Harvard Business School defines emotional intelligence as “…the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as recognize and influence the emotions of those around you.”
A good leader can understand and manage their own emotions. They do not become emotionless, but they can perceive and prevent the dangers of emotional reactions. Likewise, if you can recognise the emotions of those you lead, you can respond appropriately, using clear rational thinking to drive a deeper understanding of their challenges and influence them for the best outcomes.
Understanding is the key word here. Without understanding, you cannot learn or teach. You cannot recognise or influence the emotions of others, or manage your own, without first understanding them.
Of course, you cannot understand if you don’t first listen. Many people fail to understand the importance of real listening. For some, listening is simply waiting for their turn to speak. They are more concerned with being heard than with hearing. A better way to do this is active listening.
Active listening means being fully involved in hearing and understanding what the other person is saying. It means making their words the focus of your attention. You are not there to plan a response or wait for your turn to speak. Your most important job is to listen so you can understand them, not listen so you can act.
Think about the times you have really felt listened to or valued. Did you feel like your thoughts or complaints mattered to the other person? Did you feel like they were only waiting for their chance to speak?
Active listening means centring the conversation around the other person's point of view the centre of the conversation. One way you can do this is to repeat what they have said in your own words to make sure you have heard and understood them. Be careful not to put words in their mouth or make assumptions. Your aim is to hear what they are really saying, not what you think they are saying.
When you have listened, there will come a time to respond, and this is another opportunity to demonstrate good leadership. The Army Cadets operate as a team, not individuals, so although the challenges might be personal, the outcomes are won or lost together.
Communication is more than simply the transfer of messages; it is the transfer of ideas. Part of leading is learning how to bring other people with you. How can you get them to commit to the same goals and objectives as you?
Communication is also a two-way street. It is how you can learn new perspectives from those you lead, as well as convey your perspectives to them. Part of this is being sure that you understand the goal because you cannot communicate it effectively otherwise. Understanding and imparting the real goal – the ‘why’ – means you can provide context to the tasks at hand in the light of the bigger picture.
During the 1960s, hundreds of people worked at NASA on an important mission. Some people swept the floor, while others built computers to help launch rockets. Their tasks were different, some were mundane, but they could all be inspired by the goal set out in President Kennedy’s ‘We Choose to go to the Moon’ speech in 1962.
Leadership must be rooted in personal integrity if it is to inspire. Your behaviours and qualities are not aspects of your character you can turn off and on at will, they are who you are, and those you lead will see this in how you conduct yourself.
Accountability is a key quality of leadership. You must be accountable to your peers, your subordinates, and your superiors. Your actions and judgement must show that you are not someone to pass off mistakes or failures as the fault of another. An accountable person will be trusted because they demonstrate integrity.
You should also show willingness and humility in your role as a leader. Don’t be afraid or above getting involved in tasks with those you lead. Don’t hold yourself above them. You are all ultimately working on the same team for the same goal. By working alongside them, you show you are a part of the same team. Holding yourself apart creates division. Why should the team listen to you if you have not shown you are one of them?
You must be approachable. Earlier we discussed the importance of listening and emotional intelligence, but how can you demonstrate these qualities if you are unapproachable? If the people you lead do not want to approach you, how will you learn, understand, and encourage them?
Finally, you should be able to inspire even in your absence. Leadership rooted in these qualities will create teams who understand the goals even when you are not there, and encourage them to push forward and act as though you still are. In your absence, the team will fall back on the coaching you have provided and their respect for you.
Serving as an adult volunteer in the Army Cadets can teach you new leadership skills, and the ACF can benefit from your unique experience. Your contribution to the next generation of army cadets will help make the future leaders we need.
Leaders are made, not born. Leadership is caring for those in our charge; that they learn from good examples and can, in turn, provide these to others.
Be part of their journey. Be their example and inspiration.
Be the best, so they can be their best.
Find your local detachment and learn more about the benefits of volunteering today.