In previous articles we defined leadership as influence. We articulated some of the benefits of good leadership, especially in the business world where good leadership results in motivated and empowered workers, which in turn leads to higher levels of quality and productivity and more successful companies. But what is it that makes a good leader? How does one develop the ability to positively influence others?
There are a variety of traits and skills that define a good leader, and leadership can be complex. One way to understand the elements of leadership is to use the analogy of the structure of a building. The various elements, including character, emotional intelligence, mental intelligence, and expertise, are all part of the structure and each has a distinct purpose. The elements of this structure build upon each other to define the whole.
Integrity and authenticity is often voiced by potential followers as being a mandatory requirement in order for them to accept anyone’s leadership. They want a leader with strong, positive character, which is why character is the foundation of our leadership structure. Character is the sum of virtues, values and traits. Behavioral habits are our virtues. Values are beliefs that people have about what is important or worthwhile to them. Habitual patterns of thought, behavior and emotion are traits. In other words, character is who you are when no one is looking. It is often said that “we lead from who we are” and character defines who we are.
The influence of leadership is largely achieved through relationships. The skills that enable relationships are described as emotional intelligence (sometimes referred to as EI or EQ), so we will consider emotional intelligence as the framework of our leadership structure. EQ is the area of cognitive ability involving traits and social skills that facilitates interpersonal behavior. A more descriptive definition would be the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to judiciously and empathetically handle interpersonal relationships.
Before we finish off our structure of leadership, let’s mention two important things about character and EQ. First of all, the two go hand-in-glove and flow together. Character is composed of the internal traits of who we are while EQ encompasses the skills that enable us to put our character into action. For example, the character trait of believing in the value of every person plays out in our skill of managing our emotions and practicing empathy, two of the EQ skills. Secondly, character and EQ are very much a definition of who we are. Followers seek authenticity, or what we would term as resonance or congruity. Resonance is the term for sympathetic vibration and congruity is the expression used when two shapes fit together. In terms of leadership, resonance or congruity speaks to how our image matches with who we really are.
Mental intelligence or IQ is the part of our leadership structure that provides function. In the structure of a building, you could think of the electrical and plumbing systems as the functional parts. They make the structure work, but rely on the presence of the foundation and framework to be effective. The presence of IQ enables us to function at a higher level perhaps, but it cannot mask our character and EQ. All of us know of at least one highly intelligent person who allowed his or her intelligence to get in the way of displaying character or EQ. These types of people are ineffective as leaders because they can’t relate to or inspire people.
The final piece of our leadership structure is expertise, or subject-matter competence. Expertise provides the curb appeal, much as shutters and porch railings complete a structure by giving it a polished and aesthetic presence. Depending on the situation and the people being led, expertise can be either highly important or not at all important. If you are leading troops in combat or an athletic team as head coach, they probably want to be confident in your expertise. If you are leading the team to plan your company picnic, expertise may not be as critical.
So the four big areas of leadership, in order of priority, are character, emotional intelligence, mental intelligence, and expertise. Depending on the circumstances, the relative importance of these may vary but the priority changes very little. To be a great leader requires understanding what these four areas entail and building them into who you are. The good news is that three of the four (with IQ the exception) can be developed through an intentional plan of growth.
We have been gifted with a certain level of intelligence. We cannot change our IQ but we can improve the way that we use it. We have achieved some level of expertise through education and experience and we can continue to learn. Two areas of leadership that require deep, personal growth are character development and emotional intelligence. In next month’s leadership article we will dive deeper into the topic of character and why it is the foundation for our leadership.
Ken is a business strategy consultant and leadership coach. His passion is helping companies and people grow and succeed. With an engineering degree and an MBA, he spent more than 20 years working in M&A and business development in the corporate world before founding New Horizon Partners, Inc. in 2002. His consulting practice works with a wide variety of industrial companies, helping them make good decisions about where and how to compete and building their leadership capabilities. To read other articles by Ken on business strategy and leadership, visit the New Horizon Partners website.