Leaders of the new decade build rapport, set the mood, and build a culture of growth
With the dawn of the new decade, many have contemplated about a recipe for success for their business. How is it possible to achieve a strong first quarter and maintain growth throughout the year? Business strategies and processes, without a doubt, improve with time. However, merely managing strategies and processes is not enough; rather, good people leadership is also necessary. I have been a leader for over a decade, and I argue that a strong focus on people, in addition to figures, will achieve even the most ambitious goals. Throughout my career, I have seen that strong human focus, in particular, has generated strong financial growth, regardless of industry. Merely pursuing efficiency and staring at figures may even hinder growth and, in the worst case, exhaust people.
The ability to cope at work is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Alongside efficiency and cold artificial intelligence, a nation that lives in the dark for more than half a year needs warm emotional intelligence, another human being. Indeed, I believe that emotionally intelligent leadership is a foundation on which strong financial growth can be built. I also believe that a successful leader of the future is compassionate, has the courage to put themselves in other people’s shoes, sets the mood and builds a culture of growth.
Being able to relate to someone is not a form of weakness but a way to let them know they are understood and appreciated.
Nearly three years ago, I wrote for the first time about the importance of building genuine rapport with people in sales and management. I have always felt that consideration for others is an indication of appreciation and that it is also the basis for growth and all interaction. Although the ability to relate to others could be considered one of my own strengths, I have failed in it as many times as I have succeeded.
How so? Well, many times I have answered an employee’s question without even taking my eyes off my computer, which I guarantee you, has made that person feel unimportant. I have arrived at the office talking on my mobile, not even greeting others because my thoughts have been on the phone conversation. On those occasions, I have inadvertently given people the message that I am supposedly busier than anyone else and that they are not as important to me as the person on the phone. Not to mention how many times I’ve come home and continued a phone conversation I started on my way home from work, even though I was greeted by my daughters who had missed me during the day. There was even a time when my kids were playing a game where they ran around the house with a toy phone on their ear. When I asked what they were doing, they said they were pretending to be me when I come home from work. Touché!
Connecting with someone is the moment you both become seen, heard and you acknowledge each other’s existence. While “connecting” may seem like a cliché, it is meaningful in all relationships, not only in parenting but in customer relationships, too. For this reason, it is important to consider in working life, as well.
Emotions are OK; they demonstrate our genuineness.
People are psycho-physical beings whose actions are guided by emotions, while our experiences, our story, guide our emotions. None of us has grown up under a rock, and it is precisely our emotions that make us human. If your job is to lead people, you will inevitably have to deal with emotions, too—your own and those of others. Moreover, none of us wants to be colourless, odourless, or tasteless—on the contrary. So why not allow our spectrum of emotions to emerge in working life, as well? Why not learn together how to regulate our feelings and in so doing our behaviour? Feelings make us genuine and add colour to our world.
Whether you are leading others or working with customers, emotions and connecting with others are at the heart of everything. Why? Because the feeling of being seen and heard is almost as important for a person as breathing. An employee who has been heard and seen is more financially viable for a company because they are more confident, relaxed, efficient, productive and committed, which is evident in everything they do, all the way to the end customer. Being genuine is also worthwhile when working with customers. Feelings and being able to relate to others are therefore important tools in sales, for example. A customer’s decision to purchase a product is most often based on emotion, so connecting with the customer and showing that you are genuinely present in the sales situation is important. If this makes you feel awkward, consider the type of salesperson you would buy a product from. I think you would be more pleased with a salesperson who is genuinely present, listens to your needs and tries to solve your problem the best he/she can. Nowadays, the caricature of the used car salesman, who puts a matchbox car into the bargain for the kiddies at home, even though you may not have children or even thought about getting married, is no longer what customers want.
What is an emotionally intelligent leader like?
An emotionally intelligent leader recognizes and understands their feelings, knows how to regulate them and does not project his/her negative feelings into the work community. An emotionally intelligent supervisor has the courage to step into his/her subordinates’ shoes and see them as individuals. He/she, in turn, also has the capacity to develop as a person. He/she knows that the time given to subordinates is an investment that generates returns many times over. He/she encourages and supports subordinates in their moments of doubt, reinforcing their sense of self-efficacy. (Parppei 2018). For an emotionally intelligent leader, being able to relate to the subordinates’ means having respect and consideration for them. It is interaction that develops appreciation between himself/herself and the subordinates. It is also about mutual impact, acknowledging the other and being acknowledged. Furthermore, an emotionally intelligent leader does not avoid uncomfortable situations but strives to face them by reflecting on his/her own experiences.
I don’t think a perfectly emotionally intelligent leader exists yet, and it’s completely human to let feelings boil over sometimes, but it doesn’t make the person less emotionally intelligent–on the contrary. Leaders who show their feelings are not weak; they are genuine. What matters is how uncomfortable situations are handled. It has been said that employees who work in a work community where they can show their feelings trust each other unreservedly (Salonen 2017), feel psychologically safe and have a good work atmosphere.
Good spirit and positive work atmosphere to cultivate growth.
