Tag Archives: leadership

positive emotions broaden and bridge

How Positivity Broadens and Builds New Skills

 

“Don’t worry, be happy” is such a cliché that many people roll their eyes when they hear something about the importance of thinking positively.

Barbara Fredrickson isn’t one of those people.

For over twenty years, Dr. Fredrickson has studied how positive emotions improve physical and emotional well-being, as well as performance at work. More Than Sound author Daniel Goleman cites Fredrickson in his introduction to Positive Outlook: A Primer, the fifth in the series focused on the twelve Emotional Intelligence Competencies. Research conducted by Fredrickson and her colleagues shows that people who experience and express positive emotions more frequently are more resilient, more resourceful, more socially connected, and more likely to function at optimal levels.

One of Fredrickson’s key contributions is her “broaden-and-build” theory which presents an understanding of the evolutionary value of positivity. Positive emotions widen a person’s outlook in small ways that, over time, reshape who they are. In a threatening situation (or one we perceive as threatening), our view of options literally narrow as we choose one response and react quickly. In situations that evoke positive emotions such as joy, interest, contentment, or love, we can see a wider range of possible responses. Fredrickson describes this effect:

“…positive emotions broaden peoples’ momentary thought–action repertoires, widening the array of the thoughts and actions that come to mind. Joy, for instance, creates the urge to play, push the limits and be creative; urges evident not only in social and physical behavior, but also in intellectual and artistic behavior. Interest, a phenomenologically distinct positive emotion, creates the urge to explore, take in new information and experiences, and expand the self in the process…. These various thought–action tendencies—to play, to explore, or to savor and integrate—each represents ways that positive emotions broaden habitual modes of thinking or acting.”

This “broaden” part of the theory has been proven in empirical research conducted by many laboratories.

The “build” aspect looks at the cumulative impact of that “broader” thinking. Seeing a broader perspective allows us to discover and build personal resources. Fredrickson says it is a:

“…recipe for discovery: discovery of new knowledge, new alliances, and new skills. In short, broadened awareness led to the accrual of new resources that might later make the difference between surviving or succumbing to various threats. Resources built through positive emotions also increased the odds that our ancestors would experience subsequent positive emotions, with their attendant broaden-and-build benefits, thus creating an upward spiral toward improved odds for survival, health, and fulfillment. In sum, the broaden-and-build theory states that positive emotions have been useful and preserved over human evolution because having recurrent, yet unbidden, moments of expanded awareness proved useful for developing resources for survival. Little by little, micro-moments of positive emotional experience, although fleeting, reshape who people are by setting them on trajectories of growth and building their enduring resources for survival.”

Positive Outlook and Today’s Leadership

Fredrickson’s concept of “broaden-and-build” doesn’t relate just to long-ago ancestors surviving, it provides an important lesson for leaders today. Leaders and the people with whom they work experience the same broadening and building through positive emotions. In a work setting, people who regularly feel positive emotions are more able to think creatively, consider novel solutions to problems, and take advantage of opportunities that might not be immediately obvious.

Leaders who are strong in the Positive Outlook Competency see others positively and help their colleagues recognize the positive in what others might consider a setback. By continually evoking positive emotions in the people around them, leaders help build the capacity of their teams to be successful in their work.

Recommended Reading:

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now:

Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability,  Achievement Orientation, and Positive Outlook.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series.

 

References:

http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780124072367000012

http://www.unc.edu/peplab/publications/Fredrickson%202013%20Updated%20Thinking.pdf

team norms

Team Norms and Emotional Intelligence

 

I’m a strong believer in the importance of what we expect of one another in a team. And I’m not alone, as much of my research has focused on finding the distinctions that define the best teams. What my colleagues and I have found is that norms – or shared expectations – are the universal elements that identify high-performing teams.

Every group has norms, whether they’re developed consciously or not. A great example is: Do we start on time or do we wait for latecomers? Is it okay to show up late? Norms vary from group to group, and depend on what’s agreed upon by all involved.

