Here’s a story about Maria. She is a compilation of leaders that we have worked with over the past 20 years and well represents the transition to collaborative leadership organizations are striving for in the 21st Century. First published in the June 2018 edition of Training Magazine, re-posted with permission.
Maria is a physician and leader in a large metropolitan hospital. During a performance review, she received feedback from her manager that her confrontational behaviour and unilateral decision making were negatively affecting the team’s performance.
At first, the feedback surprised Maria. But upon reflection, she recognized that she was not achieving the results she wanted and part of the issue was her own approach to leadership. In collaboration with her manager, Maria identified the need to engage an executive coach.
A hospital leader realizes the power of having emotional intelligence
She thought back to a conference session on emotional intelligence that she attended, where she learned about the topic and how foundational it is for the kind of leadership the hospital is seeking. Maria subsequently found a coach through the Emotional Intelligence Training Company, who explained to her that the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i 2.0) would help her become a better leader because it provides a clear picture of individuals’ leadership strengths and areas in need of improvement.
She had completed other assessments and knew about her preferences and tendencies, but those assessments didn’t help Maria see how to improve and develop as a leader. The EQ-i 2.0 is based on 15 critical EQ competencies and pinpoints a client’s strengths, identifies which emotional intelligence competencies need attention, and offers detailed suggestions for development.
Maria thrived in the competitive environment of medical school because she was smart and hardworking. She was confident being in charge as a physician leader during rounds and in cross-functional team situations, and was comfortable with a directive style of leadership she learned in medical school. Yet, as the hospital moved toward greater collaboration and a focus on building trust and employee engagement among her colleagues, Maria was less sure of her role as a leader.
When Maria received her EQ-i 2.0 Leadership Report, she wasn’t surprised that she scored high in self-regard, self-actualization, and independence; however, as with all strengths, she saw there were potential downsides to her high scores. Her three highest scores were in areas that focused on her rather than others, which is contrary to collaborative leadership. Her three lowest scores were in emotional expression, empathy, and optimism, revealing that how she related with others did not align with organizational values.
For example, Maria’s lower emotional expression score suggests she is focused more on the science of medicine than the bedside manner that patients expect. Maria pondered, “What if I’m worried or concerned about something? Surely, I shouldn’t let my patients know I’m worried.” The coach replied that there are few emotions with which other humans can’t relate. “When you explain what you’re feeling and why, others get to know you, they begin to understand what you believe in, what you stand for. They can trust that what you say is what you feel, and loyalty, commitment, and engagement have a chance to develop,” the coach said.
Maria felt challenged by this new perspective and next asked her coach for insights about her low empathy score. It turns out that when Maria is in team meetings, her focus remains on the agenda items and making sure everything gets done. And when she’s with a patient, her focus is on the medical issue. The coach reminded Maria that in these situations, she’s dealing with people—individuals who bring all their emotions and experiences into the hospital with them. For example, colleagues on her team may be dealing with chronic illness, aging parents, difficult teenagers, relationship issues, friends and loved ones dying—bringing with them all of life’s normal emotional issues.
“Your patients have their own worries and fears about their medical issue, and they want to know their physician cares about them,” the coach said. “Empathy is our way of caring about others by moving toward others who are in pain or struggling.”
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As for Maria’s optimism score, she insisted that she is neither an optimist nor a pessimist but a realist. However, through her coach, Maria learned that the problem with being a realist is that it’s not very inspiring. She’s a leader, so others need to see enthusiasm and passion for the work she does. If they don’t, they’ll likely begin to disengage and become demotivated. Optimism helps demonstrate that passion.
“We don’t go to the realist for inspiration. We go to the optimist who can see what’s great about what we’re doing,” the coach said. “That’s motivating and inspiring.”
After much more discussion about her results, Maria left the EQ-i debrief session with a developmental plan and concrete steps to improve her emotional expression, empathy, and optimism competencies. She felt a genuine sense of excitement about what emotional intelligence could offer her to improve her leadership and to be in alignment with the hospital’s values: collaborating, building trust, and improving employee engagement. The best part was that Maria was seeing how emotional intelligence was benefiting not only her but also her patients, team, and organization.