by: Issues: May / June 2008. Categories: Leadership.

An organization that has not championed and embedded resiliency and emotional intelligence in its culture and its leaders will never appreciate the positive link between EQ and the employee engagement, client satisfaction and the bottom line. This author asked the leaders to share their views and insights on EQ with Ivey Business Journal readers.

“Forget about the shareholders. Take care of employees and customers, and the shareholders will be well looked after.” Geoff Smith, President and CEO, EllisDon.

“Finish what you start, keep good company, don’t skip the apprenticeship and pick good people.” Andy Moysiuk, Managing Partner, HOOPP Capital Partners.

“Leaders require vision and creativity, hand in hand with strong charisma, a passion for what we do and a strong connection with the world.” Lyn Heward, Cirque du Soleil executive and author of The Spark.

Rapid, disruptive change is today’s normal. It comes in bubbles, waves and sometimes tsunamis. To cope, leaders need to be agile and resilient. For years, the focus has been on speed and agility. But globalization, technology and social-political changes are disruptive. They require resilient leaders, emotionally intelligent people able to absorb complex change and help others move forward to achieve success.

What are we learning about leadership and change these days? Various studies show that CEO’s make many decisions intuitively, mainly because they can’t wait for all the facts. The studies also show that leaders’ best thinking and decisions are grounded in emotional as well as intellectual intelligence. Authenticity, vulnerability and empathy are critical to success. Above all, the studies clearly demonstrate that there is a strong link between emotionally intelligent leadership and employee engagement, client satisfaction, and the bottom line. An organization that does not recognize the need to embed emotional intelligence in its culture and its leaders does so at its peril.

To determine what qualities create resilient, emotionally intelligent organizations, I spoke with leaders of eight Canadian organizations, as well as other experts. They are: Carol Stephenson, Dean, Ivey Business School, University of Western Ontario; Bruno Biscaro, President, Accucaps Industries; Geoff Smith, President and CEO, EllisDon; Bill Wilkerson, Co-Founder, Chairman and CEO, The Global Business and Economic Roundtable on Addiction and Mental Health; Michael Koscec, President, Entec Corporation; Dr. Edgardo Perez, MD, CEO and President, Homewood Health Center and Homewood Corporation; Andy Moysiuk, Managing Partner, HOOPP Capital Partners; Victoria Hubbell, Senior Vice President, Strategy and Employee Services, Hospitals of Ontario Pension Plan; Lyn Heward, executive, Cirque du Soleil, and the author of The Spark; Angela Coke, ADM of Ontario’s Ministry of Government Services; and Dr. John LaPorta, CEO of Thames Valley Children’s Centre. Their observations and insights on the success factors, challenges and future expectations are noted below.

What makes for leadership success?

Three themes or organizational imperatives emerged from the comments of the leaders: 1. A creative vision and strongly lived values, 2. A need to create leaders who make change happen, and 3. A need to enable a competency in being resilient and emotionally intelligent.

1. Articulating a vision and strongly lived values

Ivey’s Carol Stephenson highlighted the importance of having, “…a vision of where you are leading the business, one you have internalized so strongly that others go where you are going; good communication that helps engage the entire organization; a strong set of values where you are seen as the keeper and protector of those values, and the ability to deliver what you set out to do.”

Bruno Biscaro, recently recognized in Henein & Morisette’s book, Made in Canada Leadership, says confidence is essential. “Creating the compelling argument is difficult if you are not confident in your ability to get there….Creating confidence is about seeking out what might be causing people to feel fear about moving forward on something and giving them that spark of excitement to jump in and be a part of it. The ability to inspire and motivate others is critical to achieving your vision.

“Inspiring and leading others is all about the distance you can throw your javelin….your job is to attach a spring to the masses that draws them to that. You’ve got to be living your vision in your mind and in your style of leadership. You also need to create the scorecard to map your progress, without which it’s just a good idea. The two most profound words in leadership are ‘so what’…to drive clarity and simplicity. You can’t have a compelling vision and inspire confidence with complexity. The real step in building momentum towards your vision and motivating employees is connecting with front line people…bringing them all on to the same page, yet having them all feeling this vision is very much what they are about.”

