Emotional Intelligence is Key to a Culture of Collaboration

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The very first CEO for whom I worked consistently referred to the importance of the “Shadow of the Leader.”  His demeanor spoke of modesty and humility–no corporate jets, no extravagant cars or homes, and graciousness to all whom he encountered. Was he perfect? No, in fact he had tendencies towards micromanagement and, under stress, his graciousness bordered on paternalism. So, the emotional intelligence disciplines he practiced and the leadership characteristics he demonstrated created an organizational culture that encouraged respectfulness towards others, pursuit of a shared vision and high standards, but it stopped short of a high performance organization.

Why? Because emotional intelligence does not alone guarantee that an organization will exhibit collaborative behaviors. In this company, collaboration was sporadic and conflict frequent due to a lack of trust and transparency, perhaps caused by the leader’s micromanagement. Indeed, there was often in-fighting between departments (silo mentality), and frequent break downs in communication. 

Despite this, having emotional intelligent leaders is vital for a sustainable collaborative culture to exist. The valuable lessons I learned from this CEO (both positive and negative) really crystallized when I had the opportunity to contrast his style with other leaders. It was then that I came to understand that while emotional intelligence does not ensure collaboration, it is key to facilitate it. More importantly, the absence of emotional intelligence can destroy a culture of collaboration. Like a blast of dynamite crushing rock that took years to form, a collaborative culture can take years to develop and a single act to destroy.

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