Jay’s Straight Talk CXVII…Effective Leadership Requires More Than Just High IQ

If you’re smart enough to be in a leadership position you probably have a pretty high IQ. But if you want to bring out the best in your people you’ll also need a high EQ. In fact studies show your EQ is probably a greater key to your success than your IQ.

EQ short for emotional quotient measures your emotional intelligence which depends on your ability to recognize and understand your own emotions and those of others – in other words your ability to empathize with other people – and act accordingly. For decades a high EQ has been associated with good mental health and personal happiness. But what if we thought of a high EQ as a requirement for leadership? Sure you can run a business by fiat but this old command-and-control model is no longer effective especially if your company is full of women and Millennials. Today’s successful executives are great leaders and great leaders are empathetic.

What is empathic leadership?

An empathetic leader places the needs of the organization employees customers shareholders and vendors above his or her own. If you’re an empathetic leader you put yourself in other people’s shoes when making decisions. People who work for empathetic leaders feel both empowered and personally responsible. They perform because they want to. In contrast most of us have probably encountered old-style “bosses” who were anything BUT empathetic. Do you remember how you felt working for them? Intimidated? Resentful? Powerless? Chances are neither you nor your boss stayed very long.

But isn’t empathetic just another name for wimpy?

Empathetic doesn’t mean soft. It simply means being aware that all of your constituents are human beings and taking into account the human side of business when making tough but reasonable decisions.

Start by creating an empathetic culture.

Empathy is not just about you. It’s also about building an empathetic culture based on a strong sense of values. Establish what’s tolerated and what isn’t. Draw the line on certain things but still care about your people in the long-term. Treat your constituents in a way that respects each of them as well as the whole organization. Articulate your values throughout the company – on walls in meetings and on your website. Make sure you and all of your managers walk the talk. Explain why decisions are made. As a leader you’ll often have to make tough decisions but they’re easier to make if you’re empathetic and your culture norms are clear and consistent.

There’s no turning back.

Thanks to the growing participation of Millennials and women in the workforce we’re experiencing a tectonic shift in leadership. I’m don’t mean overly sensitive snowflakes but clear-thinking people driven by a desire for a greater work-life balance partly in reaction to seeing their Boomer parents sacrifice everything for their careers but later having regrets. The old paradigm simply won’t work anymore. Recent history is full of examples of fabulously successful companies that have imploded because their undisciplined cultures were based on the whims of executives playing by their own set of rules where “bro” values prevailed and women were disregarded. A dramatic example of this kind of dysfunction is the fall of Uber CEO and founder Travis Kalanick whose lack of empathy and self-control almost led to the destruction of his company before he was ousted.

Walking the talk pays.

In contrast look at Chick-Fil-A. The founder Truitt Cathy showed that if you treat your employees well they’ll treat your customers well. Because he believed everyone should have a day of rest his company sacrifices 1/7th of its sales by closing on Sundays. He created a consciously empathetic culture in which employees are trained to treat every customer like a guest in their home – with attention courtesy and respect. They treat their food the same way. Their prices aren’t cheap but they’re always crowded. A universal truth about humanity is that people move away from pain and toward pleasure.

Empathy isn’t just good for people. It’s also good for business.