The important thing about norms is that they regulate all behavior in teams. They regulate at the systems level. Many team researchers make the mistake of thinking that changing behavior in the team is about changing individual behavior. Building the individual emotional intelligence of team members is fabulous and it helps. However, once you enter a team where the norms don’t support your emotionally intelligent behavior, you’re more likely to conform to those norms than act otherwise. If rudeness is a norm, cutting people off, showing up late, that will emerge.

The way to impact a group’s performance is to impact the group’s norms. I explored this topic with Daniel Goleman in Crucial Competence, as a way to complement the many facets of building emotional and social leadership.

My colleagues and I have studied the norms of high-performing teams and found that the best teams periodically step back and reflect on their process. They take time to say, “How are we doing? Are we being too nice? Are we arguing too much? Are people getting supported? What do we need to work on?” This is essentially the group equivalent of the first key competence in individual emotional intelligence, self-awareness.

Where do norms of high-performing teams come from?

We had a hypothesis that an emotionally intelligent leader is more likely to develop emotionally intelligent norms in their team. A graduate student of mine when I was in the faculty at Case Western, Elizabeth Stubbs Koman, had contacts in the military, and she wanted to test the team norms and the emotional intelligence of leaders. She found a wonderful sample of air crew teams and maintenance teams, 81 teams that included 422 people. She first studied the team leader’s emotional intelligence using the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory in a 360-degree survey. We got anonymous ratings on the leaders. Then, she administered our survey that measures the group emotional intelligence norms. She also had the outcome data for these teams, the military’s objective measures of performance.

What she found was exactly what we predicted:

The team leader’s emotional intelligence didn’t predict the performance of the team, BUT it did predict the emergence of the emotionally intelligent team norms.

And, the team norms then predicted the performance. The way the leader’s emotional intelligence mattered was in shaping the norms, dynamics, and reality of the team, which in turn, led to higher performance.

Consider how this applies to your team, whether you are a leader or not. Play your part in cultivating positive team norms, garnering agreement, and speaking up when norms become counterproductive. Over time you’ll find this creates efficiency and cohesion among all of the team members.

Recommended Reading:

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman, Vanessa Druskat, and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now:

Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability,  Achievement Orientation, and Positive Outlook.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series, and Team Emotional Intelligence.

Engaging the Whole Person at Work

 

When we see ourselves and our co-workers only as tools to get the job done it is difficult to connect with one another as human beings. Connection is essential to building high performing and high functioning teams, not to mention to creating job fulfillment.

There is a story Max DePree shared in his book Leadership is An Art (1987), told by his father about visiting with the wife of the Millwright for the Herman Miller factory after her husband died. It was in the 1920’s and Max’s dad went to pay his respects to the Millwright’s wife. During his visit the Millwright’s wife asked his father if he’d mind if she read some poetry. He thought it would be appropriate and sat back to listen. As she read, the beauty of the poem resonated with him. He’d never heard this poetry before and asked who the poet was. She said it was her husband, the Millwright. The man who had been integral to the Herman Miller manufacturing processes, who provided the power for the machinery in his factory, dismantled machines and moved them around was a poet. This came as a surprise; he’d known the man but didn’t know he had this talent outside of work. It motivated him to see that leaders must, “endorse a concept of person”.

As I read this in the early ‘90’s I realized that this lesson is bigger than the “concept of person” in a tops down view. It is about connection, learning about the people who work with you and sharing yourself with them. When you connect with the people who work with you, you discover other interests, talents, loves, and they in turn learn something about you.

Why does this matter? What difference does it make if you know the Millwright is a poet, the Accountant is a photographer, the HR Manager’s child is seriously ill or the Customer Service Specialist has just loss her mother?

Business is structured as a well-defined hierarchy that defines us by our titles and the roles we play within business, and our interactions are determined by these roles. The playing field is tilted in favor of the leadership, but should it be? By coming to understand more about ourselves and the people we work with, we can see that occasional missteps at work often result from a much larger context; a problem at home, the death of a beloved pet or some other distraction. They aren’t necessarily about lack of competence or skill, sloppiness or a bad attitude.

