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Some Notes from Leadership Seminars by Cloud & Townsend — Good Business Leadership Isn't Emotionless


19Sep 2009

This week I had the opportunity to attend a conference where both John Townsend (author of Boundaries) and Henry Cloud (author of Integrity) spoke on leadership.  Here are some notes of thoughts that I felt were interested and helpful.

John Townsend

Research is verifying the relationship between character, interpersonal skills and performance outcomes.  That is, if you work on the “inside” issues you will see improvement in performance outcomes. (See below for why this is the case.)

Life is more than making right choices – doing cost/benefit analyses.  There are two sets of information that leaders need to listen to – external (verifiable objective facts) + internal (listening to your ‘gut’).  True reality is a combination of objective information plus subjective intuition.

Values  — values are those things that you believe in to the point that they dictate your decisions.

Leaders need to focus less on what the mission statement says their core values are, and get an objective observer to share the values they observe in how the organization actually functions (i.e. focus on what their values are versus what they should be.)

The pendulum is swinging in leadership development from a pure focus on strategic planning, setting goals, managing by objectives, and the variety of technical processes to improve performance to also paying attention to the emotional side of life (and business).  Not focusing on feelings for feelings’ sake, but understanding that feelings play a role in both decision-making and in working as a team.

In decision-making, feelings play the role of relaying signals to the leader – signals that need to be paid attention to and investigated.  Anxiety (or concern or fear) is signaling that there may be a potential danger to heed.  Investigating the reality of the risk and taking steps to manage the risk (if it is real) is wise.  Ignoring the signal could be reckless.

Interestingly, Townsend indicates that the positive function of anger (irritation or frustration at lower levels) is an indication that you have a problem to solve – something is going on that you don’t like.  Now the problem may be internal – that you have unrealistic expectations that aren’t being met.  Or the problem may be external – that someone’s performance is not acceptable and needs to change.

A third emotion he cites that is critical to the business world is passion.  I personally have never considered passion as an emotion previously.  But it makes sense.  Townsend describes passion as “focused desire”.   And most successful leaders have or have experienced passion – that burning desire to do what they are called to.   A challenge for some leaders is that they lose the intensity of their passion / desire over time (which is a whole additional topic of discussion), while others struggle in maintaining the focus of their passion.

[Out of deference to Dr. Townsend and his intellectual capital, I am not going to list all of the positive and negative emotions he addressed in his book Leadership Beyond Reason:  How Great Leaders Succeed by Harnessing the Power of Their Values, Feelings, and Intuition.  Get the book – it is a good, solid leadership book with a unique perspective on the role of feelings in leadership.)

Townsend also believes that emotions play an important role in working effectively together with team members  — negative emotions among team members impede effective functioning, while positive feelings between colleagues facilitate better performance, both individually and as a unit.

He also describes the power of emotions in bringing to mind past relationships (what he and other psychologists call “internal relationships”) – those people who influenced us significantly in the past (parents, teachers, mentors, coaches) and still influence us “in our head”.  Dr. Townsend gives excellent examples of how leaders become stuck in their personal and leadership development because they can’t get past old messages from internalized relationships (“You’ll never amount to anything.”  “In the end, you’ll always screw it up.”)

A key application for me is that both Dr. Townsend and his colleague, Dr. Henry Cloud (whom I also heard) are seeing the need for coaching in the “middle space” for leaders.  There is plenty of coaching and leadership development in the strategic planning, becoming a change agent, etc. space.  And many leaders don’t need (or won’t get) heavy duty “counseling” focusing on personal problems.  But Dr. Cloud argues that there is the “middle space” that needs to be addressed – where a leader’s personal development has not kept pace with the growth of his organization and his or hers resulting responsibilities.  So there is a gap between the weight of their professional responsibilities and the development of personal skills and abilities to effective manage the demands.  Issues in this middle space include recurrent patterns of interpersonal difficulties (types of people you don’t work well with),  anxieties and fears that are making you hesitant to make decisions, personal and family  issues that are interfering with your performance by sapping your emotional energy, etc.  Business leaders need help working though these issues so that they can continue to become more productive leaders (which is the goal of the process).

One last interesting point Dr. Townsend  made about leaders.  Leaders are essential persuaders – they persuade others to follow them.  Initially, they do this by casting vision, identifying goals that will lead to the vision, communicating out a plan to reach the goals and then inspiring his team to share the vision and implement the plan.

But there is a difference between initially persuading followers and keeping them engaged.  For team members to continue to stay engaged with the vision and task, they need a sense of being listened to , understood and cared for by the leader.  This is a different skill set than the initial persuasive skills and many leaders either haven’t developed, don’t value or don’t practice the empathic listening to their team – and this ultimately leads to loss of enthusiasm, discouragement and conflict – for the unheard team member will find someone who will listen to them (other colleagues, other leaders) and this can lead to discontent and division within the team.

I’ll stop there.  “He who has ears to hear, let him listen (and act!)”

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