This post is part of a series of articles being prepared alongside our bespoke, in-house Leadership Training programme. You can read more about the inspiration behind this initiative here and a summary from the previous session on cultivating a Growth Mindset here.
Over dinner recently I found myself in a fascinating debate about the role of mainstream education. My friend was forcefully deconstructing a number of our core beliefs about how and why we educate children and young people.
As a parent of young children, this is very much a practical question rather than a theoretical one, and I was perhaps surprised to find myself defending mainstream education and the role that it plays in society.
What none of us disputed, though, is that academic education alone very rarely sets us up for success in life.
In my view, nobody in the last 20 years has articulated this more clearly or compellingly than Daniel Goleman, the leading thinker in the field of Emotional Intelligence (a term that he has largely helped to coin). Goleman’s central tenet is that IQ or technical skills rarely set us apart in our lives or careers, but emotional intelligence – “a group of five skills that enable the best leaders to maximise their own and their followers’ performance”.
Over the summer, each of our Leadership Training groups spent time reading Goleman’s seminal 1998 paper “What Makes a Leader”. It’s an excellent 20-30 minute read if you’re not familiar with Goleman’s work.
In our group sessions we then dug deeper into each of the five core skills that Goleman argues are essential in order for a person to grow in emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill.
At Swanky, our clients value our IQ and technical abilities, but ultimately we are a people business and we’re profoundly aware of the impact that emotionally intelligent relationships can have on each of our projects.
Our observations and reflections
One of the aspects of our Leadership Training program that I’m enjoying the most is that a different member of each group leads each discussion. We’ve deliberately sought to encourage divergent thinking by setting little to no parameters – everybody is asked to read the relevant material beforehand, and the group leader is given carte blanche to facilitate a great discussion in whatever way they think best.
Consequently, the nature of the discussions in each of the three groups has been quite different, but a number of common themes and ideas were consistently raised:
- Self-awareness seems to be a key gateway to personal growth. There’s a reason that this is the first core skill that Goleman explores, and our groups agreed that understanding yourself is a foundation upon which other, more outward-focused, behaviours can be learnt/improved. We highlighted the importance of giving and receiving regular and honest feedback, and one person suggested keeping a daily professional diary to try and achieve higher levels of self-awareness over time. Another group found it helpful to complete and discuss an online self-awareness test.
- Understanding our emotional triggers is key to growing in self-regulation. We discussed how self-regulation is relatively straightforward in a vacuum, but the reality of life, family responsibilities, work pressures and other external factors can so easily cause us to lose control of our reactions and behaviours. One group had a particularly vulnerable conversation in which participants shared their personal emotional triggers, and the ways in which they are learning to regulate their responses.
- Emotional Intelligence is open to abuse, and should be approached with care. There were some great observations about the potential dangers of individuals using emotional intelligence to unduly influence and even manipulate others. We explored the ideas that motivation and empathy could be seen as counter-balances to self-awareness, self-regulation and social skill – and the difference that pure motives and care for others make to the way in which we behave. One group even spent some time considering whether the likes of Steve Jobs and Elon Musk have demonstrated emotional intelligence, and went so far as to ask whether in fact emotional intelligence is actually a positive attribute!
- Emotional intelligence can be learned, and (perhaps) gets easier with age. There was strong consensus that EQ, like IQ, takes time to master, but that unlike IQ we can accelerate the growth of our EQ more quickly as time goes by. Or, as Goleman puts it: “Emotional intelligence increases with age. There is an old-fashioned word for the phenomenon: maturity.”
Once again it was a privilege listening in to these various conversations – I’ve loved the quality and diversity of opinion, the respectful disagreement and constructive argument, and ultimately the shared joy of learning and growing together.
A further personal lesson: the power of nonconformism
In leadership, we all know that we should learn to delegate and empower others, but I think sometimes we fail to understand the extent to which getting out of the way can improve situations. I’ve seen a great example of this in our conversations.
As you will have deduced from my comments at the start of this post, I’m largely a conformist. I was the one defending traditional mainstream education, not challenging it. I have a conventional education and chose a more traditional career as a corporate lawyer prior to joining Swanky. I often approach a challenge or situation by looking to understand its parameters, and then maximising my contribution within those parameters.
At Swanky, we have some powerfully disruptive, nonconformist thinkers. They see things in a way that conformists like me are simply unable to. Nonconformists help us to challenge established wisdom, push boundaries and redefine the status quo. During some of our sessions I’ve had to keep myself from laughing at the brilliance of some of the ideas being shared by our team – ideas which I would literally have been unable to conceive.
As an agency, we operate in a fascinating confluence of professional services, technology and disruptive nonconformism. Our clients need us to deliver high-quality advice and solutions, but sometimes that advice will be to throw out the conventional playbook, and for the best part of a decade those solutions have involved redefining what should be possible with a Shopify store.
Long may that creative tension continue to flourish.