Lynda Folan explains why leaders should be using emotional intelligence to help their teams to be more persuasive
The world around us is changing faster than ever before. It is shaping up to be precisely what Bennis and Nanus visualised when they described a VUCA world (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous). This explosive and constantly changing environment is creating a heightened pressure for change that permeates all aspects of business life. If organisations don’t invest time and effort in developing business agility to respond to this world, it will wreak havoc with outcomes and sustainability. These unprecedented times require leaders and teams who can flourish in a volatile environment and maintain effectiveness no matter how disruptive the external environment is.
The fact that organisations are required to deliver enhanced agility and flexibility impacts what is required of leaders and the broader workforce. Everyone in a business setting must be resilient and adaptable and ensure they can quickly pivot to new ways of doing things and respond healthily to new challenges. To achieve this, organisations need to become less bureaucratic and top-down. To navigate the complexities of the VUCA world requires enhanced levels of emotional intelligence that enable collaboration and connection. As companies struggle to retain talent, there is even more pressure to move away from traditional dictatorial leadership styles and embrace a more inclusive style that supports healthy influence and persuasion.
If organisations want to thrive in the present context, it is no longer acceptable to tolerate ‘old school’ leadership styles. And it is no longer viable to allow people to continue behaving in ways that go against the organisation’s best interest. People no longer want to be told what to do and micromanaged to deliver what a command control boss wants. They want to have a say and be engaged in defining the direction and outcomes. This calls for a different style of leadership, one that is inclusive and collaborative and engages people on the journey. This type of leadership allows individuals to flourish and grow. In the VUCA world, we must move from command-and-control leadership styles to more inclusive ones that leverage influence and persuasion.
To navigate the complexities of the VUCA world requires enhanced levels of emotional intelligence that enable collaboration and connection
Skills for influence and persuasion
These inclusive, collaborative leadership styles require high levels of emotional intelligence and the ability to work constructively with people across the organisation. Many businesses have been encouraging this transition, but unfortunately, some industries and organisations still have a command control leadership style as the default.
In today’s world, with the constant fight to retain and recruit talent, it will be essential for leaders and organisations to master the art of influence and persuasion and move to a more collaborative style of working that builds capacity. Building emotional intelligence and constructive thinking skills are critical to this evolution. These skills will ensure that leaders can influence and persuade others rather than resort to command and control. Without these skills, organisations will not have the ability to build an engaged, agile, and emotionally intelligent workforce. And in the war for talent, they will be challenged to retain high-quality people.
The impact on a team
Something special happens when a leader leverages their capacity to influence and persuade and builds an engaged, focused team that trust each other. If you have ever had the privilege of working in a team environment like this, you will know that the energy is high, the relationships are healthy, and the group achieves more than they ever thought possible. Research has consistently shown that positive workplace cultures are more productive.
Genuinely agile teams also create the right environment for innovation and continuous improvement. To achieve this, an essential ingredient is that the leaders can leverage influence and persuasion skills and not rely on command control strategies. Leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence work with their teams to influence them in a direction rather than dictate. The result is a happier, healthier workplace where people give discretionary effort. In this environment, employees support and help each other reach their goals and find greater meaning in their work.
If you want a team to be innovative, it is no use expecting this to be delivered in the context of command control leadership. For creativity to be stimulated, leaders must create an environment where individuals feel empowered to explore and create. This requires the ability to leverage influence and persuasion. Innovation will flourish when people are given the right to set aside bureaucratic constraints and explore and create.
Command-and-control leadership improves operational efficiency in a bureaucratic structure environment. In today’s world, which is fast-moving, complex and ambiguous, we need to shift from conventional approaches to leadership and develop our ability to persuade and influence. Leveraging the art of influence and persuasion enables effective collaboration and stimulates innovation. If this is to be sustainable, it is also essential for leaders to teach this skill to their team on an ongoing basis. Being persuasive is one of the most critical yet hard to master skills an employee can learn. It is a crucial skill of talented employees. Investing in building this capacity is essential in today’s VUCA world.
In a business context with a high demand for innovation and change, where people are being asked to do more with less, building a positive team culture is essential. This allows the team to influence effectively and persuade others across the organisation and supports the delivery of sustainable outcomes. Skills in influence and persuasion enable individuals to comfortably state their views and opinions while at the same time being prepared to listen to others.
Authentic influence requires that the individual is open to being influenced, supporting the team’s capacity to harness diversity. We have known for a long time that diversity delivers better decision-making and more innovative outcomes. Forbes notes, “Diversity is a key driver of innovation and is a critical component of being successful on a global scale.” Building the team’s influence and persuasion skills encourages people to work collaboratively and welcome divergent views. Teams do not always agree or get on with each other – the skills of persuasion support teams in effectively navigating and resolving conflict.
In simple terms, if you want your team to thrive in today’s world, develop their emotional intelligence and ability to influence and persuade effectively. If you do this, you will create a team and organisational culture that will be innovative and where top talent will be engaged and motivated to contribute.
Dr Lynda Folan is the author of Leader Resilience, The New Frontier of Leadership, Find out more here