GUEST POST: Learning Leadership From the Best … and the Worst

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GUEST POST: Learning Leadership From the Best … and the Worst


Leadership Blog Post – Micheál Fitzpatrick, Graduate Student, Westminster College, Bill and Vieve Gore School of Business

What makes a man tick?Over the years I have had some great mangers & leaders, but in contrast I have also had some terrible ones. The wonderful thing about reporting to managers & leaders who are who are poor and weak, in terms of their skills of managing and leading people, is that you can learn a great deal on what NOT to do.

When I started my career as an engineer in my mid-twenties, I worked with one particular Senior Engineer. Although I did not report to him, he became somewhat of a mentor, helping me acknowledge and unlock strengths and skills I never I knew I had in me. What he helped me realize is that my sensitivity and empathy (which I always thought were weaknesses) were actually very powerful traits. Why are sensitivity and empathy so critical? Let me help you understand. These traits are critical because every day we work with and lead people. Foundational relationships are those which are built upon trust, understanding, a willingness to forgive, and seeing a person more than just headcount. Strong foundational relationships are extremely important, because when things go wrong and get tough (and this happens as it is a fact of life), these strong foundational relationships will be crucial to push through these tough times. The book “How to be a Positive Leader” edited by Jane E. Dutton and Gretchen M. Sprietzer goes into detail on this subject matter and discusses the power of positive connections.

Since I realized that sensitivity and empathy were a part of who I was, I began to explore the topic more by reading “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking” by Susan Cain. I realized that due to my introverted nature, I had increased empathy; I was able to read peoples emotions and body language easily. That was an advantage working with engineers who had poor interpersonal skills and looked at their own shoes when they talked to other people. A point that resonated with me in the fascinating book “Emotional Intelligence” by Daniel Goleman, was that most people in the world with an average IQ of 150 are managed by people with an average IQ of 100. Malcom Gladwell explores this point further in his book “Blink”, with examples of people with high IQ and low EQ that do not function well in society, as they are unable to apply their high intelligence in social situations in a practical manner. The point I am making is that empathy and emotional intelligence are exponentially more valuable when compared IQ when leading people.

102011_1736_emotionalin1I mentioned previously that I had learnt a lot on leadership from my mentor, but on the flipside I have also learnt a great deal from working with poor leaders. I worked with a Project Manager who had very low trust in people; he never listened to what people had to say and as a result he micro-managed everything. It was quite a miserable and exhausting experience working with him, and I did not have the urge to get behind him to follow him into battle so to speak. What I learned was whether you are catching up with an old friend, if someone is upset, and this is especially true with interactions in the workplace, that people just want to be heard and have their feelings, thoughts and opinions validated. This was the weakness of this Project Manager; he never listened to people. Four extremely powerful words I have started using recently are “what do you think?”. As a result, people become much more engaged. In his book the “8th Habit”, Steven Covey goes into detail on why micro-management is the wrong way to go. Giving people milestones and expectations and letting them work out how to get there is a far more powerful and effective method of leadership.

I would now like to summarize the Key Points I have addressed in this write up:

  • Good Leaders help people unlock and realize their full potential
  • Strong foundational relationships are extremely important
  • You can learn a great deal about what not to do from poor leaders
  • IQ is not as important as you think when leading people
  • There is great power in empathic listening and asking “what do you think”

The art of leadership is no easy task, but by combining high emotional intelligence with strong foundational relationships and empathetic listening will have you off to an excellent start while leading and dealing with people.



About the Author:

Professor and award winning author, world traveler, Mom, thought leader, mentor, friend, and advocate Vicki Whiting, Ph.D. is dedicated to the facilitation of learning and the development of leaders in all walks of life.

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