By John E. Park, D.Ed.
As I was writing this blog in early September, I kept turning on the U.S. Open tennis tournament. The players battled other competitors, the heat, and mental and physical exhaustion over the multiweek event. In the men’s final, Nadal and Medvedev competed for nearly five hours in a great example of focus, resilience, and competitive spirit. Nadal eventually wore down Medvedev and captured the championship. It was an epic match, and the qualities on display can also be applied in our role as leaders in professional services firms.
Resilience and the ability to think strategically about our personal and organizational goals and aspirations are critical. But developing these capabilities don’t happen by accident; natural talent alone won’t take you to the next level. Just like the players competing in the U.S. Open, success requires the development of a strong set of foundational habits, a commitment to systematic personal learning and development, and a willingness to be coached and respond to earnest and specific feedback.
There have been thousands of books written on leadership, each striving to provide a unique perspective and game-changing insight. One of my favorites is by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, The Leadership Challenge: How to Make Extraordinary Things Happen in Organizations, first published in 1987. Kouzes and Posner began their research in the early 1980s, interviewing thousands of people to discover five practices of “exemplary leaders.” These practices have remained consistent through the five ensuing editions of the book:
- Model the Way - Actions must be consistent with words
- Inspire a Shared Vision - Leaders must imagine the future and communicate their vision
- Challenge the Process - Focus on innovation and look for opportunities to take risks
- Enable Others to Act - Build trust and encourage collaboration
- Encourage the heart – Focus on excellence and build communities
These practices can serve as a framework for leaders to create their own set of leadership principles and also provide a benchmark for emerging leaders. Books such as The Leadership Challenge can inform your own personal leadership journey and help you to establish a set of principles and behaviors that will guide how you manage and lead team members in your firm.
In addition to the suggestions above, emotional intelligence serves as a foundation for successful leaders and can be a catalyst for organizational growth and transformation. Daniel Goleman first wrote about the emotional intelligence quotient (commonly referred to as EQ) in the mid-1990s. He defined EQ as "The capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships."
We can all recognize the role emotional intelligence plays in enabling managing partners to perform at a high level and have a positive impact on their firms, but EQ is relevant at all levels. For instance, it can inspire a staff accountant to respond to a challenging situation with a disgruntled client in a poised and professional manner. EQ is critical throughout the organization and a game changer at every level. EQ is comprised of the following:
- Self-awareness – Understanding your personal strengths and weaknesses
- Self-management – The ability to manage your emotions
- Social awareness – Empathy and the ability to appreciate other perspectives
- Relationship management – Appreciate the importance of others
Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, in their book The Emotional Intelligence Quick Book, suggest that “EQ is the single biggest predictor of performance in the workplace and the strongest driver of leadership and personal excellence.” They go on to make the case that leaders with a high EQ are 80% more productive than their low-EQ counterparts. This productivity translates to higher income and success in leadership roles. There is a sound business case for understanding EQ and focusing on the development of our EQ. The good news is EQ can be developed and improved over time when we are willing to push ourselves outside of our comfort zone, be humble enough to ask for and receive feedback, and take the time to slow down to reflect and think through what we say and do.
Exemplary leadership practices and emotional intelligence are key success factors for professional services firms. Your personal growth and success are driven by your willingness to focus on your personal development, identify and understand the factors that can derail your career, and a willingness to ask for and accept feedback. Professional service firm leaders must remain positive and model strong leadership principles as they focus on the future.
John Park, D.Ed., is a director with Baker Tilly, focusing on strategic planning, enterprise risk management, leadership development and coaching. John brings a unique perspective to this topic, beginning his career over 30 years ago as a commercial insurance underwriter, spending over 25 years at Penn State focused on leadership development and strategic planning teaching and research. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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