2. Creating leaders who can make change happen

EllisDon’s Geoff Smith, recently recognized by Hewitt Associates as a Top 50 CEO, says that leaders must “create leaders out of the people reporting to you…and dedicate yourself, not to your own success and ability, but to theirs.” He also emphasizes openness. “Knowledge is power; so you have to give away not some, but all of it. You must show you trust people…and give them the accountability they need to solve problems. If we create leaders, ensure openness…and are clear on accountabilities, we give away power…and make people more accountable. We want everyone to think they are accountable, not only to the boss, but to the people all around them, including employees. If we talk about serving shareholders, people stop paying attention. If we focus on our employees, shareholder value goes through the roof, as EllisDon well knows.”

Smith highlights the talent challenge. “Leaders, in order to execute well, must spend sixty percent of their time finding, training and developing people. The key is to hire terrific, motivated people and work to support, but not demotivate, them…and then get out of their way. Some coaching and mentoring will be needed, but if we give them the right tools and set them free, we’ll be surprised at how little they need.”

Bill Wilkerson of the Economic Roundtable speaks to leadership factors which enable leaders to meet shareholder expectations and market demands, and implement change successfully…while engaging employees and attending to their mental and emotional wellbeing. Leaders need to “rediscover the roots of good management; reacquaint themselves with the source of human motivation needed to get good work done well; manage cost in a sane fashion and digress from the blind, vigilant focus on short term results.”

A final comment on energizing and engaging organizations comes from Michael Koscec, President of Entec Corporation, who says that his company’s research highlights the most critical leadership competencies that contribute to employee engagement and mental health. The top four competencies all relate to values: 1. leads by example and action, 2. treats me with respect and fairness, 3. engenders trust and ethical behaviour and 4. keeps promises. “If the values dimension is so important, leaders must be clear about their own values,” he says “they must know their own strengths and weaknesses and how best to manage them.” Two factors impact employee engagement and mental health: promise keeping and treating all with fairness and respect. Koscec says “micro-managing…is the worst possible leadership behaviour from a health and stress perspective.”

Successful leaders, according to the leaders I interviewed, create and clearly articulate a compelling vision and strongly lived values. They develop leaders who can make change happen. More specifically, they select and match talent and task, clarify accountabilities, support the leaders they create, and then trust and empower them. They create successful performance cultures for business success. Leaders personally model resilient, emotionally intelligent leadership.

3. Modelling resilient and emotionally intelligent leadership

Experts and practitioners talk about the resilience and agility needed to thrive amidst disruptive, fast-paced change. They highlight traits such as being positive, focused and flexible, as well as the ability to deal with reality, make meaning and improvise. Homewood’s Dr. Perez speaks of “springing back and recovering from disruptions.” He identifies mindsets and attributes of resilience such as “having a strong sense of self-esteem, being empathetic and managing the give and take of interpersonal interactions.” Byron Stock, EQ consultant and author of Smart Emotions for Busy People, says, “Developing the skill to manage our emotions gives us the ability to recover quickly – to be resilient when we are stretched beyond our limit….and to create environments in which people want to work and live.”

Resilient leaders draw on the emotional intelligence competencies author Daniel Goleman has helped us to understand and apply. They involve self-awareness, managing oneself, awareness of others and managing relationships. They help reduce behaviours that don’t work for us and maximize those that do. In his new book, Social Intelligence, Goleman takes us more deeply into underlying cognitive functioning and broadens the context to include society. It is these EQ competencies that help us make behavioural changes that strengthen our resilience and agility, bridge “know-do” gaps and sustain change and value over time.

A Harvard study of leadership studies (HBR ‘02) identified authenticity as the top leadership success factor, followed by vulnerability, intuitive thinking and decision making, and tough empathy. We have also learned that behaviours like promise keeping and trusting, respectful, fair treatment are fundamental to engaged and mentally healthy employees. Emotional competencies like knowing oneself and managing relationships underlie these behaviours. The connections are obvious…so too the proven correlation with client satisfaction, which drives business results. Our interviewees reinforced these findings.

