Emotional + Social Intelligence and Inclusive Leadership

Neil shares a segment of a message he received from a friend, a white male senior leader, and responds by sharing how developing in six areas of emotional and social intelligence can support expanding leadership range in the context of inclusive leadership. He provides a brief definition for each element, what what it might look like when developed, when it is lacking, and a offers suggestions on how to develop and strengthen in each area.

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Neil: I am Neil Edwards, and this is The Leadership Range, where we elevate the voices of Black and brown coaches, leaders and allies, and have soulful conversations about all things at the intersections of leadership, relationships and teams, well-being and inclusion. In today’s episode, I share a segment of a message I received from a friend, a white male senior leader who has been listening to the podcast. He has been very reflective, sharing his thoughts and asking questions. He wants to be a more inclusive leader, in particular to those who look to his leadership at work. He’s a wonderful example of what we each ought to be doing to make our workplaces and the world more inclusive. I am thankful for friends like him and white men who are willing to look inward and do the work, and I’m also thankful to all of you for listening and for the feedback and for the encouragement I have been receiving. This episode will be short. I will share a segment from his message and briefly discuss six elements of social and emotional intelligence as a response that I hope will connect a few dots to help you expand your range to becoming a more inclusive leader and, of course, help you become a good ancestor. Today, we are going to use a segment of an email message I received from a white male senior leader as a backdrop to breaking down a few social and emotional intelligence elements that might be used to expand inclusive leadership and inclusive behaviors. Here is the segment from the email. Quote, “I have always tried to avoid assuming a person with a certain characteristic can speak for all of that characteristic, such as a Black person, an Asian person, a gay person, a woman, etc., and because of that, if something happens in the news to someone with that characteristic, to not assume the person I know was affected by it. Because of that, I have avoided exploring what could be community questions, such as asking you “What are Black people feeling about the George Floyd death,” or even thinking that it is affecting you in a different way than it does me simply because you are a Black male. And I think that’s also a weakness in my perspective, and that of a white male, as I would say that white males don’t see themselves in a community. They see themselves as individuals, such that if something adverse happens to another white male, there is no sensation of “Whoa, that could just have easily been me.” The assumption then, is that “If that’s what I feel, then that’s what everyone else must feel.” That is a wrong assumption. As I listened, and as I thought more about it, people in different communities do feel that way, because it could have been them, or someone close to them,” unquote. Now, before we get into the content, I have to say that it is a remarkable privilege to me to receive a message like this, and it is courageous, wholehearted and vulnerable to have a white man share his inner world. It is a true sign of what leaders do and a gift to all of us here. The six elements of emotional and social intelligence that we’re going to talk about today come from the four quadrant model, self awareness, self management, other awareness, and relationship management. Emotional self awareness has to do with self knowledge, knowing what emotions you are feeling and why, and having this emotional awareness in the moment. When this is not developed, we can experience all sorts of pains, fail to gain insights from inflammation somatically from around the body, and even get irritated and frustrated very easily and maybe become abrasive or dismissive of others. When we do not intentionally pause to notice our emotions and the signs from our bodies, we become disconnected from ourselves, and it becomes easier to live in a world with an almost entirely individualistic attitude. Those who live at the highest levels of privilege, rank and power can easily slip away from themselves. To develop emotional self-awareness, take time to be introspective. Listen to the inner voice. Put aside goal-oriented activities to think, especially thinking about emotions that may seem irrelevant to you or messy. Quiet time with emotions matter. This is what my friend started doing. So I’m confident he will develop his emotional self awareness in the context of inclusion and intentionality. This is about acting on purpose, knowing what it takes to manage your own outcomes. If your intention is to become a more inclusive leader, then the idea is to take intentional actions. When intentionality is well developed, decisions and actions are consistent with goals and values. Distractions do not easily get in the way. So if a leader declares a goal of inclusive leadership, and their decisions and actions do not line up, it is a clear sign of lower intentionality, or perhaps it is low integrity, which is a separate social intelligence measure we are not discussing today. One way to develop intentionality is to step back or take a helicopter view and ask, “What do I really want to happen here?” and then giving ourselves permission to set intentions to solicit help and support. My friend was intentional about what he wanted. He wrote a note and asked for help. Again, a courageous, vulnerable and intentional act to move toward a goal. That is intentionality in the context of inclusive leadership, empathy. We hear about this one a lot. And people just want to jump to empathy, but the truth is empathy cannot exist without first having a degree of emotional self awareness. Empathy is about sensing others feelings and perspectives and taking an interest in their concerns, putting yourself in other people’s shoes. This is not about feeling exactly what others feel, but having a sense for what they are feeling. Because you have a sense for what you are feeling or what you might imagine they might be feeling because you