As the leader of a national corporate training facility, my initial focus was on customer service and creating great experiences for our clients. But a few years ago, I had a small ‘ah-ha’ moment (actually more like a slap to the forehead moment) when I realised that by focusing on clients, I was focusing on the wrong thing.
The right lens
I should have been focusing on our people and more specifically, I should have been focusing on ensuring our people had a genuine connection to our business purpose and values and essentially, their job.
When someone is really emotionally connected to their job; their colleagues and the company they work for, they create genuine connections with everyone and by default, really look after, and truly care for clients.
I think a lot of us would agree that looking after people internal to the business is really important to ensure great client experiences, but with a lot of focus on employee engagement and more recently employee wellness, what should leaders focus on to ensure their people are connected?
For me, it starts with three key areas:
- Clearly articulating the business purpose and values
- Recruiting for emotional intelligence
- Focusing on self-awareness
It sounds simple, but in order to create emotional connections, people need to have something to connect to. Having a clearly articulated business purpose and values that are shared at the recruitment stage gives someone the opportunity to think ‘yes, I really align to this company, their ‘why’ and their culture’… or not.
People need to understand how what they do; day in, day out, helps achieve the strategic goal or purpose of the business. For us, defining the business purpose was the easy part. The challenge was finding – and retaining – people who genuinely connected to it.
We have found that the most successful people in our business; those people who add the most value whilst at the same time are really connected and love what they do, are people with high levels of emotional intelligence.
We recruit for people who are positive, kind, empathetic, inquisitive, flexible and self-aware, not necessarily the smartest or the most technical. These people tend to honestly align to what we are all about and are also happy to positively navigate through the challenges (and changes) to ensure we deliver on our purpose continuously.
Sir Cary Cooper, professor of organisational psychology and health (Alliance Manchester Business School, University of Manchester UK) believes that often, businesses recruit on the basis of a candidate’s performance and their ability to deliver in the short term and get results that help the bottom line. Cooper says that recruiting for emotional intelligence is vital for managers. He says:
“It’s absolutely essential for a manager as if you cannot bring people together, then an organisation has problems.”
For us, recruiting for emotional intelligence meant a shift to the kinds of questions we ask candidates. We try to find out more about their values, their degree of openness, flexibility and communication style.
Emotional intelligence relates to a wide range of personality traits. For me, the most important one is self-awareness. Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author believes that self-awareness is the cornerstone to emotional intelligence. My thinking is that in order to understand others it is important to firstly understand yourself.
Being truly self-aware means having an accurate understanding of ourselves and an understanding of how others see us. Self-awareness is like a lens through which we view and understand ourselves that helps explain our behaviours.
I know how I should behave; as a leader, as a mother, as a friend. But there are days where I’m just simply not on my ‘best behaviour’. The key for me is recognising when I’m not ‘on’ and understanding what that means for me, and the people around me.
I believe in authentic leadership so I try to be as open as I can about my state of mind. By doing this, I hope to create a culture of not only self-awareness but also acceptance.
Here’s what helps me be openly self-aware:
1. Visual cue’s
This one has been the most effective for me, and it is cheap and subtle. I start each day with a check in on how I’m feeling; my positivity, my energy, my mental clarity. If I’m feeling ‘good’ I put two hair ties on my left wrist. If my ‘feelings’ change, I move one hair tie to the right wrist. If I slip further then I will move the second one across too. Having the hair ties on my wrist is a constant visual check in which helps me be more aware. And once I’m aware of how I’m feeling I then think about what I need to get through my ‘mood’ or on the positive, what I need to sustain my ‘mood.’
2. Slow down
For many years I didn’t have the headspace to accurately observe (and be truly aware) of myself. I raced through each day not really pausing to think about how I was feeling or what I needed – from myself or others – to get through the day. And when I did reflect on my behaviour it was often a very quick review with rose coloured glasses. Oh, and I would never ask anyone for feedback!
Taking the time to slow down and mentally check in and reflect and (heaven forbid) breathe really helped me ensure I was being authentic in how I was really tracking. I also tried to put myself in others’ shoes and reflect on what their experiences with me were like. I also found the courage to ask and get some direct feedback from others on how I made them feel.
Meditative exercise was what helped me slow down most effectively. I found long slow swims or walks helped me to clear my mind and helped me reflect on me: my strengths and weaknesses and most importantly my ‘what’s’ (what I need each day to be the best I possibly can be).
3. Write or draw or scribble
I have always kept a journal and over the years its pages have been crammed with words and drawings and I found it very cathartic to scribble everything down. About six years ago the journal gathered dust as I wrote very rarely and it had a detrimental effect. I am now more proactive in writing and I keep a second journal in my office for those days where I’m really what I call ‘red.’ I find that writing down how I feel beneficial as I achieve some perspective and a sense of control over the emotion. But the writing also leads me to think (and write) about what I need to get through and cope with, well me.
Even those with the highest levels of emotional intelligence have ‘off’ days. By creating an awareness around self-awareness, it helps us promote emotional intelligence as it allows thoughts, feelings and moods to be put into perspective and controlled before those thoughts feelings and moods quickly become poor behaviours.
And by focusing on self-awareness as a lens to ensure we are behaving with the right emotions; our people are naturally more positive and connected which generates great client experiences.