Survival of the ‘Emotionally’ Fittest

Posted on: Wednesday, 24 January 2018 in Opinion Pieces .

Survival of the ‘Emotionally’ Fittest

It remains an elusive concept for many businesses, yet investing in the Emotional Fitness of your company’s top executives will benefit everyone. Below Mark Latuske from Clarendon Executive examines the hallmarks of an emotionally fit or ‘intelligent’ leader, how you can improve your emotional fitness, and why we should place it high on the business agenda.

As an avid sports fan – particularly cricket – I’m always interested in how psychology comes into play and almost always ends up the determining factor in who wins and who loses.

In professional sports, the difference between one athlete and another is often pretty negligible. While one may be a bit faster, more skilled or experienced than another, what in my view really differentiates outstanding athletes from the rest of their peers is emotional fitness.

The same is true of business success. While some may scoff at the idea of a good leader revealing what may be perceived as his or her ‘softer side’, it is becoming increasingly accepted that displaying emotional resilience, self-awareness and empathy at the top has a trickle effect down to the rest of the team, driving deeper employee morale and higher productivity.

In short, emotional intelligence can be the differentiator between good and exceptional leaders and consequently good and exceptional businesses.

Traits of an emotionally fit leader

As an executive coach, I often work with leaders to help them develop the type of emotional fitness that forms the bedrock of successful teams and organisations.

In my experience the key traits of an emotionally fit leader tend to include:

  • Self-awareness – they are self-reflective and understand how others see them. This helps them adjust and manage their emotions in a manner that creates connectivity with others instead of distance. Many leadership problems are driven by low self-awareness.
  • Empathy – they can relate to the emotions of others. Although they must often make unilateral decisions, they consider how those decisions will impact others.
  • Capacity to take criticism and feedback – they understand that more is learned from failure than success. They are not defensive and give genuine consideration to points of view other than their own. They are secure in their value and don’t need constant external validation.
  • Effective communication, even during disagreement – they are able to put words to their needs and expectations, instilling a sense of trust that they are looking after the best interests of the company.
  • Capacity to tolerate discomfort – they are able to have tough conversations, be transparent about uncomfortable information and sit with a problem until it has been fully thought through.
  • An openness with others – they encourage free exchange of ideas and regularly engage in this type of interaction with others.
  • An ongoing commitment to improvement - leaders with emotional fitness know they need to keep improving if they are going to stay on top. Athletes try to shore up any weaknesses in their game. Leaders need to do the same.

How to improve your Emotional Fitness

Although some people tend to have more emotional intelligence than others, it is fortunately something that can be worked on. Unlike IQ – which is fixed from an early age – emotional fitness or intelligence is malleable.

In terms of basic steps to improve your emotional fitness, there is a wealth of decent books out there covering the topic, but my advice would be, rather than trying to do it all, to pick just two or three areas of focus for adjustment or ‘change’.

The most critical aspect to improving your emotional fitness in a work context, in my view, is not to dwell exclusively on the within, but also to consider the ‘without’. As Howard Schultz, founder of Starbucks once said; “The most undervalued characteristic of leadership is vulnerability and asking for help." The wisdom of this comment, whilst evident, is surprisingly something many leaders tend to struggle with.

Emotionally fit individuals, at any level within an organisation, understand that a key component of their success is down to the people they are surrounded by, and the environments in which they operate. They acknowledge their limitations or deficiencies and are able to seek guidance when needed. When evaluating those you work with and the environment you work in, seek out and develop strong and healthy relationships with resilient, positive individuals whose support, reflection, coaching and advice you trust and respect.

A final thought

Like physical fitness, if a good routine is maintained with regard to emotional fitness and keeping on top of it, you will likely prevent greater issues down the line.

Returning to my original sporting analogy, we might draw some inspiration from the English world-cup winning batswoman wicket-keeper Sarah Taylor who, after work with a psychologist and re-assessment of her environmental triggers, overcame crippling mental anxiety to become a role model for female cricketers the world over.

For those of us trying to shine as leaders in our own settings, it would seem clear that while we build our technical competence and core skills we should also be overtly committed to building and sustaining emotional fitness.

Mark Latuske

Mark Latuske

Mark Latuske is Head of Executive Coaching and Organisational Development at Clarendon Executive, specialists in executive search, performance and the provision of interim management in Northern Ireland. His career in business change and transformation has taken in both big four consultancy and senior in-house roles across the UK and the Republic of Ireland.

Tagged with: Executive Recruitment | interpersonal skills

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