This leadership principle is part of the Organizational Health series: 15 principles that relate to the overall health of your organization. Other Human Systems Leadership Principles are contained in the Change Management, Community Embedding, Mutual Empowerment, and Ethics categories.
Just as exercise, eating well, meditation, and other healthy lifestyle choices support the long-term health of the human body, the HS Organizational Health Leadership Principles support the long-term health of your organization. By following these principles, you invest in the sustainability and longevity of your organization and minimize moral injury (“burnout”) and turnover.
HS Leadership Principle #5: The organization works towards identifying and correcting its weaknesses.
The successful, sustainable organization is both self-aware and aware of environmental factors that influence the achievement of the organization’s mission and vision. In order to achieve its goals, the organization must continually assess both weaknesses (internal factors) and challenges (external factors) that are preventing successful outcomes in service of its mission.
Assuming that your organization is already working on HS Leadership Principle #1 (everybody has a common understanding of the mission), how do you figure out what your organizational weaknesses are? Of course, you could use data analysts to collect and look at data related to work and outcomes, but a much more direct and efficient way is to use emotional competence.
In my previous blog on HS Leadership Principle #4 (informal leadership), I talked about how essentially, leadership boils down to: any action taken by an individual or group for the purpose of change. You probably have a good sense of what emotional intelligence is – the ability to identify your emotions and their source, as well as the emotions of others. If we put leadership and emotional intelligence together, we get emotional competence.
Leadership + Emotional intelligence = Emotional Competence
When we use emotional competence, we are using our emotional intelligence to inform positive changes in our organization. More specifically, if we sense a significant amount of emotional distress related to a project, department, group, etc., then we can use our emotional intelligence to investigate the issue. In order for this technique to be successful, we need two preconditions:
- A culture of emotional openness: employees feel enabled to express both comfortable and uncomfortable emotions without fear of retaliation.
- A general assumption that everybody is doing the best they can to achieve the organizational mission and goals with the tools and resources they have. From this assumption, it follows that if an individual or group is not meeting expectations, then they do not have access to an essential tool or resource.
Why should you use emotional competence?
This process can be time-consuming and emotionally draining, especially the first few times you do it, and especially for those who are not used to processing uncomfortable emotions. However, it comes with several advantages:
- Employees feel validated and supported by the organization because their feelings are not only accepted, but also become useful to the organization. This validation and support results in better retention rates and prevention or alleviation of moral injury (a.k.a. “burnout”).
- Emotional competence is a relationship-building process. It will improve communication between your employees and contribute to significant organic team building.
- Using emotional competence will improve individual and group emotional intelligence skills.
- Finally, it will enable your employees to become more effective and efficient problem-solvers.
How to use emotional competence to identify and correct organizational weaknesses
- Use your emotional intelligence and communication to remain aware of sources of uncomfortable emotions (i.e. anger, frustration, fear, sadness, etc.).
- When you discover a source of significant uncomfortable emotion in an employee or group of employees, explore the emotion and its source with the individual or group. Are they frustrated about a project? A process? Something in the office environment that is making them uncomfortable? A lack of communication?
- Once you identify the problem, the employees who have the strongest emotions – those who are closest to the issue and most likely know the most about it – can get to work on developing a solution. If the solution needs to mesh with other systems outside of the employees’ expertise, you can make sure that they have experts in the necessary areas with whom to consult.
A word about emotions at work
Emotions can get very intense and very uncomfortable, especially in human service organizations. Whenever we are working with a high-needs population such as children, people who are sick, people who live in poverty, etc., we tend to have very strong emotions related to our work. These emotions can be compounded when we have limited resources and therefore often feel prevented from being able to do our job to the best of our ability. We have a strong tendency to assign personal reasons to strong emotions, such as “he tends to be sensitive about that sort of thing”, “she’s always upset about something”, “they have personal issues at home.”
The fact is, every human being wants to perform well and be recognized for their work. Everybody wants to find something they are good at and make a positive impact. I have never talked with somebody who truly does not care about their performance at work. If we can assume that everybody can contribute to an organization given the right resources and tools, it makes more sense to believe that upset employees are upset because they lack resources or tools and therefore can’t do their job to their personal satisfaction.
The emotional competence approach to identifying and correcting organizational resources is one that requires a great deal of time and effort on the front end, but will yield excellent, sustainable results.