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Emotionally Intelligent Leadership in a Changing World

By Kim Marshall, TIE columnist

In this Harvard Business Review article, Ronald Heifetz and Marty Linsky (Harvard Kennedy School) and Alexander Grashow (Good Wolf Group) say the current health and economic crises will bring about permanent changes, demanding revised leadership practices. Specifically, leaders need to work with colleagues on adopting new practices, distribute leadership in order to draw on collective intelligence, and lead in emotionally intelligent ways. On the last point, Heifetz, Linsky, and Grashow suggest:

Give yourself permission to be both optimistic and realistic. “This will create a healthy tension,” they say, “that keeps optimism from turning into denial and realism from devolving into cynicism.”

Find sanctuaries where you can regain perspective. Stepping away in some way provides a chance to see whether you understand the work colleagues are doing – and if you’re asking too much of them.

Debrief your workday with a confidant. Ideally this person is outside your organization and cares more about you than the issues at stake. You might speak with more than one confidant.

Bring more of your emotional self. “Appropriate displays of emotion can be an effective tool for change, especially when balanced with poise,” say Heifetz, Linsky, and Grashow. “Maintaining this balance lets people know that although the situation is fraught with feelings, it is containable.”

Don’t lose yourself in your role. “Achieving your highest and most noble aspirations for your organization may take more than a lifetime,” conclude the authors. “Your efforts may only begin this work. But you can accomplish something worthwhile every day in the interactions you have with the people at work, with your family, and with those you encounter by chance. Adaptive leadership is a daily opportunity to mobilize the resources of people to thrive in a changing and challenging world.”

“Leadership in a (Permanent) Crisis” by Ronald Heifetz, Marty Linsky, and Alexander Grashow in Harvard Business Review, Summer 2020 (pp. 10-17); Heifetz can be reached at [email protected], Linsky at [email protected].

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