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May 29 2015
How do you decide between two candidates that look exactly the same on paper?
What are the deciding factors that you look for in a future colleague?
Think about the best colleague you have ever had…I bet I can guess some of the words that you would use to describe that person: pleasant, helpful, encouraging, resourceful, knowledgeable, motivated. I am sure you can think of many more, and the majority are words that describe emotional and social competencies—not technical skills or expertise. Of course we expect and need our colleagues to have the knowledge and ability to get their job done, but these are not generally the characteristics that stand out when we are thinking about why someone is so good to work with.
You that know that guy in your office you avoid by walking all the way around the floor so you don’t pass by his door. That guy is probably not emotionally intelligent. You probably avoid him because he lets the morning rain that soaked his shoes determine the course of his day. He sulks, he pouts—he puts everyone else in a bad mood. Oh, and he is the best engineer in your company. Do you want to work with that guy, even though he is the best at his job? Heck no. Emotions are contagious, and negative emotions are much more contagious. So, you avoid that guy and go work with the fourth best engineer, who is easy to get along with and the job gets done just fine.
Leaders exhibit many styles of leadership; and the good ones will alternate between styles that are most effective depending on the situation and what is needed. However, some leadership styles are certainly more effective the majority of the time than others. Think about the best leader you have ever worked with—what things did that person say or do that set them apart as a good leader? You probably remember them bringing people together to solve problems together and inspiring the people around them to achieve more.
Leadership style does not only come out when people are in a formal leadership role. Some of the best examples of effective leadership that I have been witness to were not exhibited by an official organizational leader, but rather a team member who had the foresight to see what the team needed and led them in the right direction. Whether that is by pulling a reclusive team member into a conversation or seeking out needed resources to push a project in the right direction, leadership can and should be displayed by every member of an organization at one time or another.
It is important to remember that organizations are made up of people. When I was teaching undergraduate management majors, this idea was not intuitive to the students. Perhaps it was the influence of the heavy load of accounting, strategic management and economics that pushed students to think of organizations in a much more mechanical manner. Whatever the case, I often found myself trying to reshape their thinking to move to a more humanistic attitude about organizations. I can understand the desire to avoid the added complexity of the consideration of human behavior when contemplating organizational decisions, but that is sure to lead to failure. Without an understanding of the impact upon and by those who work in the organization, half of the equation is missing.
So, next time you recruit a new member of your team, keep in mind that what you need most in your organization might just be something that you need to dig a little deeper to find.