Emotionally intelligent leaders - ways to unleash your organization’s full leadership potential

Published July 20, 2015

I was reading a great article in the December 2001 edition of the Harvard Business Review on leadership that is worth sharing. Written by Goleman, Boyatzis and McKee, the article discussed their research on primal leadership as being the hidden driver of great performance. As a certified Integral Master CoachTM, I am spending quite a bit more time learning, studying, and reflecting on myself. Sounds narcissistic, doesn’t it? However, Goleman, who pioneered the field of emotional intelligence, suggests that self awareness and emotional self management are two key constructs in the effectiveness of leaders. Case in point, I just finished a four day Integral Coaching Canada Mastery Workshop called the Spirit of Practice. Most of the workshop focused on the understanding of self and increasing our ability as integral coaches to be awake to what is unfolding inside oneself. This self-awareness, in turn, can increase our capacity to be alive to what is unfolding externally. So when we are sitting with clients who are sharing their stories with us, we are able to access our emotional intelligence, to be in complete service to others.

As a way of understanding how to access one’s emotional intelligence, Goleman and his colleagues introduced an approach to human development that I have summarized below. I hope sport leaders who are interested in learning more about this additional form of intelligence find this blogpost useful in their own journeys of growth and development.

Insight 1: Increase self awareness

The authors argue that this is the most essential of the emotional intelligence competencies. Reading and understanding your emotions allows people to know their strengths and limitations and feel confident about their self-worth.

Insight 2: Management of self

This capability allows people to control their emotions and act with honesty and integrity in reliable and adaptable ways. People don’t get overtaken by their emotions because they are able to identify their emotions, name what they feeling, and explain the source of the emotions to people in a reasonable manner. They have the ability to calibrate their emotions in a way that feels genuine and supportive.

Insight 3: Social awareness

This aspect of a leader’s spectrum of awareness includes the key capabilities of empathy and intuition. Socially aware leaders do more than sense other people’s emotions, they show that they care. They are also sensitive to office politics and the dynamics that unfurl when people are working together towards a common cause. They also understand and are aware of the impact their words and actions can have on others.

Insight 4: Relationship management

This final emotional intelligence competency includes the ability to communicate clearly and convincingly, disarm conflicts, and build strong personal bonds. These kinds of capabilities allow for leaders to spread their enthusiasm and solve disagreements, often with humor and kindness.

How to Step into a New Way of Being

As an Integral Master CoachTM, I work with clients to support their personal and professional objectives which, more often than not, are linked to a deep-seated longing to become something more than they already are. Helping clients tap into their own edges - especially in the emotional realm - allows them to increase their awareness of aspects of themselves that had remained hidden. By shining a light on what was once hidden, clients become aware of their limitations. Once this happens, people are able to find ways to transcend these limitations in a more powerful and sustainable way.

Goleman and his colleagues described a step-by-step approach to facilitate personal transformation. I’ve applied my own experience to their approach and offer it here to sport leaders interested in the field of human development.

The process begins with imagining your ideal self and then coming to terms with your real self, as others experience you. The next step is creating a tactical plan to bridge the gap between ideal and real and, after that, to practice those activities. It concludes with creating a community of colleagues and family—call them change enforcers—to keep the process alive.

Step 1: Dream … who do you want to be?

This conversation allows a person to map out their future state. Who is it that they feel a calling to become? Where would your future self be? Where would she be living? What position would she be holding? What matters most to you and how can you express this through your values? The idea is to uncover a longing of becoming - something that taps into your core. This kind of self discovery exercise unleashes a person’s desire in tangible words – words that can be sourced throughout a coaching program.

Step 2: Reality Check … who am I now?

This can be a wakeup call for leaders who up until this point have a limited understanding of how they are currently leading others. The Reality Check requires courage; as people often have to ask difficult questions of others in order to illuminate areas of growth potential and this is where a coach can be most supportive. Facing the truth about oneself can be liberating and humbling, and can be done in a number of ways including: 360 feedback, seeking out a mentor, and actively asking for critiques from people you trust at various levels within your organization, from friends, and from family members.  Acquiring this feedback will give you a sense of how people experience you and start to help you more clearly track any patterns you have regarding listening, communications, empathy, and accessibility.

Step 3: Building Bridges … how do we get from here to there?

Building bridges is one of the most challenging steps as it often requires external support for the individual who is going through the ‘developmental program’. Not everyone has the time to carefully plan out the tactics required to help move the yardstick of personal growth. A coach can be a source of support and can offer practices that are designed to help the individual gain greater awareness of their current way of being. Often the practices are small adjustments to an individual’s daily routines but with subtle nuances that provide powerful learning opportunities without adding more things to do.  Examples of practices to help an individual increase their interpersonal capabilities include:

  • Spending more time with your colleagues to get to know them better
  • Reading management books on different personality types
  • Engaging in a self-reflection practice on the commute to work that has you visualizing different strategies when dealing with conflict
  • Volunteering in your community

More than just becoming new habits, these practices re-wire important brain neurons that signal new approaches when dealing with interpersonal situations.

Step 4: Making it Stick … how do we sustain changes over time?

Making change last requires practice.  Athletes and coaches understand the value of deliberate practice. So do artists and musicians. The reason, again, lies in the brain. It takes doing and redoing, over and over, to break old neural habits. A leader must rehearse a new behaviour until it becomes automatic—that is, until she’s mastered it at the level of implicit learning. Only then will the new wiring replace the old.

While practicing is the best way to learn something new, other ways can add value and decrease the length of time it takes to make something your ‘new way of being’.  Visualization can be a powerful way to step into a new role, to change behaviour, or to support the mastery of a new skill. Another mindfulness technique is “sitting practice” that involves emptying the mind through breath control and stillness of the body. Yet another practice involves being in nature, where one can find peace and tranquility that supports transformation. Journaling can provide incredible support to leaders looking for ways to unleash internal longings and to make meaning from once hidden patterns.

All of these practices can eventually trigger the neural connections in our brains necessary for genuine change to occur. Even so, lasting change doesn’t happen through experimentation and brain-power alone. We need, as the song goes, a little help from our friends.

Step 5: Support Network … who can help me?

The fifth step in the self-discovery and reinvention process is creating a community of supporters. For example, Unilever, a multi-national consumer goods company, formed learning groups as part of their executive development process. At first, the individuals gathered to discuss their careers and how to provide leadership but before long were also sharing their dreams and their learning goals. This sharing strengthened the bonds of trust and they began to rely on each other for frank feedback as they worked on strengthening their leadership abilities. This makes me think of the relationship between athletes and coaches. They too rely on the bonds of trust to exchange vital information about what is working and what isn’t. Without trust, very little change can occur.

Another option is to seek out a third party, neutral coach to support your leadership development and personal growth project. As an Integral Master CoachTM, I am trained to support a person’s personal growth and transformation on a variety of topics. As someone who had the support of a coach during a difficult transition period, I can attest to how helpful it can be to have a trained coach support your desire to awaken and sustain a ‘new way of being.’

Final Words

We cannot improve our emotional intelligence or change our leadership style without help from others. We not only practice with other people but also rely on them to create a safe environment in which to experiment. We need to get feedback about how our actions affect others and an assessment of our progress on our learning journey. So if your vision of a future self is still eluding you, please feel free to give me a call at 613-591-1246 or drop me an email at dbl@sportlaw.ca.

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