At outset, I was more focused on the technical aspects of executive leaders. After reading the article ‘The Focused Leader: How effective executives direct their – and their organizations’ attention’ written by Daniel Goleman, I started to understand how important for leaders to master their attention. According to Goleman (2013), attention plays a fundamental role in leadership skills, such as emotional intelligence, willpower, social sensitivity, creativity and so on. I would like to discuss four essential leadership skills that are important for being a successful executive beyond technical aspects.
Emotional intelligence is one of the most crucial leadership skills for an executive to achieve success. Goleman (2013) indicated that leaders with emotional intelligence know how to acquire emotional information to make right decisions and guide own behaviours.
Emotional intelligence can be presented in different ways and one of them is empathy. Emotional empathy has an impact on communicating with clients, mentoring subordinates and reading group dynamics (Goleman 2013, p.7). Although empathy is necessary for emotional intelligence, it needs to be controlled. Goleman (2013) suggested leaders not only need to understand how people feel but also what they need from you. If executives are unable to understand what people need from them and simply carry too much sympathetic feelings towards some situations, that may lead to bad consequences and no one would be able to control (Goleman 2013, p.8).
To better understand the feelings of others, leaders need to understand own feelings. To do so, executives have to pay extra attention to their inner voices (Goleman 2013, p.4). By giving an example of a research, Goleman (2013) pointed out that failure to acknowledge internal feelings would lead to wrong decisions.
In order to achieve leadership success, willpower is another key skill that executives will need. To decide if a person has willpower, you can often see that person handles well in a crisis, controls anxiety effectively, and stay positive after a defeat (Goleman 2013, p.6). As stated in Goleman (2013), willpower enables executives to strive for a goal without thinking of setbacks and temptations.
Over the past decades, lots of research has been done to prove the singular importance of willpower to leadership success (Goleman 2013, p.6). “Marshmallow test” conducted by Walter Mischel was cited in Goleman (2013) to show the level of willpower at early childhood would be a powerful indicator of financial success rather than IQ, social ranking and family circumstance. In addition, Goleman (2013) revealed that the willpower can be developed. What you can do is participate some daily sessions of mindfulness work. These sessions will need you to focus on your breath and practice your thoughts. When you realise your mind walks away, you need to take a deep breath.
Social sensitivity is a skill that allows executives to manage relationships more effectively in those networks (Goleman 2013, p.9). Goleman (2013) provided a good example of why social sensitivity is important to leaders: The CFO who is technically competent but extremely harsh. He treats people unfairly and bullies others. When people bring up what he has done, he gets irritated and finds all kinds of reasons to justify his own behaviours. The worst thing is he might think you are the problem.
On one side, the example reveals that the CFO lacks social sensitivity and is totally not aware of his behaviours having bad influences on others (Goleman 2013, p.8). The same situation will be less likely happening to executives with social sensitivity, because they always act with manners no matter where they are and try their best to make comfortable conversations with others (Goleman 2013, p.9).
On the other side, the example reflects the CFO has higher social rankings than people around him and probably thinks others’ opinions do not matter. Dacher Keltner’s study cited in Goleman (2013) has found people with higher social status constantly ignore people with lower social status and are more often to dominate the conversation. Goleman (2013) suggested top executives need to pay attention to brilliant ideas from the lower ranks and respond quickly to situations where there is competition.
As an executive, creativity is essential because it is also a good indicator to leadership success. Goleman (2013) stated leaders with creativity always have bigger vision and are able to recognize new possibilities that can happen in the future. Goleman (2013) quoted Melinda Gates from 60 Minutes when she was asked about her husband. Melinda Gates highlighted that her husband would spend a lot of time reading a book about fertilizer (Goleman 2013, p.9).
You may have a question in your mind. Why would Bill Gates choose to read about fertilizer? The answer seems pretty clear. Bill Gates is looking for an advanced technology that can help him develop fertilizer to save billions of lives (Goleman 2013, p.9).
As we are living in an era that the same information is public to everyone (Goleman 2013, p.10), it is much harder for us to come up with fresh ideas. What can executives do to develop creativity? They need open awareness to receptiveness. Goleman (2013) revealed that open awareness is closely related to creativity. It allows people to think more freely and at the same time the solution is emerged (Goleman 2013, p.10).
Last But Not Least
Emotional intelligence, willpower, social sensitivity and creativity are essential for success as an executive beyond the technical. There is no doubt that you will find out more leadership skills beyond technical aspects if you have time to read the article written by Goleman.
All four leadership skills I have mentioned above require executives to master their own attention. That is why Goleman (2013) claimed that attention lays a solid foundation for the most essential leadership skills. In short, as an executive, being technically competent is not enough, you need to build other leadership skills beyond the technical. To do so, remember to place attention at the centre of leadership skills you are trying to develop (Goleman 2013, p11).
- Goleman D, 2013, The Focused Leader: How effective executives direct their own- and their organisations’ attention, Harvard Business Review, Vol.91, no.12, pp. 1-11.