have connected with your own humanity and emotions. When we are good at this, we are able to get attuned to a wide range of emotions and emotional signals. Michelle and I talked about this when we discussed Black trauma and leadership last week. When empathy is not developed, we’re more likely to stereotype others, show little understanding or misunderstanding or frequently getting surprised by others emotions or actions, and maybe even seem indifferent. Developing empathy requires deep listening, quieting the mind, acknowledging what we think we heard, rather than jumping to answer and withholding judgments when we feel the urge to criticize. My friend is developing empathy. He may not completely connect with it yet, but what he’s doing is withholding judgment, listening, stepping back and considering things on an emotional and cognitive level. I will repeat something else Michelle shared. Trust the expert. Trust their lived experience. And we can learn a lot from that to develop empathy and inclusivity. Situational awareness is about reading the room, reading the space, reading the social political climate, locally, nationally, even globally, understanding various invisible forces, values and unspoken rules. From an inclusive leadership perspective, it means we need to have a sense of others in order to do this well. Without this, it is difficult to get things done in different social contexts. We might offend someone, you know, micro aggress, we might otherwise do things that are inappropriate. Many of these constructs–and people might not want to hear this–many of these constructs were developed in the notion of whiteness, by whiteness, and for whiteness. So given that, it is entirely reasonable for a white leader to be situationally aware in a white context but be completely incompetent across racial, multicultural, or other dimensions of diversity. To develop here, we need to pay attention to what is going on in the social and work context. The current energy and reality of workplaces becoming increasingly more diverse requires leaders, especially those with high rank, power and privilege, to begin having conversations more broadly across differences. If the goal is to lead in a diverse world, start having informal and formal conversations across those differences. It is time to stop staying comfortable with other white people expecting to develop this measure. My friend was wise to come to his Black friend rather than another white man, which would have been easier and more comfortable. Of course, he and I already have a trusting relationship, and I invite my listeners to connect with me. So he had it easier than many others would have. Nonetheless, building a diverse network or getting formal support that is not superficial is crucial to developing the situational awareness. Communication. In social intelligence, communication is about listening deeply and openly before sending messages. People who do this well are good at giving and taking. They register emotional cues and get their messages attuned with whoever is out there. They can deal with difficulties and conflict well and can take feedback without getting defensive. Lacking in this area is easily identifiable. There is little listening, there is interruption, and there is fault finding with what others say. Building rapport is difficult and seeking opinions from others is labor. Developing this area takes quite a lot, but one way is developing the skill of asking open-ended questions, being curious and expressing appreciation, often with genuine sincerity, even if at first to oneself. I would say my friend who sent the note is expanding here into new territory, which has to do with the topic. I am not in a position to say what his communication is like at work, of course. Asking open-ended questions in an area of low competence or confidence for a high level, successful leader is difficult. You know, it really is very difficult for many, when we are trained to have answers, to be competent, and to be right. Building bonds. This is specifically about nurturing and maintaining relationships that are deeper rather than superficial. Becoming an inclusive leader is not about checking boxes or being performative. Any great bonded relationship a person has is that way because of a deeper connection, and people who are strong here seek out relationships that are mutually beneficial. And notice I said seek out. This is important because if there is no sense of mutuality, then the chances of a bond diminish. For those who are quite privileged and white, this could take deep inner work if bonding across races feels difficult, because it requires a mindset that everyone is in fact created equal. Which means the question then becomes, “Why is it difficult for me to bond across race or to bond with a Black person?” To develop here, a couple simple things might be to join diversity groups at work or in your community or invite people who are not like you into your home to your social events. If you want feedback, take a deep swallow and ask across race lines how you were doing. So that’s it for today, folks. Emotional self-awareness, intentionality, empathy, situational awareness, communication, and building bonds, six emotional and social intelligence competencies to work on to expand your leadership range, become more inclusive as a leader and to be a good ancestor. Thank you for listening today. I am deeply grateful for all who listen here and share their thoughts and reflections with me. I am especially thankful when white men with influence do so. The corporate environment is dominated by white male leaders, and as such, they have the most power to change how we experience work and the emotional field in society. Developing emotional and social intelligence in the context of inclusion is one powerful way corporate leaders can expand their range if they want and if they ask for help and support from those who are willing to provide it. I hope you enjoyed listening. You can listen to new episodes of Leadership Range every Monday. Connect with me on LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram using the links in the show notes. If you have a topic suggestion or want to join a conversation here, send an email to Neil@NeilEdwardsCoaching.com. I look forward to you listening to future episodes.

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