The 3 characteristics of Next Level Leaders

Conscious Leadership 

It is funny, most of us go through our leadership and management journey without any formal training or coaching in the soft skills needed for the job. Yet, we know from global research by Daniel Goleman on Emotional Intelligence (or EQ) into successful leaders, that soft skills are, in fact, what makes hard business success. Goleman’s conclusion is that it is the EQ and not the IQ of a leader that translates into higher performance

But how do great leaders gain such high EQ? Why is it that some leaders allow those around them to thrive and go on to move mountains, while others cause people to feel incapable, anxious and stressed? 

I am not saying the employee is devoid of responsibility but it does need to start with the leader. 

I talked about my own experience of poor leadership in my last blog ‘Why I wrote Next Level Leadership’, which set me off on my own journey. After I had recovered from the fallout of anxiety, low mood and stress and got some support, my mission became clear: I needed to help people avoid my experience (even in more subtle ways) and help leaders do their best work. I needed to help leaders to see how EQ drove commercial business success and meanwhile, allowed people to enjoy the journey. 

A lot of unhappiness at work is simply unnecessary. 

So how do we make this development for leaders really practical?

Hacking into the minds of next level leaders 

Through my work as a facilitator and executive coach, I identify proven people leaders running highly successful companies. They are CEOs and Founders willing to step up for their teams in practical and meaningful ways. For three years, I’ve been interviewing them for the Conscious Leaders Podcast, where I hack into their brains about what’s working, what’s gone wrong and how they’ve adapted their style to meet the demands of business and staff. I want their raw experience, not the shiny version. I ask them to share their philosophy, their struggles but also, to get practical; into the details of exactly how they generate such thriving relationships and great work cultures, so that you can take away usable nuggets! 

I have gone on to digest this work into a new book ‘Next Level Leadership: nine lessons from conscious leaders’. In it, I pull out their top traits and behaviours. 

Allow me to share the high level of the first three lessons.  

#1 Develop a clear intention

The best leaders I have found demonstrate a clear intention. By this, I mean they are pure about their attitude towards people and firm on their beliefs and values. They are not clouded or jaded – they are strong. This attitude comes from a place of good ethics. 

This can be more challenging when applied to people who are considered ‘difficult’. However, if we focus on our faith in others, they will feel it. 

People feel our conscious and unconscious thoughts through our mirror neurons. We reflect the behaviours of others. So, if you’re saying one thing but thinking another, people know it deep down. Get clear on your positive intention about the capacity of an individual you work with and watch the results. You may need to work on yourself to hone this but if you can, the effects can be remarkable.

#2 Manage your mood 

What I think is key for leaders is their ‘emotional availability’ – to what extent can they hold lightly the difficult situations around them? This doesn’t mean they need to be a therapist but it does mean they need to care and be available to hear how someone is getting on plus offer support as best they can.  

Leaders often tell me they worry this will be hugely time consuming. It doesn’t have to be, it could be 10-20 mins with someone. It just needs to be real (see previous point on clear intention). 

The difficulty I find for many leaders is that they struggle to hold the experiences of others because they themselves are stressed. So whatever habits and behaviours support your wellbeing, do them as a priority. If you’re looking after yourself, you’re also looking after them as you will have more space for them. 

This also relates back to the previous point around mirror neurons. People will know if you are stressed, they’ll feel it without you having to say anything. You remove friction for them by taking care of yourself.

#3 Listen deeply 

Listening is one of our most undervalued skills. We know when we are not being listened to. We might leave a conversation feeling unsure, downtrodden or slightly empty. We might have had a lot of advice come our way, but we have a sense that the other person hasn’t understood our situation. 

In his book The 7 Habits Of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey says, ‘Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.’ I remember reading these words many years ago and it hit me – was I listening to understand or simply to reply with my thoughts? To be completely honest with you, it was the latter. I share my journey in the book. 

There are many barriers to listening including impatience, control and plain lack of practice. 

Here are four elements that build great listening:  

  1. Groundedness/presence – back to the previous point on mood management, be there as best you can and use whatever helps you, such as meditation, nature and exercise. Staff and colleagues will feel your steadiness. 
  2. Clear intention – bring those good vibes from the earlier point about the capacity of this individual. They will feel your warmth and faith in them. 
  3. Curiosity – this is about bringing a ‘beginner’s mind’ one that doesn’t know what the person will say. See what it is like to not know how the conversation will play out. They will feel your interest. 
  4. Empathy – put yourself in the other person’s shoes and really imagine (or perhaps you know) what that must feel like. They will feel heard and understood. 

How to spread the message 

What I am really keen on is that people see this work who wouldn’t usually embark on such personal or professional development. Perhaps they see it as getting in the way of real business. We know from the research that this is the real business which brings both commercial success and happier workforces. So if you think someone is open to reading from such a category, please do share. I would love to hear how you get on. 

‘Next Level Leadership: nine lessons from conscious leaders’ goes on to share the stories of these leaders – how they demonstrate these three plus 6 other crucial characteristics backed by my own experience as a facilitator and executive coach working with leadership teams and global research on high-performance workplaces. 

‘Next Level Leadership: nine lessons from conscious leaders’ in September 2022 by Rethink Press. It was shortlisted for the Business Book Awards 2023 and is endorsed by Sir John Timpson CBE, Andy Woodfield, PwC Partner and author, Hephzi Pemberton, CEO, The Equality Group, Rosie Anderson, Associate Director, Accenture (among others).

You can subscribe to Ruth’s bi-weekly or monthly ‘Conscious Conversation’ for free content including samples from the book, the latest Conscious Leaders Podcast releases as well as research and writing on conscious leadership or connect with Ruth on LinkedIn here

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