I was sitting with my colleague, Nick Rothenberg, after a day of leadership training we led with an entertainment company, watching the second presidential debate. Both of us were uncomfortable and disappointed with what we witnessed.
The debate was more like an action hero summer movie full of flexing, finger pointing and positioning of who was the toughest man in town. Was this an exhibit of our leaders demonstrating high emotional intelligence (EI)? Were these leaders we could hold up as great role models to our participants the next day of training? The answer was a resounding NO.
Why? Their debate highlighted leadership derailers, overused and underused EI strengths and juvenile denials after denials. Their fencing and prancing back and forth pointing fingers at each other reminded me of two junior high schoolers in the back of the schoolyard getting ready for a fight and showing off their machismo for their friends.
In my Leading with Emotional Intelligence book and the True North website http://budurl.com/ek2v or http://truenorthleadership.com/assessments-opt-in a leader can take the free derailer detector, a collection of behaviors that can trump any well-developed EI competencies and quickly send a leader off the rail of their success.
What derailers did we see that night and throughout the debates and campaigns?
1. Smartest person in the room syndrome – It is defined as having to be right all the time, married to your own ideas and is not open or distrusts new ideas. We saw each candidate trying to influence, outwit and confuse with varying sets of “facts”.
2. Defensive - Blame others, inflexible and are argumentative – we saw 90 minutes of this derailer in the debates.
3. Self-promotion- Attention seeking, overlook others accomplishments forown recognition. We saw each candidate bragging about what they have done and could do in the next four years.
4. Indirect with others – Do not give the hard feedback or make the difficult decisions about people. Here in the debates, as we have seen neither candidate directly answers the questions but move their answer into their stump speech.
Granted this was a debate and demanded a different style of communication and leadership for the millions to watch and decide who they want to lead the country. This wasn’t really executive leadership as we expect from corporate executives, but more of a scripted performance to show the constituents their peacock feathers.
Overused and Underused EI strengths: What to turn down and turn up
Often when I do executive coaching one topic we usually cover are instances that a leader takes their strength or success to excess. Why wouldn’t they use their strength over and over but often their overused strength becomes a weakness. The leader needs to be aware of when they have “crossed over” from a strength position to a weakness. They need to turn down the volume on the strength just a few times, when it is overused to make significance difference in their performance.
What overused EI competencies from the Emotional Quotient Inventory, 2.0 did we see in the debates?
Assertiveness: Communicating feeling and beliefs in a non-offensive way. Both candidates used their speech as a weapon at times interrupting, criticizing and over talking each other. This was the most offensive part of the debate as I watched. When they didn’t let the other talk or make their point, they seemed like two 12 year old bullies.
Another overused strength to turn down was Self-Regard or Confidence – Each candidate pranced around with their chest and finger out a bit too much, afraid to show too much humility or doubt. Their handlers probably liked their aggressiveness but not the extent of finger pointing versus the Clinton bent index finger to make a point.
Turning up the volume was needed on few other EI competencies.
Impulse Control: Is resisting or delaying their impulses to act. This is the quickest and easiest way for an executive to derail. Our leadership graveyards are lined with leaders and celebrities who couldn’t control their impulses. Both candidates couldn’t stop themselves from interrupting and responding defensively.
Empathy: Is understanding and appreciating how others feel. Each candidate told stories of people they have met on the campaign trail to demonstrate empathy of their plight, but it lacked sincerity in favor of a positioned campaign strategy. They each could have turned up their empathy to appear more genuine and compassionate to their constituents.
Denials and “Unhonesty”: Both candidates accused each of other of getting the facts wrong and denying the other’s claims. These adolescent denials, “you are wrong, no you are wrong” left both Nick and I underwhelmed with the candidates and turned off to what they were actually saying. When the fact checkers weighed in; partial aspects of their comments were true, but other aspects omitted or minimized.
Early in my career I learned the concept of “unhonesty” from Tom Hedin, director of a drug and alcohol treatment center. We know honesty and trust that person and distrust a person who we know is consciously dishonest. “Unhonesty” is a made up word and includes our white lies where we omit critical things, minimize damage or deny obvious responsibility either consciously or unconsciously. The result though is we don’t trust the person just like if they were outright lying and dishonest. Distorting or misrepresenting the facts creates doubt in the candidate’s credibility and leadership, as we can’t take their word as fact. Every commercial for these candidates and others in our states over exaggerate, generalize and blame the other candidate for anything that transpired with in their party.
The presidential campaign makes it harder to hold up our politicians as emotionally intelligent leaders and respected role models for the rest of us to emulate. I can’t wait till the election is over and the derailers and denials subside. There will be alot of debris to clean up like after hurricane Sandy. We then can look again to our peers, bosses, family members and civic leaders as true leaders exhibiting real emotional intelligence and leadership beyond just their words but grounded in their authentic and compassionate actions.