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Top leadership quality isn't what you'd expect

Sharon Florentine | July 30, 2014
A group of management experts argues that the most important quality for leadership is empathy, or emotional IQ . So why aren't companies trying harder to foster these skills?

"In this era, you can't hide behind the veil of the 'detached leader' anymore — you have to be outward-facing and at least appear to be accessible to customers and employees," Cullen says. "Technology has fueled this fire of democratization that allows customers and consumers to be much more engaged in the business," he says, and has forced leadership out of the 'ivory tower' and into asking and answering questions, being more engaged, soliciting feedback and input rather than just barking orders."

Being able to put yourself in the shoes of your employees and customers and to truly understand their wants and needs isn't something that can necessarily be taught, says Cullen, but it's key to driving great performance and ensuring your business is successful.

"Good leadership today means listening more, and encouraging feedback instead of discouraging it," Cullen says. "In the past, maybe employees were afraid to say what they really thought, but now the feedback and input is encouraged instead of ignored. Real leaders are looking for ways to engage with their companies and customers and help both to help the business, instead of just demanding and directing," he says.

Empathy Can Improve Staff Retention, Too
An emphasis on high emotional IQ can also help address one of business's major concerns in today's tight, competitive labor market — retention, especially of hard-to-find, elite talent, says Jim Povec, principal, Padgett Performance Group.

"Something like 80 percent of employees will cite their direct supervisor as a major reason they'll leave their job," says Povec. "When CIOs, hiring managers, leadership complains about retention or their inability to keep talent in key roles, the first place they need to look is in the mirror — the buck stops there," Povec says.

How to Identify Emotional IQ
Employees who possess emotional IQ are often much more effective leaders who inspire greater engagement and loyalty from their colleagues and direct reports, says Povec.

There are a number of ways to identify emotional IQ during the employment screening process. Institutions like the University of Texas teach management-level courses in Emotional IQ, and corporations like Disney, for example, require emotional IQ training for their management-track employees. But the trick is encouraging wider adoption and greater acceptance in every HR department, as well as knowledge of and experience with the available tools.

Povec says he uses the Harrison Assessment to identify both essential traits and traits to avoid, including emotional IQ, and touts these widely available tools as a way to increase positive outcomes of hiring as well as retention.

Excuses, Excuses ...
"There's a true dilemma with hiring managers — even today with the accuracy of assessments like Harrison, only about 20 percent of hiring managers use the available tools," Povec says.

 

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