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Leadership and the Inner Observer

August 21, 2012

English: Robert Plutchik's Wheel of Emotions

Why Is Effective Leadership So Difficult To Pin Down?

So many books have been written about the subject addressing many of the important facets that the act of leadership demands; clarity of vision, strategic thinking, high level management skills, cultural acuity,  influence and emotional intelligence, to name a few.

I find that the most challenging aspect of training up the leadership ranks in an organization lies in the work around emotional intelligence.  A leader’s emotional intelligence is tied directly to their ability to create influence within the ranks and to build a high functioning culture.  Though these “soft skills” may be considered secondary to basic skills of good management by some, emotional intelligence tends to be much harder to teach on an individual level and embed within teams.

Why is it so difficult to teach?  Three words:” honest self-observation.”  It requires developing within oneself the “Observer;” this is the honest broker within each of us that tends to steer us in the right direction by witnessing our behaviors and thoughts and their impact on our surroundings.   The Observer exists in all of us; one may consider it the voice of our conscience, the whisper of our intuition.

The challenge we face is that more often than not we don’t pay attention to this voice; we choose to either consciously ignore it, or by course of habit, we turn its volume so far down that we can’t hear it.  The loss of clear access to this voice over time begins to blind us to our impact on our environment and those around us; as leaders we begin to risk creating the positive influence we seek in our organization, and over time we risk becoming less and less effective in how we lead.

When we talk about “leadership”, we are addressing the issue of how someone can lead people, be it individuals or teams.  Technical skills aside, a leader’s primary job is to influence and impact the people around them in positive directions towards the business goals that need to be met.  What differentiates an effective leader from a mediocre one are the skills inherent in their emotional intelligence, and one’s emotional intelligence is explicitly connected to how well their inner observer is developed.

How then does one develop their inner observer? 

  1. Start by committing to do a professional assessment, something like a 360 assessment, once a year.
  2. Collate the feedback and solicit someone’s help to create a plan to address the issues found in the assessment.
  3. Follow the plan with the support of a mentor or a coach.
  4. Begin to notice how the issues raised in the assessment may correlate to some things that you already were aware of within yourself, or that you may have had indications about.
  5. Focus on these issues and begin to pay more attention to what the voice of your inner observer is telling you about these issues as you interact with your colleagues.
  6. This focus will strengthen your awareness of the observer within you; over time it will expand your ability to hear its voice more frequently.
  7. Develop your trust in it as you develop your willingness to listen to it and heed its feedback.

The inner observer is a necessary vehicle to grow our emotional intelligence, and being emotionally skillful increases our success in influencing people in positive and productive ways.  A leader who understands the value of their people, and in his endeavors works intelligently to create a positive impact will build a contagiously positive culture where success results are the norm, not the exception.

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