Saturday, December 12, 2015

Emotionally Intelligent Leadership

A book review by: Nicholas Drayton
Buffalo State College

In our journey through the world of Creativity and Change Leadership, we discover that creativity can be taught, and that in a group setting, good facilitation skills are an essential aspect of effective creativity and creative problem -solving. Similarly we learn that the setting can also be equally important for unleashing individuals’ creative potentials. These two essential elements of leadership and environment form the basis of Emotionally Intelligent Leadership. Marcy Levy Shankman and her colleagues have put together a well laid-out descriptive examination of the attributes of an Emotionally Intelligent leader in group settings. Beyond the examination of the characteristics necessary for creative change leadership, the authors also provide a treasure trove of reflective questions that stimulate the reader to assess their own Emotional Intelligence capacities, along with recommendations on how one might improve those aspects in need of attention. Emotionally Intelligent Leadership, if ‘used as directed’ is a powerful book that will produce personal growth and development with regard to one’s change leadership capacity.

The concept of Emotional Intelligence has been around since the early 1990’s. Shankman and her colleagues take our understanding and application of the principles of Emotional Intelligence (EI) to a level that makes it accessible to students and laypersons alike. The book introduces the three facets of Emotionally Intelligent Leadership: Consciousness of self; Consciousness of Others; and Consciousness of Context. These three facets of EI are further broken down by chapter into nineteen Leadership Capacities or capabilities that are inherent within the three facets.

The authors use a unique style of combining analogies with real-life examples, and quotes from professionals and students in a wide range of fields of expertise, to create vivid illustrations of these Leadership Capacities. This format helps to make the book an easy read. At the same time, they also include at the end of each chapter a series of Reflection Questions that encourage the reader to dig deeper, conduct evaluations of themselves with regard to the various capacities, and to consider ways in which they might enhance each Leadership Capacity within themselves. A wealth of references to additional studies on each Leadership Capacity is also included at the end of its respective chapter.

There are a number of recurring themes throughout the book. The authors make it clear for example, that a leader is not defined by his or her official title or hierarchical position in a group, but by the individual’s ability to effect positive change within the group. They also emphasize repeatedly that while Emotionally Intelligent Leadership can be taught and learned, it is not a one-time teaching/learning event. On the contrary, it requires much practice and ongoing work. This was perhaps one of the more surprising revelations to me. The clear challenge of the book to all of its readers is to step out of our comfort zones in order to become more effective leaders of creative change. Another consistent theme is the complexity and dynamic nature of groups and organizations. What works in one group or for one organization may not work in another. In this light it emphasizes that assessing the context within which the group functions is also of extreme importance. The book ends by providing some suggestions for developing one’s Emotionally Intelligent Leadership skills.

Emotionally Intelligent Leadership gave me pause to consider my place on the EQ scale, with regard to the various capacities. It stimulated a great deal of soul searching and reflection through new lenses on past and current incidents and relationships in my professional life. Specifically in one instance, I had to ask myself, how Authentic (Chapter 5) am I. Authenticity is defined as the consistency between an individual’s values and his or her actions. It speaks for example, to having the courage to take an unpopular stand for something in which you strongly believe. I also was prompted to evaluate my Flexibility (Chapter 7): What does my professional track record say about my ease with being responsive to feedback from others that indicate a need to change a structure or a function? How have I dealt with the need to make adjustments in reaction to changing conditions either internally or external to my group?
Under the facet of Consciousness of others, the authors acknowledge that Inspiring Others is no easy task: “Energizing others is difficult work for a few basic reasons. First, you may not see yourself as inspirational, yet as a leader, you are expected to generate energy, excitement and commitment.….” (p. 130). They also recognized that energizing others can take a lot of energy out of you, especially when we consider that different individuals are motivated in different ways, and to be effective, “….we need to spend time developing relationships with others so that we know what matters to them.” (p. 131).

Under the facet of Consciousness of Context, I was intrigued by the similarity of the authors’ perspective to George Land’s (1986) “Grow or Die” model. They in fact use Ecology as a metaphor to illustrate the susceptibility of an organism or organization to external factors, if these factors are not recognized and managed appropriately. “When environmental conditions significantly change, an organism (either the tree or the organization) will either die or adapt if it is going to survive” (p. 228).

One of the shortcomings of this book, in my mind, is its failure to address the issue of how to build –or rebuild- a team from its state of brokenness? It assumes largely that one is starting from a position of construction as opposed to repair. It speaks repetitively about relationship building, for example, but does not address the issue of relationship repair. How does an EI Leader, for example, begin the healing process in an inherited team that has suffered great damage at the hands of a former leader who possessed very little emotional intelligence?

Notwithstanding, Emotionally Intelligent Leadership is more than a descriptive analysis of the concept. It is also much more than the scholarly textbook it was intended to be. It is a handbook for any leader who truly desires to create and sustain an environment that will foster optimum creativity, and positive change. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is serious about being a catalyst for change leadership.

Shankman, M. L., Allen, S. J., & Haber-Curran, P. (2015). Emotionally intelligent leadership. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Non-fiction.