Without making excuses we understand that we all have days that are a challenge. “Endorsing the concept of person” builds team and team makes it possible to confront unexpected challenges in the day-to-day life of business, whether it’s shaky sales, disruption of production, strained cash flow, the loss of a well-liked co-worker or the acquisition of a new customer with compassion and understanding. We have jobs and roles within a company, but when we can connect not only through job and role but as fellow humans, we create an authentic engagement that fosters an environment in which human creativity and satisfaction grow and thrive. We form a sense of equality in an otherwise hierarchical unequal environment. The consistency with which we can cultivate these fleeting opportunities, over time builds a level of trust essential to a high functioning team. The challenge is that many believe that when a leader opens up they will be seen as weak or vulnerable. The opposite is true.

Here’s how this played out in my leadership experience

I worked with a smart and capable Engineering Manager who had a reputation as a tremendous problem solver, but he had started to become impatient with process and prone to angry tirades. He seemed to be seething inside. Many of his attacks were directed at individuals. My boss at the time wanted me to “get rid of him.” His behavior was undermining his position with the company and his credibility; people were starting to avoid him. What he lacked was Emotional Self-Control.

Instead of turning my feelings off and seeing him as the “problem” and firing him I sat down with him to talk about anger. Not only his, but mine. I shared some of my frustrations and how important it was to see them and be with them, but not project them out onto others. As we discussed the situation he began to explain what was behind his anger. He kept pointing at the things other people were doing, and I’d share more about my own anger and how my frustration was often rooted in not really understanding how to move the needle and effect change.

Finally I looked at him and said, “You know the anger has to stop. It doesn’t matter what provokes you, you can’t act out and mistreat other people on the team, no matter how frustrated you are. There are positive and constructive ways to address the issues that are frustrating you. You need to find them or ask for help. Do you understand?” He replied that he understood. We talked about the possibility of anger management counseling. He didn’t think he needed it. I told him that I valued him as a co-worker and friend but that if he had another angry outburst, I’d have to let him go, no second chances. As we continued to talk, I asked, “Do you want to stay here?” He said, “Yes. I like it here, I want to stay.” I followed with,  “Do you think you can do this?’ His response,  “Yes, I know I can.”

The problem was now entirely within his control. I knew some of the difficulties he was dealing with outside of the workplace, and understood that having control would likely result in a better outcome. Through our connection and sharing, he knew that I’d had similar challenges in my work life, and others had as well. It wasn’t having the feelings that were the problem it was what he did with them. At this point, he began to problem-solve for himself. He identified his triggers and ways he could address them.  He looked at me and said, “Thanks, I think I need to apologize to a few folks.” He kept his job, and worked better with others from that point on.

By being authentic and curious about his issues, sharing my own, and not taking the easy route of simply replacing him, we built a connection together that made it possible to discuss the issue not just as a boss and employee, but as two human beings. By “endorsing the concept of person”, we created a moment of equality and authentic connection that helped him move from being a victim to understanding the impact his behavior was having on the organization and the need for him to take responsibility. This is leading with emotional intelligence.

Recommended Reading:

Emotional Self-Control: A Primer

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now:

Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability,  Achievement Orientation, and Positive Outlook.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series!

The Relationship Between Leader Mindfulness, Focus, and Results

 

In last month’s article on Adaptability I quoted an executive leader who credited mindfulness for contributing to her ability to respond to a significant and unanticipated problem when assuming a leadership role with a new company. She also shared details about mindfulness helping her time and again to excel when she was leading large-scale global manufacturing and supply chain operations. The other 41 leaders I interviewed also provided similar examples of how mindfulness was an invaluable tool on their path to professional success.

One particular result of mindfulness training that emerged from my research is the Emotional and Social Intelligence Competency of Achievement Orientation.

What is Achievement Orientation?

