I have seen every leadership style and management struggle under the sun. Companies typically don’t bring me in until a problem has gone from bad to worse, so I frequently deal with leaders who have lost hope that their teams can change.
Fortunately, my experiences have shown me that anyone can change. The problem isn’t the people — it’s the outdated way leaders approach self-improvement.
I once worked with a company that had a manager who wanted people to like him more than he wanted to be an effective leader. His subordinates didn’t trust him to provide anything but praise, so they went elsewhere when they needed guidance. At first, this manager’s overly nice style seemed harmless, but the lack of discipline quickly created an environment where performance dropped and workers felt frustrated.
Traditional models of emotional intelligence would say this manager needed to reevaluate the way he interacted with others, but that would only provide a temporary fix. People do not change because their managers tell them to. Real change requires transformation, starting with recognition of the issue and the environment that facilitates the behavior.
The 3 Elements of Change
All personal evolutions contain three elements of change: self-recognition, social recognition, and design structure. Only by addressing all three elements can leaders inspire growth in their employees.
In the case of the people-pleasing manager, company leadership knew this man had the necessary tools to be a valuable asset; he just needed a little help to put the pieces together. Relying on my experiences with the three elements of change, we worked together to discover the root of the problem and create a new environment in which he felt comfortable with more effective management practices.
Let’s walk through the three elements and consider how they work in harmony to facilitate change:
- Element #1: Self-Recognition
In this stage, the individual must recognize his or her counterproductive behaviors. Many schools of psychology recommend starting here, and that old wisdom holds true today. People resist change when they do not see the need for it. A person who eats too much junk food, for example, must recognize the behavior (and the reasons behind it) before changing the pattern.
- Element #2: Social Recognition
Once the individual acknowledges the issue, he or she must see the impact of the problem in the surrounding environment. When the people-pleasing manager asked one of his supervisors for feedback, he learned that the supervisor had felt undermined after a recent incident with a junior employee. That feedback hurt, but it also showed the manager that the behaviors he perceived as kindness did not create universally positive outcomes.
- Element #3: Design Structure
After internalizing the need for change, people seeking change must create systems that replace bad behaviors with good ones. A person who eats too much junk food might start by eliminating snacks from the house and going to the supermarket after dinner to avoid impulse buys. Our too-nice manager started tracking workplace incidents on a spreadsheet, including a column for feedback from his employees to validate his impressions.
Observing these three elements helps people see how their mistakes affect themselves and others and then create environments that prevent bad habits. The people-pleasing manager learned he didn’t have to give up his role as a leader — he only needed to see the error of his ways and design new systems that facilitated a better way to work.
Looking at a New Emotional Intelligence
It’s easy to view emotional intelligence as a soft skill defined by empathy and compassion, but true EQ considers design as much as perspective. Environments that make people feel capable and confident can help companies inspire desirable behaviors in their workforces and quell issues before they arise.
People are social creatures. When we change our perceptions of our environments and connect to the people around us, we learn to understand our own motivations and how external factors shape those feelings. Holistic emotional intelligence considers the stakes for the individual and the group, then uses that information to teach the individual how to change for the benefit of the team in a natural, positive way. By addressing the three elements of change, leaders can help employees overcome their hang-ups and prosper in their roles.
Written by Kerry Goyette.
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