"There is no ‘I’ in team," goes the management-speak: a phrase so trite that it found its way dripping in irony into the BBC sitcom The Office that was broadcast initially in the UK but found its way re-made and repeated around the world. Here, lead character, paper merchant Wernham Hogg’s Slough branch manager, David Brent, epitomised the very worst sort of insecure, narcissistic, self-absorbed executive.
Like all great comedy, The Office was satire on a world we inhabit. But with the tides of change transforming economies worldwide and massively changing the communications business, no matter what sort of PR outfit or corporate department you work in there has never been a better time to leave your ego at the door. The truth is, the most effective companies or teams now run from the bottom up, not the top down and from the outside in, not the inside out so that getting the best out of colleagues and partners requires great leadership not bossy power posturing.
There is a huge difference between the behaviours of ‘boss’ and ‘leader’. But how might you identify, heaven forfend, you are a bit of a Brent and, if so, what might you do about it?
‘Boss’ versus ‘leader’ behaviours
Of course, it’s about more than the fact that a boss says ‘I’ and a leader, naturally, says ‘we’ – an approach so clearly lacking in the book of Brent. That’s just the beginning. A boss assumes authority; a leader earns it. A boss commands; a leader asks. A boss drives employees; a leader coaches them. A boss inspires fear and loathing; whereas a leader generates enthusiasm and goodwill. A boss looks for where to place blame, a leader sorts out the problem. A boss might know how something is done; a leader takes the time to show others how to do it. A boss uses people; a leader develops people. A boss puts themselves first; a leader puts the team first. A boss takes credit; a leader gives credit. You get the idea, I hope.
Boss behaviour is becoming an anachronism, particularly in businesses like PR where the people are so much of the product. It ultimately stifles the trust, creativity and innovation that give any company – or even society – strength. In an era of ‘soft power’, as the late British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher famously remarked, "Power is like being a lady... if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t."
But why is it that so many company and departmental heads fail to be able to break out of this increasingly ridiculous and counter-productive posturing boss behaviour? The answer is that they lack emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence defined
If you’ve never heard the term – and I think you will a lot in 2014, as companies struggle to break through and maintain competitive edge in the digitally-enabled and redefined global economy – the five components of emotional intelligence, as defined by its originator, Daniel Goleman, are empathy, self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation and social skills.
In case you’re now thinking this might be lentil-knitting, New Age flim-flam, it’s worth sticking with it. In his research comparing those who excelled in senior roles with those who were merely average, Goleman found that close to 90% of the difference in their profiles was due to emotional intelligence, rather than cognitive ability to build on the traditional requirements for success: raw talent, a strong work ethic and driving ambition.
If you buy into the concept of boss versus leader behaviours, to get an idea of the level of your own emotional intelligence you might start by asking yourself if you actually like people. Do you even find them fascinating? Do you ask lots of questions after you´ve been introduced to someone for the first time before talking about yourself? Do you know a lot about your colleagues or employees, not just their jobs but their backgrounds and lives? Do you even care that you don’t?
If so, you are showing empathy. Highly empathetic people tune in to others, engaging with them as a complete person, not a unit of production. They get along with everyone quickly and build strong relationships that last.
A big part of having self-awareness is being honest with yourself about who you are – knowing where your strengths and weaknesses lie, accepting these realities, no matter how painful that may be and working most effectively within these constraints and with others to compensate.
This awareness breeds the strong self-confidence of leadership that rubs off onto others and shapes positive cultures, not a shiny veneer of brittle bossiness that simply serves to demotivate and discourage. You’ll be amazed at how much people want to help if you let them, not least because it also helps them develop and builds their own confidence.
Closely allied to this is the reality that in the ever-changing chaos of modern life, we all experience emotional ups and downs. An important aspect of self-awareness is the ability to recognise these moods and what is driving them rather than mistaking, ignoring them or grabbing yet another temporarily invigorating strong coffee or comfort bar of chocolate. Thanks partially to this ability, emotionally intelligent people are generally well equipped to tolerate stress and to control their impulses because they have the self-discipline to avoid unhealthy or destructive habits such as passive-aggressive behaviour and so avoid the impact these will have on others. They are emotionally intelligent about themselves as well as those that surround them.
In services businesses, the devil is always in the detail and being able to sense how others are feeling, particularly from their facial expressions and body language and acting upon these signals is an important part of having a good emotional intelligence. In running a fast-moving company or department you need to be able to get a sense of who someone is pretty quickly. If you have high emotional intelligence you’ll find your intuition about people and business is rarely wrong. This is also an important component of building the trust that binds together high performing organisations.
Keeping your eye on the ball
Self-regulation – that ability to withstand distractions and concentrate on the most important task at hand – and which should be a prerequisite in the hurly-burly, time-critical world of PR, is also one of the great foundations of emotional intelligence. This has never been truer than now in an uber-connected world where a thousand things scream for your attention at any one time. It’s difficult to develop self-awareness and strong relationships if you are mentally ‘all over the place’, so, you really also need to know how to prioritise and choose when to say ‘no’.
It’s likely also that you have a high emotional intelligence if you are inherently self-motivated. The indicators for this can show even in the very young. Were you ambitious and hard-working even as a child, getting on with stuff and taking responsibility for the sheer pleasure of it? Was it fun focusing your attention and energy towards the pursuit of your goals, even if it was just getting the papers delivered in the shortest possible time or assembling the best collection of Pokémon...but without organising them obsessively? If so, it means you were probably on the right track early on.
How you deal with mistakes and setbacks says a lot about who you are. Individuals with high emotional intelligence know that if there’s one thing they must do in life, it’s not to stop. As Winston Churchill said, "If you’re going through hell, keep going". They are able to recover from set-backs quickly. This is, in part, because of the ability to experience negative emotions without letting them get out of hand, typically by turning a particular instance into a general maxim.
Doing the right thing
Another important characteristic of those with emotional intelligence is the need to keep ‘doing the right thing’ – no matter what. This can also be regarded as ‘authenticity’, now also a crucial aspect of corporate identity and behaviours as well as a basic social skill. If you´re someone who cares about this – and you should because thanks to the pervasion of internet, you can’t fool some of the people some of the time, let alone all of the people all of the time – you might already have high emotional intelligence.
As part of this, if you make a habit of paying attention to others, whether it’s simply smiling and saying ‘hello’ or by going out your way to help, you’re exhibiting fine social skills. That requires the recognition that most of us, most of the time, are completely focused on our own little worlds, so busy running around like headless chickens that we simply don’t take the time to notice, much less help, others. If you make the time you’ll find it pays back many times over in myriads of ways.
So, there you have it. You can float through the rest of 2014 congratulating yourself on your ass-kicking-I’m-the-boss-and-you’re-not attitude or grow some emotional intelligence. The choice is yours. But make the right choice. Or, in the rapidly evolving world of PR, next year others may be making the choices for you. And not in a good way.
Jonathan Simnett has won dozens of awards, building businesses and helping public/private sector organisations and their investors in fast-growth tech-based B2B and B2C segments to: grow; manage change; reposition; enter markets; acquire; sell; IPO and report through the delivery of more effective management, marketing, positioning, content creation and communications strategies.
Leader of the team named Global Communications Department of the Year at the 2009 International Business Awards, New York, he was a founder of Brodeur Worldwide, a global public relations consultancy and part of the team that built a company of 650 people and $95 million turnover worldwide over 15 years, before selling to Omnicom