Achievement Orientation is one of the competencies included in the Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competency model developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis. It falls under the domain of Emotional Self-Management and refers to an individual being able to set measurable self-improvement goals. A leader with strong Achievement Orientation will be:

  • Open to new challenges
  • Have a greater ability to anticipate obstacles
  • Willing to be held accountable for their actions

This competency, as is the case with the other 11 competencies, has been empirically linked to increased overall leadership performance.

What Does Achievement Orientation Look Like in the Workplace?

The manifestation of this competency is well illustrated by the following quote from a leader who has held general counsel positions for two well-known corporations: “I did all of my undergraduate work at night, while I was working full-time… I also got my law degree at night.” In other words, the results of Achievement Orientation look a lot like what most people also attribute to determination and focus. Other leaders shared similar examples, revealing the development of a strong ability to focus on completion of complex and large-scale goals.

Understanding the relationship between mindfulness and the development of Achievement Orientation was significant to my research, since I specifically investigated examples of positive workplace leadership outcomes. All of the leaders I interviewed provided in-depth descriptions illustrating this relationship, and reported the influence of mindfulness as having been significant. In these conversations, leaders described a process where mindfulness-enhanced development of the competencies of Emotional Self-Awareness and Emotional Self-Control, which in turn contributed to Adaptability and Achievement Orientation.

In some cases these positive developments occurred in response to successful careers that plateaued, or periods of declining effectiveness that leaders struggled to understand. In many examples, however, leaders described these developments occurring as a part of years of personal activity aimed at finding ways to specifically improve goal-oriented performance.

How Does Achievement Orientation Impact Leadership Effectiveness?

Examples of this activity included developing the ability to monitor in real-time whether or not thoughts and actions were directly contributing to goals. Leaders also described setting aside time to reflect on how their beliefs and biases may interfere with reaching their goals, as well as an honest assessment of their past behaviors in the same context.

Leader reports indicating the presence of Achievement Orientation often accompanied detailed descriptions of career advancement, development of new leadership capabilities, and workplace success. These examples also revealed a pattern of personally-driven, professional development activity spanning their career: “it’s been on an upward track for me…I grew every single year…won some awards,” and “I am constantly challenging myself to find new ways to culturally have a very positive impact.” In many cases, leaders also mentioned that they had invested more personal resources into this level of development than their employers did on their behalf.

In the context of ongoing development, Achievement Orientation helps leaders:

  • Focus on identifying ways to do things better
  • Learn how to initiate actions to improve personal performance
  • Cultivate new strategies for obtaining information
  • Become more successful in taking advantage of opportunities

How Can You Begin to Develop Achievement Orientation?

It may be helpful to view the concept of Achievement Orientation as it relates to the research of Dr. Angela Duckworth on Grit or Daniel Goleman’s writing on Focus. This work references the influence of positive emotions on your capacity to successfully pursue a dominant goal. Success is related to how many of your mental and emotional resources are directed towards activity contributing to goal attainment, including thoughts, emotional states and decisions. These resources can be intensely focused if you are not distracted by, for example, considering alternative goals or questioning your ability to succeed. Focus and Grit, like Achievement Orientation, also relate to planning and preparation activity, and your tendency towards solution-oriented responses to problems.

In the context of Achievement Orientation even your reaction to stress can impact quality and timeliness of success. For example, a stressor may be viewed positively as a challenge to be met by some people, while others react to it as a threat and focus on coping options instead. Therefore, a good way to start developing Achievement Orientation is to regularly monitor the degree to which your mental and emotional resources are aligning with – and contributing to -the attainment of your goals.

Recommended Reading:

Achievement Orientation

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now: Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability, and Achievement Orientation, with new releases monthly throughout 2017.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series!

Achievement Orientation: Coaching Strategies for Insightful Leadership

 

It is true that leaders who struggle to maintain a productive achievement orientation often have technical growth areas related to setting goals, progress monitoring, and analyzing data.  However, there is often a deeper adaptive issue at play that limits the impact of technical skill building when not addressed.

Whether they know it or not, many leaders care less about achievement than they do about other core personal values.  The good news is that leaders can learn to balance these seemingly competing values in their work.

