Even though leadership is predominantly about soft skills, I’m not really sure emotionally intelligent leadership is at much of a premium. We tend to value the hard-chargers — i.e. the workaholics — more than the soft-spoken, empathetic types. That’s ultimately sad, because more empathetic companies make more money.
Now, though, people spend a lot of time on their phones. Screen time is everything. When you’re on your phone a lot, your connection back to other human beings is a little bit lessened. (Maybe a lot lessened.) That’s going to, logically, make you less emotionally-aware.
But the robots haven’t come for our jobs yet, right? And many of us live in a capitalism, yea? So we need to go to work, and eventually we might get to a spot where we manage others. But if we’ve spent most of our lives clicking to see what’s next instead of having real dialogues, well…
A lesson in emotionally intelligent leadership from a dude in his 50s
Chip Conley built a hospitality brand, served as CEO for 24 years, sold it, and at age 52, AirBNB wanted him to come on board. He just wrote an article for HBR on what he learned. Let’s hit this part:
That brings me to the second thing I learned, which can be summarized in a one-line trade agreement: “I’ll offer you some emotional intelligence for your digital intelligence.” Many young people can read the face of their iPhone better than the face of the person sitting next to them. I’m not saying young people don’t understand emotions. Our digital world is full of emojis, and the term “emo” didn’t exist back in my schoolyard days. But emojis don’t create interpersonal, face-to-face fluency. I was surrounded by folks who were tech-savvy — but were perhaps unaware that being “emo-savvy” could be just the thing to help them grow into great leaders.
He’s clearly hedging his bets a little bit here — remember, his boss is 21 years younger than him — but he’s admitting one of the big pieces in the never-ending “OMG THE GENERATIONS ARE SO DIFFERENT!” dialogues. Boomers don’t think millennials can communicate properly. Millennials look at Boomers and say “This is the new way of interacting.” Then we go off and blow gas about “the millennial mindset” for a while. Ugh.
Is this true, though?
I personally think as long as companies are structured the way they always have been — over-complicate everything and drive the money to the top — then leadership won’t change that much as the mobile generation gets to the top. Some people are capable of emotionally intelligent leadership. Some are not. Unfortunately the way we promote and offer incentives usually gets the wrong kind of person to the top. That’s not always true but it pretty consistently is — remember 82 percent of people end up not being good managers.
Could we get more emotionally intelligent leadership?
Sure enough. But people who become leaders need to value that, and have a context for why it might be relevant or important. Too often in capitalist companies, we just care about the numbers.
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There are studies everywhere about compassion, diversity, empathy, etc. — soft skills — and how they benefit revenue. Problem is, the guys tasked with revenue could give two shits about those studies. They see partnerships, KPIs, cost containment, etc. That’s what they want to discuss. Empathy? Fuck that, I’m late to my 1:30! That’s where the disconnect lies, and that’s why we lack emotionally intelligent leadership often.
Now, is a generation of people looking at their phones 7 hours/day going to make leadership worse? No. Because (a) it’s already pretty bad at most places and (b) we’re all still human beings and social animals. So even if you live in emojis, at some point you need to figure out how exactly to have a conversation with someone. That might occur in a bar, a boardroom, or on the subway, but it’s going to occur.
You ever seen emotionally intelligent leadership, and/or do you see it as in decline?