Why self-awareness can be an important characteristic for today’s leaders

To be a good leader, you've got to know your people. But what about knowing yourself? Emotional intelligence is more important than ever in connecting with a di...

To be a good leader, you’ve got to know your people. But what about knowing yourself? Emotional intelligence is more important than ever in connecting with a diverse and changing workforce. So should it be considered when picking the leaders of tomorrow? That’s the stance of Bob Tobias, retired professor from American University’s Key Executive Leadership program. On the Federal Drive with Tom Temin, he tells Federal News Network’s Eric White, just how vital emotional intelligence is for succeeding as a leader.

Interview Transcript:  

Bob Tobias My experience is that an emotional intelligence is a critical ingredient for every leader success, and particularly members of the Senior Executive Service and the five existing OPM executive core qualifications. The ability to lead change, the ability to lead people, the ability to be results driven and exhibit business acumen and build coalitions does not include emotional intelligence. OPM assumes that if you’re successful with these five particular existing core qualifications and you reach your goals and objectives, that you automatically have emotional intelligence. But that’s just not the case. It’s I don’t believe it’s the case because the training for SEC leaders doesn’t include, for the most part, emotional intelligence. And the 3000 students I’ve talked to over my 23 years at American University and ask them point blank if these if leaders are successful with the five skill core qualifications, are they guaranteed to be successful as a member of the SES? And the answer unanimously was no. And what they say is missing is emotional intelligence. I believe that’s the glue that’s necessary to be fully successful over an extended period of time as the next leader.   

Eric White Gotcha. Okay. And so, you know, if you are one of these leaders who find yourself not really feeling the connection with your employees, and it could be your lack of emotional intelligence, is there a way to start training your mind a little bit better, to be more adept at what folks are feeling and how to reach people on a personal level?   

Bob Tobias Well, the critical component that having emotional intelligence gives a leader is the ability to connect with the people they lead, the ability to engage with the people that they lead. And there’s absolutely no question about the fact that if I willing if I am able to engage with the people I lead, they will be more productive in achieving my goals and objectives. And emotional intelligence is really personal development. What it means is that I have the ability to manage both my own emotions and understand the emotions that the people I’m trying to lead. In the five key elements of emotional intelligence are self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. Now, these personal development characteristics can occur when candidate development programs include the development of emotional intelligence.   

Eric White So there are actually programs out there already that look to improve that, but maybe they don’t necessarily call themselves, you know, emotional intelligence workshops or anything like that.   

Bob Tobias Well, I mean, where I taught in American University in the key executive leadership program, we focused on emotional intelligence. Most programs, candidate development programs do not include it because it’s not required by OPM. It’s not something that’s that fits within the five executive core qualifications. So it’s not generally available.   

Eric White And why do you think that is?   

Bob Tobias Because it’s hard. Number one, it’s a challenge for people to rethink the way they are engaging with others. So it’s very challenging. But I think it’s basically that OPM doesn’t requirement. So programs don’t include it. And so that’s why I believe OPM ought to add emotional intelligence to the current list of executive core qualifications to insist that it be taught in candidate development programs.   

Eric White We’re speaking with retired Professor Bob Tobias from American University’s Key Leadership executive program. So, you know, let’s say OPM did add it. How would you go about measuring that as an aspect or a qualification for entering into an SES program?   

Bob Tobias I think it would be hard, but I think it can be done. And the reason would be hard is because tests are hard to create that aren’t in some ways bias. There are many tests that are on the market that are very good as guidance for how people can develop their emotional intelligence. But to use it as a criteria for selection would be hard. But I think it’s really necessary because the results are so clear and the results are the more engagement that I have with those I lead, the more productive they are and the more satisfied the public is with the services that are delivered.   

Eric White Yeah, and you’d have to find a good judge of character to dish out those judgments, right? Because if you don’t have emotional intelligence, it’s really hard to tell if someone else does.   

Bob Tobias Well, as I say, there are there are many evaluations on the market to measure emotional intelligence that people use to gauge where they are. So, for example, if most of these you 360, 360 degree evaluations can measure the level of emotional intelligence. But as I say, they’re not used for selection, so they’re only used for self-improvement. So if I receive this 360 evaluation, if I choose, I can ignore it or I can act on what’s in the evaluation. Now, to make that part of the selection process, they’d have to be refined. But I think it’s so necessary because the results are so necessary to be successful over the long term.   

Eric White It speaks to the importance of emotional intelligence, because if you’re a leader who doesn’t necessarily have the same amount of skill sets that your employees have or your that your cohorts have, you know, I’m thinking about just breaking it down into simple terms. The owner of a restaurant doesn’t necessarily know how to work the cash register, but most employees are okay with that as long as their manager respects and understands the tasks that they have at hand.   

Bob Tobias Not only knows the tasks and understands the tasks, but has the ability to create the trust necessary for the relationship between the leader and the led. If I can create trusting relationships with those I lead, if I can create collaborative relationships with those I lead. I never have to use the cash register. I could always trust the person who’s doing it to do a good job.  

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