David McClelland’s “Learned Needs Theory” from The Achieving Society (1961) has helped me and the leaders I coach make sense of this phenomenon.   According to McClelland, there are three core human motives:

  • Affiliation – valuing collaboration, relationship, and belonging to a group.
  • Power – valuing competition, recognition, and influencing others.
  • Achievement – valuing setting and accomplishing goals, and receiving feedback on progress.

McClelland believes that everyone values all three motives, but our life experiences and environments make one of them our dominant motive. Leaders who struggle to care enough about achievement are driven by another motive in a way that competes with achievement.  As a coach, it is my job to raise self-awareness about competing motives, push leaders to challenge assumptions about achievement that are getting in their way, and support them in crafting a new values-driven narrative that gets achievement and their other core motive working in harmony.

In my experience, leaders are most likely to struggle to reconcile achievement motive with their affiliative motive.

Paul is a leader I coached who fits this bill.  Paul led a small company with moderate results and was loved by his employees and clients. Still, Paul felt like there was a next level for him as a leader, and so jumped at the opportunity to leave his comfortable position to grow at another high-achieving company.  Within weeks of his arrival, however, Paul’s enthusiasm began to falter. He struggled to implement the company’s coaching system, with its focus on tight, accountable data cycles and direct performance feedback.  When I met Paul, his manager shared that Paul’s feedback often “hid the ball”, and that he was allowing his people to settle for lackluster achievement goals.  Meanwhile, Paul confided in me that his new work felt cold and impersonal. He was worried that his team was becoming discouraged by the impossibly high expectations and constant constructive feedback.

The more stories Paul told me about his performance management practice, the more I suspected that his root issue was competing beliefs. I realized that Paul’s ability to grow depended first on building his awareness about his own values conflict.

To help Paul I began unpacking his meetings with his direct reports that felt off. I asked these questions:

At what point in the meeting did you feel dissonance?   What did your person say or do that triggered that?

How did you feel when this happened? Name an actual emotion. Where do you think this is coming from?

What thoughts were going through your head that impacted your use of the coaching system?

What values or beliefs are under attack for you in this situation?  In other words, what do you deeply believe about the right way to develop people that is being violated here?

When Paul is able to name a deep belief that feels somehow compromised, I share McClelland’s core motive theory with him and ask him, “Based on the conversation we just had, what do you think is most likely your core motive?”  His answer:  affiliation.  At this point, the heavy lifting begins.  I ask Paul:

How do you think this core motive is serving you right now, and how do you think it might be getting in your way?

I follow this question with others that encourage Paul to consider the impact of his actions on his direct reports, on outcomes, and ultimately the impact on himself.  My goal is not to disparage Paul’s affiliation motive (certainly one of his core strengths as a leader), but rather to help him see when it shows up in ways that are holding him back as a leader.

When Paul starts to dig in about people’s feelings, I ask him to consider how his actions now are impacting the feelings of his people.  At some point Paul realizes that the way he currently values affiliation through relationships and nurturing emotional harmony not only impacts outcomes, but actually strains relationships and causes negative emotions. He sees that when he lets people off the hook for achieving goals and sugarcoats performance feedback, he is inadvertently sending the message that he doesn’t believe they are capable of achieving and growing.

Paul is now both confused and ready to re-balance his beliefs about affiliation and achievement.  I help him craft a new values-driven narrative that creates a new leadership path by asking the following questions:

  • What do you deeply believe are all of the conditions people need to learn and grow? Sort them by motive.  You believe all of these things, even if they currently seem at odds.
  • How will you know when some of these conditions are actually getting in the way of growth? What could you do as a leader when this happens? 
  • How will you make yourself lean into the conditions you know some people need, even when they fall into the achievement motive and push up against your affiliative motive?

Paul develops a plan to be aware of when his affiliation motive gets in his way, and to manage his unproductive impulses.  The plan helps him make better decisions about development strategies, because he is now trying to figure out what his reports need to grow rather than what makes them feel good.  With practice and coaching, Paul learns to care about achievement by replacing old assumptions and habits with new ones that balance care for people and performance.