Angela Coke, Assistant Deputy Minister of the Ontario government’s Ministry of Government Services, says, “You can have different leadership styles but EQ is the critical ‘must have’ for effective leadership….I assume people will have the appropriate IQ but that is not enough. Leaders need both as they work to deliver results and valuable outcomes, transform to deeper change while juggling regular business, inspire people to get behind a common vision and connect with clients and stakeholders. Having a clear results focus and knowing how to get things done is all talk if you can’t make things happen….leaders do that by successfully engaging others.”

In the investment world, HOOP’s Andy Moysiuk says that leading is about building relationships, developing the business and making investment decisions, all of which require emotionally intelligent teams. “Picking talent is easier if you display an attempt to live up to EQ ideals; people who get it will be attracted and you can winnow out those with whom you shouldn’t be doing business. In investing, you can think you have the right person, but if the job changes, you need to bring out people’s strengths… supercharge the best part of someone and contain the rest to reduce disruptive change which reduces value. This requires knowing others’ real skill sets and ambitions and building collegial relationships.” He points out that making investment decisions involves “balancing succession issues, multi-generational attitudes and constant meetings, while being bombarded with information, staff requests and the Bloomberg terminal. It’s about self-awareness, being aware of how I feel, and of finding brief moments in the zone, the five minutes between meetings, to pause and reflect and clear one’s head.”

Professor Jim Parker, a Trent University researcher of EQ measurement, helps us deepen the proof of a connection between resilience and EQ, and business success. “Controlled longitudinal studies are taking us in to a more empirical era of emotional intelligence research. These more focused studies are identifying precise outcome variables which make sense to business people.” Parker says “There is greater positive organizational impact if you can take people from the bottom 10 per cent of an EQI scale to the bottom of the middle third of the scale, rather than focusing on self-actualized top performers.” Time is then freed up to energize the organization and focus on positives.

What demands and challenges do leaders face?

Interviewees agreed that all shareholders expect results. Boards, employees and customers are asking leaders to deliver: 1. a clear vision and strategy, 2. profitability, growth and value, 3. innovation with creative, high quality services and products, 4. effectively managed talent with the capacity to deliver, and 5. productivity gains. To enable those deliverables, stakeholders expect leaders to successfully navigate change and manage in an ethical, socially responsible fashion.

Topping the list of major challenges faced by leaders are lack of time, managing big change successfully, recruiting and managing talent, and identifying and selecting the right opportunities. Interviewees also emphasized challenges around the so-called soft skills involving people, and the elimination of mid-management roles.

Bill Wilkerson says “Mass cuts through the ‘80’s and ‘90’s did not produce a more productive economy.” The Roundtable’s research shows “those companies who achieved shareholder value through cost-cutting versus growing the top line had lesser returns and results defined by shareholder value…and intensified pressure on leaders for short-term results. A wholly outcomes-driven mentality with shareholder value as the exclusive determinant of success has driven a quarter-by-quarter deadline culture where the routine becomes the urgent and the urgent overtakes the important… leading to terrific blind spots on priorities. An infusion of communication technology has produced exorbitant overload in email and voicemail messages, with no clear focus on managing people and workload. There is a yawning gap between vision and value statements and the quality of day-to-day management practices. This gap undermines people’s capacity to take leaders’ intentions seriously. We are a ‘hurried and worried’ society with no time to read, reflect and respond or to listen to and connect with people.”

Wilkerson’s and Perez’s research, reported in Mindsets, identified the top stressors. Among them are isolation, uncertainty, pervasive distraction of multi-tasking and fixation on the computer screen. Wilkerson says that, “The resulting costs in lost productivity (exceeding $33 billion in Canada), plus mental health treatment for commonly experienced depressive disorders, are becoming embedded in companies. They haven’t been calculated or funded, despite the legal obligation to report unfunded liabilities. To ease the impact other costs are being cut, usually around headcount.” These issues go so quickly from health versus illness to culture and leadership behaviour. The encouraging news is that “major organizations are now demonstrating how organizational practices are making a difference in mental health….We must understand the real issue going forward is disability induced by chronic illnesses. Governments and business must respond.”

What’s a leader to do?

