The Superpower Underpinning Great Leadership

“No matter what leaders set out to do—whether it’s creating a strategy or mobilizing teams to action—their success depends on how they do it. Even if they get everything else just right, if leaders fail in this primal task of driving emotions in the right direction, nothing they do will work as well as it could or should.” Daniel Goleman

Over the last week, I have been reading about some drastic and impulsive leadership changes in the Australian Football League club I follow.

And the lessons I’m about to share are relevant to all of us.

For those of you not living in Australia, AFL is like a religion, and we are now up to the finals. You are probably not aware but in Melbourne we even have a public holiday for the Grand Final parade the day before the game! My footy team is one of the oldest and most high-profile clubs in the League.

I was just gobsmacked about how badly the new leader of the club (Chair of the Board) behaved, how he went against all the principles of good leadership causing such angst among the players, club employees and coaching staff all under the scrutiny of the media. Not to mention the 80,000 members of the club!

Let me explain what happened.

In a nutshell, my team, Essendon, had been going badly most of the season. The senior coach was in the 2nd year of a 3-year contract and had put some long-term strategies in place to transform the club. Some were working and clearly, some were not. There were also mitigating factors that were outside the club’s control such as serious injuries to good players.

The week started with the sudden resignation of the Chair of the Board of my club and a new Chair was voted in. On day one of his new role, this leader publicly pursued the recruitment of a successful coach who was deciding between two other clubs in the AFL.

The problem was that the Chair neglected to let the current coach know! Instead, the coach found out via the media.

The attempt to recruit the new coach failed. Yet, during this week, the Chair failed to properly communicate what was happening to the coach.

It got to the final game for our club for the home and away season. Our team lost badly. It was such an emotional game, the players were so aghast at what had happened during the week and being 100% behind their coach, they desperately wanted to win.

As is the norm, the television cameras are in the club rooms at the end of each game for both the winning and losing teams. On this occasion, there was such emotion in our club room.

So many of us, watching on TV like myself and those in the club room, were on tenterhooks about what was going to happen and feeling so bad for our coach. Interestingly, the Chair was one of the few directors to not visit the club room.

We all knew there was going to be a Board meeting the next day and the future of the senior coach was the main item on the agenda. Sadly, the Board voted against continuing with our coach. He was sacked!

There were just so many rules on good leadership broken during this debacle of a week, culminating in the sudden sacking of a good coach who was on a trajectory to transform the club to the success it used to have, all the while having to endure a week of media scrutiny.

Over many years there has been a lot of research on the qualities a good leader needs to have and how pivotal it is for a leader to have these qualities.

However, there is one key essential quality above all (I call a superpower!) great leaders need to have and it is emotional intelligence, EQ as it is commonly known.

This quality underpins all the qualities of good leadership. The good thing is this superpower quality is a skill that can be developed.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions and, most importantly, understand how these emotions can affect other people.

In the Harvard Business Review, Goleman, the world’s leading authority on emotional intelligence and one of the world’s most influential thinkers, writes:

“The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but…they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions. My research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.”

We can even go a step further. More recently the practice of emotional agility has been bandied about and is the evolution of emotional intelligence. To be emotionally agile you need to first be emotionally intelligent.

When you are emotionally agile, you are accurately labelling your full range of emotions without being hooked by them. This includes those inner negative thoughts. You are then able to move forward deliberately, guided by your values, understanding the impact of your emotions on other people.

More and more organisations are providing training in developing emotional intelligence and agility to their leaders and employees at all levels. At the end of the day, it is the people who are the difference between an organisation thriving or just surviving.

Unfortunately, the leader of my footy club lacked this superpower. Through not following due process, lack of transparent communication and lack of respect for all the different people and roles as well as the members that make up this well-known, high-profile club resulted in the club virtually imploding, with a number of directors and the CEO resigning the following week.

I’m sure you’ve heard enough about my beloved footy team. I’m also sure you have some doozies of your own about bad leadership.

At the end of the day, the events that have occurred cannot be undone.

However, life is about learning and growing. You can only hope the people involved in the events of this last week are doing some reflection on the ramifications of such ill-thought out and emotionally unintelligent behaviour.

This type of situation provides lessons for any organisation, to make sure this sort of thing never happens again.

And above all, a heartfelt apology needs to be given to the person or people affected by what’s occurred in the last week. They are at least owed that.

To learn more about the superpower of leadership click here.

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