Recommended Reading:

Achievement Orientation

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now: Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability, and Achievement Orientation, with new releases monthly throughout 2017.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series!

Emotional and Social Intelligence Leadership Competencies: An Overview

 

Emotional Intelligence, a different way of being smart, is a key to high performance at all levels, particularly for outstanding leadership.

Emotional Intelligence is the capacity to recognize our own feelings and those of others, and to manage emotions effectively in ourselves and our relationships. It is about much more than just having empathy or being “sensitive” –  that’s a common misconception about EI.

Emotional and social competencies are each a learned capacity, based on Emotional Intelligence, which contributes to effective performance at work – and often greater satisfaction in life as well.

There are four parts, or domains, to Daniel Goleman’s Emotional and Social Intelligence Model:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Management
  • Social Awareness
  • Relationship Management

Within each of these four domains nest learned competencies based on the underlying ability that make people outstanding performers in the workplace. These are skills that can be developed, just as you can improve upon anything that you practice regularly.

Richard Boyatzis, a business professor at Case Western Reserve University, and Daniel Goleman analyzed the range of competencies that companies identified in their outstanding leaders. They distilled them down to twelve generic competencies that embody the core of distinguishing abilities of leaders in organizations across a broad spectrum of industries.

The twelve competencies and their brief definitions are below. For more in-depth information, see Crucial Competence, our new video series with Daniel Goleman and fellow thought-leaders in research and Emotional Intelligence, or explore our latest competency-based primers.

Self-Awareness

  • Emotional Self-Awareness: The ability to understand our own emotions and their effects on our performance.

Self-Management

  • Emotional Self-Control: The ability to keep disruptive emotions and impulses in check and maintain our effectiveness under stressful or hostile conditions.
  • Achievement Orientation: Striving to meet or exceed a standard of excellence; looking for ways to do things better, set challenging goals and take calculated risks.
  • Positive Outlook: The ability to see the positive in people, situations, and events and persistence in pursuing goals despite obstacles and setbacks.
  • Adaptability: Flexibility in handling change, juggling multiple demands, and adapting our ideas or approaches.

Social Awareness

  • Empathy: The ability to sense others’ feelings and perspectives, taking an active interest in their concerns and picking up cues about what others feel and think.
  • Organizational Awareness: The ability to read a group’s emotional currents and power relationships, identifying influencers, networks, and organizational dynamics.

 Relationship Management

  • Influence: The ability to have a positive impact on others, persuading or convincing others in order to gain their support.
  • Coach and Mentor: The ability to foster the long-term learning or development of others by giving feedback, guidance, and support.
  • Conflict Management: The ability to help others through emotional or tense situations, tactfully bringing disagreements into the open and finding solutions all can endorse.
  • Inspirational Leadership: The ability to inspire and guide individuals and groups towards a meaningful vision of excellence, and to bring out the best in others.
  • Teamwork: The ability to work with others towards a shared goal; participating actively, sharing responsibility and rewards, and contributing to the capability of the team.

Based on their findings, Goleman and Boyatzis developed a 360-degree rating instrument called the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI). A 360-degree assessment instrument has leaders rate themselves, and also be rated by the people whom they trust and whose opinions they value. This gives the fullest picture, combining a self-assessment with the same evaluations by other people.

Recommended Reading:

Our new primer series is written by Daniel Goleman and fellow thought leaders in the field of Emotional Intelligence and research. The following are available now: Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, Adaptability, and Achievement Orientation, with new releases monthly throughout 2017.

For more in-depth insights, see the Crucial Competence video series!

adaptability mindfulness leadership

Adaptability: Where Mindfulness Training Impacts Leadership

In my previous article, I mentioned a senior leader with a global accounting firm who credited mindfulness for helping improve her capacity for emotional self-control.

During our discussion, she also explained in detail how this change contributed to greater adaptability. These are both competencies of Emotional and Social Intelligence, and mindfulness training can help with their development.

