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What leaders do: their impact on staff and why it matters.

by Jennifer McCoy

Ask managers in leadership programs, 'What makes a leader?' and they list qualities like: 'they instil confidence', 'good at building relationships', 'they respect people', 'you feel you can trust them'. Few would dispute these qualities; they're attributes that most leaders themselves probably would like to claim.

Next ask these aspiring leaders to translate those qualities into behaviours, what the leader actually does that instils confidence' or shows they are respectful of others, or that you feel you can trust them, and they find specific behaviours more difficult to define.

Take these examples: 'instil confidence' means they encourage people, extend challenges, they're calm even when there's a crisis; 'good at building relationships' means the leader involves and links people, makes people feel valued; 'respecting people' means the leader listens to people, acknowledges ideas and never condones disrespect amongst others; 'trustworthy' means they're honest, they follow up on things, they honour confidentiality.

Invariably workshop participants acknowledge that they are describing an ideal leader, a composite figure built from the shared experiences of group members - and seldom encountered. Within this exercise lie the seeds of disconnect: a potential gap between admirable qualities of leadership and the specific behaviours that define them.

Even outside the artificial confines of a leadership workshop there are similar findings. Research findings by Human Synergistics 1 from a study of 5,560 senior Australian and New Zealand executives, reveals that they know what needs to be done, know how to lead, know all the latest leadership concepts. And they believe they are doing it.

These leaders claim they are 'encouraging people to strive for excellence, maintain their standards, show trust in others and work together'. They say they want people to 'strive for excellence, set challenging goals, be creative, maintain integrity, be supportive, resolve conflicts constructively and work together effectively. However, they just don't do it.

Their staff, 142,500 from Australia and New Zealand, report feeling controlled: forced to find fault, to compete, to adhere to procedures, to avoid blame and shift responsibility to others. They also see their leaders driven by a fear of failure: avoiding difficult decisions, focusing on negatives, strictly following procedures and dealing aggressively with people when confronted with issues they can't avoid. The result: individual satisfaction, motivation and commitment are low for these employees.

Here again is that disconnect: leaders who do not understand the impact they are having on their staff, who cannot see the connection between what they are doing, or not doing, and the outcomes they claim to be achieving. Leadership is about influencing people, whether intentional or not. If leaders want their people to behave in positive ways, they need to model that behaviour themselves.

Modelling behaviour starts with self-awareness: it means identifying the specific behaviours needed to achieve particular outcomes and recognising what they actually do now; making a commitment to change and then systematically practising the new behaviours until new habits are formed – and they are habits.

"Leadership behaviours are largely interpersonal skills: emotional intelligence, which involves a set of skills that define how effectively we perceive, understand, reason with, and manage our own feelings and those of others" 2.

"Leaders high in emotional intelligence are connected to the people around them. They present as authentic and empathetic, willing to practice expansive thinking, constantly seeking to include and understand rather than exclude and ignore. This means resilient and empowering leadership that isn't afraid of others opinions and doesn't feel the urge to have the final decision or always be proved correct" 3.

Emotional intelligence can be developed. The way we all behave in situations has been formed by habit. Changing a habit simply takes awareness of the behaviour that is not serving us well, understanding of the behaviour, what we need to do, to achieve the outcomes we want; plus: commitment, practice - and perseverance.

Why not start now?

  1. Try an emotional intelligence test at Queendom. This test assesses some aspects of your emotional intelligence, gives you a Snapshot Report with an option to purchase the full report; plus, it offers some suggestions for enhancing your EI.
  2. Contact us and ask about our workplace coaching programs, for individuals and teams, based on the GenosInternational emotional intelligence system and tools.
  3. Discuss these situations with a trusted colleague:
    • An occasion when you used your tone of voice to express your feelings. What did you do? Start noting occasions when you do this and think about the connections between your tone of voice and your feelings.
    • A recent situation where people upset you at work: how did you explain your feelings to the person? What did you do well? What could have been done better?


1 McCarthy, Shaun. (2010). The leadership culture performance connection. Trahsforming leadership & culture. The state of the nations. The Research Results Book 2010. Australia and New Zealand. Wellingtom, Human Synergistics, New Zealand Ltd. 2 Clarke, David (2010) The power of emotionally intelligent leadership. Genos, London. Read here 3 Genos (2007) Emotional Intelligence System. Goleman, Daniel. (1998) Working with emotional intelligence. London, Bloomsbury. Human Resources Magazine. (Sept 1, 2010) Australian managers lack self-awareness..