Imagine having scented tealights lit on your desk, Michael Bublé singing quietly in the background and the best soy latte in town steaming in your cup. Now isn’t that the type of atmosphere that produces results? It could be—it depends on what you like. But a favourable atmosphere for producing results requires much more. Recruitment has been a key part of my job throughout my career as a supervisor. During the past ten years, I have interviewed well over 1,000 job applicants, and when I have asked candidates about what they expect from the work community, their answers have almost invariably included good work atmosphere, good team, room to grow and an appreciative and encouraging boss.
Studies show that a good and supportive work atmosphere significantly improves performance, offers challenges, allows failure, increases productivity, reduces stress, eliminates cynicism, and prevents burnout. Conversely, an unhealthy and adverse work atmosphere increases stress, anxiety, exhaustion, feelings of insecurity, discourages employees and keeps them from producing results, and creates a breeding ground for hidden agendas. The most challenging cases are work communities where everything seems perfect on the surface, but when you look closer, you see that things boil like soup in a pressure cooker. In such places, being able to relate to others, listening to and hearing others, discussion, mutually recognized rules that apply to everyone, and consistent leadership are usually the most effective solutions to improve the atmosphere. The factors that positively affect the work atmosphere are ultimately very simple and acknowledged. They are, however, tricky because you are dealing with people and their feelings. People’s feelings are always subjective and real. Improving the work atmosphere does not need significant financial investments. Many measures can be taken without spending additional money, such as acknowledging good practices as part of the work community’s prevailing culture. It is free of charge and pays off many times over.
A good work atmosphere, good team, room to grow and an appreciative and encouraging supervisor motivate employees.
Setting goals also has a significant impact on the atmosphere. When employees feel the goals are realistic and they have a say in how to achieve them, they will find their work more meaningful and rewarding (Aro 2018).
Relatively little research on how to manage work atmosphere is available, and the following is based purely on my own experience as a leader and manager. For me, skills in managing the work atmosphere have developed through observation and listening to others. I have always worked in customer service. For a long time, I also worked in telemarketing where all observations, from the tone of the customer’s voice to the rhythm of his/her breathing, have been signs of how the sales process should proceed. When you get to know people, their wishes, needs and ways of doing things – sometimes even reading their eyebrows – it’s easier to influence the atmosphere. However, there are a few basic things to keep in mind: 1. Apply the same rules to everyone: employees will have a stronger sense of security, equality, and justice; 2. Keep promises: you will show that you are trustworthy and live up to your words; 3. Be an example: step forward in difficult situations and step back during moments of success. You will create a sense of security around you and be perceived as a fair supervisor; 4. If you expect loyalty, you have to earn it; 5. Let your light and fire shine: they will consequently shine upon the entire work community.
Although atmosphere is often perceived very narrowly, it is built on broad, complex factors, such as a good work atmosphere, a psychological sense of security, and realistic goal setting. Together, these create the best possible breeding ground for success.
Leaders of productivity understand processes and let the figures talk, but also focus on the employees and culture of growth.
Feelings, spirit, work atmosphere and emotionally intelligent leadership have a strong impact on growth, and the human being is at the heart of it all. Therefore, in the new decade, the ability to lead people will have a significant impact on generating profits. The person responsible for profit growth must understand the processes, recognize the impact of the figures and make decisions based on them. Above all, the person must have a desire to understand people and their behaviour. I have experienced this myself, for example, in a situation where a failed, broken chain of communication impeded profit. Once the “communication connection” was restored, considerable growth began. Disrupted communication had slowly eroded trust between the management and the employees, and once opinions and views were heard, consolidation began. I’ve also seen “black-and-white Excel leadership”, where the figures seemed to have more say than the people who created them. However, figures never tell the whole story; rather, the people and causal relationships behind those figures must be understood.
Feelings can change facts, also. If, during moments of success, the only things that management gives attention to are the things that were not achieved, employees may easily feel inadequate and unmotivated, and that the management is ungrateful. Instead of feeling a sense of success in these situations, the management’s behaviour creates a sense of failure. The earned appreciation and praise will surely make everyone feel good and increase their motivation.
To maintain growth, management of the new decade must have a strong will to lead, hear, see, relate to, fail, learn, and succeed. Good leaders understand that all the skills and potential around them are their most important resources and that they have all the power to unleash that potential. They understand that people have feelings, and the ways in which those feelings are handled, the atmosphere we create and the kind of culture we build are what maintain growth.
Teija Koskinen is an emotionally intelligent leader who is inspired not only by generating profit but also by people. Teija has worked in management for more than a decade in sectors ranging from finance to IT. Last autumn, she became the managing director of Medikumppani, a Finnish staffing service company for the health care sector. According to Koskinen, one thing has remained steadfast regardless of sector—financial growth has always been an offshoot of emotionally intelligent management.
Aro, A. (2018) Työilmapiiri kuntoon. Alma Media
Parppei, R. (2018) Tee, toimi, saa aikaan – Kehitä ja johda toimeenpanoa. Alma Media
Salonen, E. (2017) Intuitio ja Tunteet johtamisen ytimessä. Alma Media