In this case, emotional self-control increased the capacity for managing unexpected events, which relied in part on an enhanced awareness of how her personal bias, interpretations of past experiences, and subconscious reactions were interfering with the effectiveness of her responses.

The other 41 leaders I interviewed as part of my study also linked mindfulness to the development of the Emotional and Social Intelligence Competency of Adaptability. Adaptability falls under the domain of Emotional Self-Management and is exemplified by a leader being able to work effectively in rapidly changing environments and with diverse groups or individuals. I found additional evidence of this competency during my transcript analysis using the Emotional and Social Competency Indicator (ESCI) model developed by Daniel Goleman and Richard Boyatzis. Adaptability has been empirically linked to increased leadership performance and is typically present in leaders who can manage shifting priorities and are capable of adjusting their perceptions and beliefs.

Why Adaptability is important to leadership

In addition to being emphasized by a number of Emotional Intelligence researchers, Adaptability is linked to a variety of key leadership abilities including:

  • Improved ability to lead in challenging environments.
  • More effective and rapid responses to unexpected changes.
  • Effectiveness in multiple roles, functions, and/or different organizations.

Here’s an example of what this looks like. A senior video game producer shared with me how mindfulness contributed to her ability to successfully adapt to disruptive experiences during her career, “…there’s a calmness about it that allows for new innovation…You can still achieve the goal… you just have to be able to change your plans and your actions.”

During our conversation, she shared examples including needing to meet a major deadline following a significant reduction in budget, and managing employee disengagement and attrition following a merger. In these and other examples, she explained how adaptability increased her ability to successfully navigate unpleasant workplace events and interact more effectively with disruptive coworkers. She added that truly being adaptable required her to stay focused on key objectives in the face of unpredictable and sometimes highly volatile situations.

She also echoed what other leaders shared about adaptability; that it is a vital component of both planned and improvisational leadership behaviors.

For example, another participant noted the importance of being adaptable when she developed a plan to address a gap in employee development after assuming a C-level position, “…there was no talent program in place…so I worked with my counterpart in HR and we put something together that the team responded very favorably to.” Adaptability in the form of improvisational leadership behaviors was also described frequently. One leader shared how adaptability played a key role in resolving a significant crisis that threatened project success at a critical moment; “we had a run-in and she had a breakdown…I was able to work through that….and get her back on track…we ended up getting great results.”

Similarly, adaptability can be important in letting go of past accomplishments in order to address the challenges that come with new roles, or shifts in leadership identity.

How Developing Mindfulness can lead to increased Adaptability

Neuroimaging research, like what is summarized in the 2014 HBR article Mindfulness Can Literally Change Your Brain, indicates that mindfulness alters regions of the brain and changes the manner in which neural networks connect with each other. These types of changes may also improve cognitive flexibility, which contributes to improved adaptability.

Similar to the process of athletic training, neuroplasticity is what accounts for the circuitry of our brains being shaped by our experience. In this context developing leadership behaviors such as adaptability is like mental conditioning. It is a conscious approach that allows us to:

  • Identify areas where we need improvement and implement a daily plan of action to address gaps.
  • Regularly assess the alignment of our beliefs and actions.
  • Deliberately refine our ability to identify and develop the best strategies for effectively engaging with different types of individuals in the workplace. As one participant described it, “…I need to flex my style just to be able to adapt to different characters.”

In addition to cultivating adaptability, mindfulness is also linked to the development of Emotional Self-Awareness and Emotional Self-Management. Adaptability is enhanced by these two competencies, since greater emotional awareness enables you to more effectively manage your reactions to situational demands.

In my next article I will discuss the relationship between mindful leadership and the fourth competency in the Emotional Self-Management domain, Achievement Orientation.

Recommended Reading:

AdaptabilityOur new series of primers was created by bestselling author of Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman, along with fellow thought leaders in EI, research, and leadership development.

The primers focus on the competencies of Emotional and Social Intelligence in leadership. You can find the first 3 in the series available now: Emotional Self-Awareness, Emotional Self-Control, and Adaptability.