact their environments so that there is a better chance they can live their values and become better leaders.
Day Three–Creating Bold Learning Goals:
The last day of the three-day Resonant Leadership for Results program helps people to identify EI competency gaps– who I am now vs. who I want to be in the future–and then plan to change. The key to success of this set of activities is somewhat counter-intuitive: to develop most competencies, you can’t start with the competency itself. It is far more useful, and successful in the long term, to identify how you want to use a competency, and build a bold learning goal around this outcome. For example, one manager we know was having difficulty with peers and direct reports. He’d been told numerous times that he needed to be more empathic. He tried to learn to listen better, to be more understanding, etc., but nothing was working. It wasn’t until he set a more comprehensive learning goal that he began to truly change. His goal, interestingly enough, touched on both personal and professional life: “I want to be a more understanding father and manager”. Clearly, empathy was one competency he would need to focus on, as well as a few others such as self-awareness and emotional self-management.
Day Three of the Resonant Leadership for Results program is also focused on ensuring that people will accomplish their goals. This means looking at obstacles. For example, it is often the case that an organization’s culture drives the wrong behaviours. Many managers and leaders can see
that the culture is counterproductive, but they throw their hands up in defeat partly because they don’t know how to “diagnose” cultural values, norms, myths, or taboos. So, we often lead people through a simple process of examining how their own behaviour is impacted by the culture, and then in turn which aspects of the culture are helping, or hindering, all sorts of leadership development and organizational effectiveness. Simply understanding the organization’s culture a bit better gives people hope–and tools to begin to change it, and themselves.
By the last day of the Resonant Leadership for Results program, the learning community is strong and people have authentic, personal relationships that can be maintained long after the program is over. These relationships can help tremendously in the long learning process that starts once the program ends.
Programs like Resonant Leadership for Results and many of those at Wipro are designed for 21st century learners. Learning programs at Wipro have the same aims and outcomes as the Resonant Leadership for Results: they are engaging, experiential, and focused on organizational strategy and demands. They also support meaningful and sustainable learning. Let’s look at how this works.
First, programs cause leaders to refrain what a learning experience actually is, and where it can happen. For example, executives expect learning to happen in a classroom. So, as is the case in one very successful program at Wipro, when leaders are asked to create a play, they are pushed far out of the safe and predictable world of traditional learning environments. They are asked to write a script, stage it, design props and stage lighting. As they do this project, they understand that they can go out of their comfort zones and learn from the liberal arts. They learn about how to present themselves and others, how to make people feel valued, and how to structure a story (another important leadership skill). After this program, the head of one SBU said, “By adding small flourishes to a character that had an extremely brief appearance on stage, I was able to make the person feel engaged and valued. That’s just what I need to do for many of the junior members of my team.” She has since then become one of the active mentors to young women leaders.
We also run several workshops on storytelling for our business leaders. Last year we decided to hold it in Jaipur to coincide with the Jaipur Literature Festival. The leaders heard and interacted with authors and editors and attended talks by their favorite speakers. One of the participants describes his experience of using “The story behind the storytelling workshop” to share the impact of the program in the words of the leader of the business unit.
He goes on to say, “It was a 30 minute opening session where I had to share credentials, gives the client a reason to buy from us. I told my team that I would like three slides with just the three themes on them. This in itself was a departure from
the way my team made slides for client meetings. But they put the three themes I gave on three slides and in the body added all the supporting facts! In my review I told the team that I would make life even simpler. I asked them to put the three themes now in one slide in a line each. They were quite shocked that it was all I would take for the 30 minute session.”
This learning may seem obvious–create simple messages and communicate them clearly. However, in a world where information is in abundance, this can be difficult. It is the leader’s role to make meaning and convey it in a way that makes it memorable. Leaders who are able to connect with the stakeholders at a meaningful level are the ones who will be able to lead the organization tomorrow.
The research is clear: emotional intelligence makes a huge difference in individual and collective success. And EI can be learned. But for this to happen, we need to move beyond outdated learning methods and training programs. We must help people to learn the right skills–particularly EI–by engaging in experiences that are both personally and professionally compelling. When we do this well, people change. They become much more adept at creating the kinds of cultures in their teams and organizations where everyone can be at their best. And when everyone’s on their best, an organization can soar.
1 “MeatMyBest”andmanyotherself-directedexercisescanbefoundinBecomingaResonantLeader(Annie McKee, Richard Boyatzis, and Frances Johnston, 2008: Harvard Business Press)