In our consultative work, Korn Ferry is constantly evaluating and measuring how work gets done. We’ve found a new leadership role becoming more and more prominent in organisations across all business categories: the collaborative leader.

Today’s workforces are as complex as they’ve ever been. In the senior ranks, the veterans of the Greatest Generation have given way to ambitious Boomers, who are now being replaced by a profusion of generations too confusing to remember: Generation X, Generation Y, Millennials. There’s also a more fundamental difference to today’s workforce shifts. In past generational changes, new workers tended to adjust their expectations and behaviour to the realities of the workplace. Today’s new generations expect the workplace to adjust to them – for better or worse.

Each of these generations of workers has its own values, career goals, strengths, and expectations of leaders. In today’s leaner organisations, this range of individual differences are brought together in larger and more flexible teams. How do you lead such a heterogeneous team? How do you manage their expectations and motivate them toward the collaborative goals you’re charged with achieving?

This requires collaborative leadership that is different from traditional command and control leadership, in which a manager directly controls the human resources necessary to accomplish business goals. In the collaborative role, managers are responsible for coordinating the work of people looking to achieve a shared goal along with other resources outside their authority, region and possibly outside their company.

A technology sales manager we’ve worked with put it this way: “For any given project, half my team is spread across Europe and Asia, and at least a third are outside my authority. How do I lead a team like that?”

This new collaborative role isn’t limited to middle managers. Our research has found a similar shift in the role of CEOs and senior executives. As senior leaders, they are required to drive change, build teams and re-focus the work force more so than ever before as well as engage and work with external partners, shareholders, regulatory bodies and the market.

And managing people is not the only task of collaborative leaders. They are still responsible for delivering significant, measurable business results. How are managers to meet their performance responsibilities when they don’t control the resources necessary to meet them? Succeeding in this environment requires leadership skills such as partnering, networking, influencing, and motivating – the competencies fostered by emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence; the secret ingredient to collaborative leadership

Emotional intelligence sharpens the skills leaders need to understand the behaviour and motivation of co-workers with different values, and to find the common ground that can build a cohesive, effective team to tackle the tasks at hand.

In our work, we’ve found that highly emotionally intelligent leaders tend to display the following behaviours:

  • Listen more than they talk.
  • Emphasise the how and why, instead of simply telling people what to do.
  • Engage team members and recognise their contributions, rather than continually criticising and correcting their mistakes
  • Resolve disagreements openly and deal with people’s emotions during conflict.
  • Understand what energises and engages people on their teams - and create environments that foster that energy.
  • Encourage team members to stay five years or more in the organisation, because they feel engaged and able to do their job effectively.

Fortunately, emotional intelligence can be developed. More than a set of skills or innate intelligence, emotional intelligence is a matter of behaviour – and, as we all know, through increased awareness and a lot of hard work, we can develop new behaviours over time. The key is a commitment to change, and the continued practice – at first very consciously – of the desired new behaviours. If these ideas sounds like so much fuzzy headed mumbo jumbo, well, they’re not. In fact, scientists are learning there is a neurological basis for the success of emotionally intelligent leadership – that empathetic leaders actually modify their own brain chemistry and that of their followers.

Perhaps more to the point, however, emotionally intelligent leadership delivers results. Research has confirmed a significant performance gap between leaders who display the qualities of emotional intelligence and those who don’t. Korn Ferry ’s own work reports that executives in the most admired organisations demonstrate higher degrees of emotional intelligence – and that the lack of these qualities contributes significantly to the failure of high-potential executives.

Emotional intelligence is more than just ‘nice to have’ – it helps leaders manage the fundamental challenges in a changing workplace and underpins outstanding performance from leaders. In today’s volatile and uncertain world, emotional intelligence is essential to effective leadership.

What impact can ‘Emotional Intelligence’ have for business? What is being measured with EI tools? How can we be sure that the results are valid? Read the report: From Soft Skills to EI

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