Navigating Tough Conversations: An Essential Trait of Great Leaders – Part 1

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“A person’s success in life can usually be measured by the number of uncomfortable conversations he or she is willing to have.” – Tim Ferriss, author, entrepreneur and public speaker.

Said another way:

“He or she who is willing to be the most uncomfortable is not only the bravest but rises the fastest.” – Brené Brown, research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work.

While researching my passion – understanding the drivers of great leadership and the necessary traits required to climb to the top of any profession or organization – I came across the above quotes by Tim Ferriss and Brené Brown.

When I thought about these quotes I was struck by the power and consequence of both statements.  A person, especially a leader, cannot be effective unless they are willing to engage in uncomfortable and tough conversations, and to engage successfully in uncomfortable conversations, one must have highly developed Emotional Intelligence (EQ).

According to Psychology Today, “Emotional Intelligence is the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.”  In David Llewelyn Samuels’ article The importance of Developing Emotional Intelligence, he defines Emotional Intelligence as “the ability to understand, express and manage emotions, while developing and maintaining good social relationships, and thinking clearly under pressure.”

In my recent post, The Two Pillars of Leadership Success©, I identified two distinct characteristics that, I believe, are demonstrative of strong Emotional Intelligence.  Those characteristics are:

Humility, a keen sense of self-awareness:  you know who you are, you understand your strengths and recognize your weaknesses.  You are not self-centered and do not consider yourself the smartest person in the room.  Being humble means you know how to build a team around you and you know how to lead a work environment that empowers and encourages creativity, debate, collaboration, risk-taking and transparency.

Empathy, the ability to understand what motivates:  you energize and generate excitement and passion in and among people.  An effective leader makes an attempt to identify and relate to the feelings and thoughts of another person.  A strong leader learns and visualizes what it’s like to walk in the shoes of each member of their team.

When we think of uncomfortable conversations we think of giving a colleague feedback, (be it superior, peer or subordinate), providing a performance review, disciplining an employee for negative actions, or the ultimate tough conversation, which is when we have the responsibility to terminate an employee.  Those circumstances and situations require us to demonstrate four branches of Emotional Intelligence (EQ), which Kendra Cherry articulated as our “ability to perceive our emotions, reasoning with our emotions, understanding our emotions and finally managing our emotions.”

It is those emotions that are demonstrated by our ability to be humble and empathic.  The same can be said about our ability to control our emotions when engaging in uncomfortable or tough conversations not started by us.  Travis Bradberry, co-author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0 stated “your emotional intelligence skills help make stress more manageable by enabling you to spot and tackle tough situations before things escalate.”  Bradberry further stated “emotionally intelligent people remain balanced and assertive by steering themselves away from unfiltered emotional reactions.  This enables them to neutralize difficult and toxic people without creating enemies.”

I believe Emotional Intelligence is learned and shaped over time.  Plato said it best more than 2,400 years ago, “All learning has an emotional base.”

Early in my military career I learned that you do not need to be the smartest person in the room to be the leader of the room.  I also learned there cannot be leadership success without humility and empathy.  Later in life, I learned that straight shooters with the ability to engage in uncomfortable conversations ultimately earn the respect and trust of their colleagues.

Questions: What do you believe are the skills required to navigate uncomfortable conversations?  Do you believe the skills required to navigate uncomfortable conversations are innate, or are they learned?

By |February 15th, 2017|Categories: Articles|0 Comments

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