Emotional Intelligence Critical for Success as an Authentic Leader

By Aliah D. Wright Jun 22, 2014

ORLANDO, FLA.--Being an authentic leader means, among other considerations, practicing emotional intelligence and being mindful about your actions and words, attendees of the 2014 Society for Human Resource Management Annual Conference & Exposition learned from Michelle Maldonado and Marie Harper of American Public University during their session titled “Authentic Leadership: Develop Your Best, Inspire the Rest.” 

Both women encouraged the audience to employ “Moonshot Thinking,” which isn’t thinking outside the box. Rather it’s being brave enough to destroy the box to create something new and exciting—much like the founders of Apple, Amazon, Hewlett-Packard, Zappos, Google and countless others have done.

“We have to set the scene, set the environment, prepare the soil and make it fertile, to create an environment for thinking differently,” said Maldonado, associate vice president of corporate and strategic relationships for American Public University. 

“This conversation is about thinking differently,” she said, but also about being smart about it.

As children, Maldonado said, “we want people to follow us. And then, as we get older, we think, ‘I’ve got to get this degree, this title.’ What’s missing is the gap in between. What fills the gap and connects the dots to be able to lead authentically is developing a set of tools that enable you to develop leadership styles and skills that promote sustainable success.” 

Those styles are:

  • Servant leadership (leading by action).

  • Situational leadership (being able to adapt to different situations).

  • Authentic leadership (demonstrating emotional intelligence).

  • Conscious leadership (paying attention to how you treat stakeholders and all employees).

  • Being mindful (considering your actions and words).

For example, a servant leader is one who demonstrates their leadership ability through their actions, said Harper, program director of the management program at American Public University.

“You have to figure out what inspires your people, what motivates them. Let them see how you respond as a leader. Do you have ethics? Show me, don’t tell me.”

A situational leader is one who adapts their leadership style based on their environment, Harper said, recalling a time when she was in a new job “in a different part of the country and I was asked to take the personnel department and transition it into an HR department with new staff that had been hired from all over the country. 

“It was a culture shock for the new hires and the community. The plan the senior managers had wasn’t going to work,” Harper said. “You may have a plan, but depending on the situation, you might have to alter your style and show them that what they want may not work. You have to use Moonshot Thinking,” she added.

“Being an authentic leader doesn’t mean you say what you want, whenever you want, to whomever you want,” Maldonado said. It means that you:

  • Pause before speaking.

  • Listen and be fully present during conversations (no wandering eyes or lackluster expressions when people are speaking to you).

  • Observe without judgment.

  • Apply emotional intelligence.

  • Apply your authentic voice.

  • Put insight into action.

Being an authentic leader also means being honest, respectful, trustworthy, transparent, motivational, passionate and compassionate, kind, accountable, creative, innovative and aware of how your actions may impact others and their ability to do their jobs, among other things, they said. Authentic leaders have vision and integrity.

It also means possessing emotional intelligence and being mindful before taking action.

“Let’s say you’re in a meeting, just because you think something, doesn’t mean you say it,” Maldonado said. Consider these steps:

  • Should I say something?

  • Should I say something now?

  • To whom should I say it? To everyone or to a select one or select few?

  • How should I say it?

And then consider whether or not you should take appropriate action.

“Sometimes,” Maldonado said, “taking action means doing nothing and you have to be OK with that, too.”

Aliah D. Wright is an editor/manager for SHRM Online.


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