Posted by Steve Botham
January 18th, 2010
The Guardian recently carried an article with the theme “an obsessive focus on people - rather than a rod of iron” is the key” in tough times. They reported on research by The Work Foundation challenging the assumption that workers with a “controlling and target - driven approach” are essential. Their report stated that in tough times “Outstanding leaders focus on people. Instead of seeing people as one of their many priorities they put the emphasis on people first.” In short the report finds that those leaders with good emotional intelligence are able to bring people through change and enable change to succeed.
Our experience of working with leaders who are driving substantial and often painful change reinforces this. Insensitive leadership of the “we have not got time to discuss this, just flipping do it” camp can produce early results but also produce disengaged, resentful, antagonistic staff leading to poorly implemented and unimaginative change. Change is not judged by the calibre of the change plan but by the effectiveness of its implementation - which in turn is driven by engaging key stakeholders. The Guardian article also quoted an extensive piece of research by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM) showing that 31% of UK employees have low or no trust in senior management. This lack of trust will fuel resistance to change and leads to situations where many people bring their bodies to work but leave their commitment at home!
The good thing about emotional intelligence is that whilst some people will have some natural traits much of it can be taught. Leaders can raise their self awareness, can learn to manage their emotions and frustrations, and can develop their ability to make a positive impact and build good relationships with others. The Work Foundation encourages leaders to understand their staff. Our experience shows that leaders need to be more hands on in change; they need to monitor morale closely and recognise that even their most gifted staff can adopt strange behaviours in times of stress. Leaders need to be more prepared to give their team’s clear focus and to intervene when there are blockages. Leading change is about enabling others to change - those leaders that enable well in the coming months will make the difference between success and failure.