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Emotionally-Intelligent Leadership Challenge Number 4

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Challenge #4: investing in emotional intelligence takes emotional intelligence

So, you’ve decided to take a whole-systems approach to leadership development.  You’re planning to get leaders and teams to take time out to review what’s working – and why it’s working – as well and getting people to recognise their own and each others’ emotions to sort out what’s getting in the way of success.

Then you take your ideas to the board.   And that’s when you meet the ‘Hierarchy of No’.

(A phrase coined by Prof. David Owens and quoted in ‘The Myths of Creativity’ by Prof. David Burkus.)

It’s not just creativity that makes people feel uncomfortable – our brains are attuned to resist anything new.  Criticism and judgement is just what we’re built to do.  We just don’t yet have the pathways to recognise the value of new ideas.

The paradox is that this, in itself, takes emotional resilience.

Leaders are under greater pressure than ever to deliver to the short term – whether operationally, financially, or both.  Many of our new technologies, for example, demand creative and reflective time with emergent goals – not top-down project-driven targets.

Look at the difference, for example, between the development of ‘Skype’ (by 3 people) and many major capital-intensive, centralised IT projects.  Sometimes things just take the time they take.  Solutions emerge and are stifled by deadlines; by the hierarchy of ‘no’.  So it takes emotionally-intelligent leaders to resist the pressure of artificial targets and deadlines.

How to overcome the hierarchy of ‘no’?

This really is a call to adventure!

Get used to the fact that new ideas take time to assimilate.  They invite judgement, criticism and challenge.

Typically, people need to hear new ideas several times:

  1. The first time we ask ‘what is this?’
  2. Then we might say – ‘This sounds familiar – I need more information’
  3. When we have enough information and are getting more comfortable with the idea, we might say, ‘I know this’

It’s not until people feel well-informed – and comfortable – with new ideas – that they accept them.  We know from the traditional ‘innovation diffusion’ model that we all absorb new ideas differently.Innovation Diffusion Model

Basically, the more comfortable with risk we are (because we’re richer, better educated, or in a more secure position of power), the quicker we’ll adapt to new ideas.

Whilst we might assume that a Board of Directors might fall into this category, the responsibilities placed on them make them overly cautious and behave more like laggards than innovators.

  • Adoption of a new idea, behaviour, or product (i.e., “innovation”) is the brain absorbing new information and building neural pathways to accommodate it.
  • Some people are more likely to adopt a new idea/product or service than others.

The traditional ‘Innovation Diffusion’ model above, shows the curve of take-up of a new idea/product/innovation by different groups of people over time.

  • The trick is to identify and then appeal to, the types of people who you want to influence positively.
  • To help them to say ‘yes’.

It takes patience, emotional resilience and varied strategies on your part, to influence people successfully.  You can read more about successful leadership conversations here.


Author: Helen Caton Hughes

Leadership and Team Coach based on inspirational and practical tools. Works with leaders around the world; trains coaches to International Coach Federation standards. Passionate about finding best ways for leaders to inspire themselves and get the best from their teams

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