Victoria Hubbell, Senior Vice President, Strategy and Employee Services, Hospitals of Ontario Pension Plan, says, “We have been introducing a great deal of change, including a shift towards a member-direct, self-service business model, and different client-service offerings. Our shift to a more dynamic environment involves major changes in the healthcare industry and in our Plan. We have seen a major reorganization with changing roles, players and performance expectations, as well as significant IT systems changes. We are working to engage our people in the changes and to give them more accountability, control and choice in how they contribute and learn. We are trying not only to change what we are doing, but to alter the way we are behaving.

“Our leadership initiative, Building Resilience and Agility, started with the CEO and the executive team, and is being implemented throughout the organization. Through this process of workshops, coaching and sustainment sessions to integrate learning and doing, we have been given techniques and processes to facilitate the higher cognitive processes critical for focused attention, reasoning and creativity. The techniques, relevant to both business and personal life, are grounded in sound medical and scientific evidence of a measurable physiological state that underlies optimal learning and performance. People are now better able to juggle and shift gears and bring more creativity and innovation to their work.” Adds Andy Moysiuk, “The ‘softer skills’ aspect is often overlooked and hard to teach. The framework of the workshop and the tools kept the day going well as the points were being made.”

“Our organizational and individual goals included improved productivity, enhanced communication and team collaboration,” Victoria says. “Measurable and observable benefits have been quickly realized. An internal pulse-taking process started to yield significant improvements almost immediately during twelve months of intense change. People report reduced intellectual and emotional turbulence, so they can more easily focus their attention on their priorities. They are better able to shift and broaden perspectives, tolerate ambiguity and draw on their intuition to make better decisions. In short, they navigate the changes more easily, with less drain on themselves and on their performance and productivity. Reversing a five-year trend, our annual survey results have revealed a 29 percent improvement in employee engagement. Our year-over-year client satisfaction results have also significantly improved. We know this emphatically drives business success.

“Engaging and energizing people requires: knowing your audience, tailoring your efforts to your culture and keeping an eye on the future culture you are trying to create. It also requires strong, aligned leaders who are willing to look at their own transformation first.”

What will the future hold?

Cirque du Soleil is a powerful example of what leaders will need to focus on to thrive in the future, namely talent, leadership, change and innovation. “Cirque du Soleil,” says Lyn Heward, “is a very organic global organization, constantly changing, growing and drawing on the potential of youth. It was founded in 1984 with young, vibrant street performers…and is recognized for its creativity…and a strong belief in human potential, humanity, and working and learning together through play. Artists, coaches and designers come from around the world and performances, including their volunteer ‘Cirque du Monde”, an at-risk youth initiative, are staged in over 60 cities. Founder, Guy Laliberté’s ‘contagious passion’ affects artists and spectators and drives team performance…and he wants to share it around the world! As a leader, he works in the whole realm of intuition, passion and communication. A great leader communicates complex concepts in simple language and invites everyone to share ideas, thoughts and feelings.”

Heward speaks of Cirque’s brand and shares the 8 keys to its success: “1. recognizing and unleashing creativity, 2. providing sensorial stimulation to transport people a little out of their world, 3. treasure hunting and creative transformation where we dig deeper to find not just the artists’ contributions but their unusual, hidden gifts, 4. a nurturing environment conducive to supporting the creative process and connecting all employees with the product and our successes, 5. taking on challenges in the world through our social mission, whether violence in schools or water supplies, 6. supporting multi-culturalism and plunging into all the offerings and strengths people have, 7. not being afraid to take risks, learn from mistakes and go forward…we never talk in terms of failure, 8. keeping the shows fresh and changing the casts so people can feel pride in the product.”

Every one of the leadership lessons above is valuable for facing the challenges and opportunities in the future, and for supporting innovation and delivering amazing performance. Cirque du Soleil’s shows reveal almost impossible feats of human performance delivered through strong, resilient, emotionally intelligent leadership and teamwork. As Dr. Edgardo Perez says, “Helping leaders and people at work helps not only business but families, communities and our society. This can be a valuable social responsibility goal.” He could well have added that it would also strengthen resilience and emotional competence in our world.

About the Author

Joanne Reid is Managing Partner of JReid Consulting, a strategy and organizational change firm based in London, Ontario.