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Courage Is a Key Component of Open-Minded Management

Kerry Goyette
Kerry Goyette

Emotional intelligence is a crucial management attribute.

  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable, it's the only way to grow and see what's possible.
  • Becoming an open-minded manager fosters improvement because of your courage to be wrong.
  • You must make the decision every single day to listen to and connect with your team.

When you think of managing your team, "The Wizard of Oz" likely isn't where your mind immediately goes. But let's take a walk down the yellow brick road for a moment. Imagine Dorothy and her friends nearing the Emerald City – the tin man in search of a heart, the scarecrow in search of a brain, and the lion in search of courage.

Together, the characters are in search of three qualities that contribute to emotional intelligence and forge exceptional, open-minded leaders. We would all be wise to follow in their footsteps. In fact, TalentSmart found that emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of workplace performance and contributed to 58% of what made employees successful in jobs across every industry.

Individually, your heart (empathy), brains and courage are great qualities. But combine them, and you discover real leadership skills. A leader who's smart but lacks heart isn't meeting her full potential. Similarly, when it comes to a leader with no courage to take risks, that person loses the opportunity to create and innovate. Ultimately, when business leaders fail to bring together all three qualities, they fail to adapt and succeed.

Emotional intelligence is a sign of strength, not weakness

Bottling up emotion or pretending to be void of it altogether doesn't serve anyone. In fact, research shows that expressing emotions after a failure actually makes you more likely to succeed the next time. So how do you do it?

First, heart. You can't lead without it. Period. It takes heart to practice empathy and successfully manage stress and anger when the going gets tough, whether that involves learning to channel your own emotions or those of the people around you.

If you want to cultivate genuine connections with employees and foster a more productive learning environment, show that you have a heart and see what happens. You'll likely find that it makes you more approachable, which leads to better communication between you and those you're leading.

Next, the brain. Emotional intelligence is not just about empathy and feelings. For example, directing a client meeting takes intellect, but you aren't just pitching ideas or the words on a page. It's also about reading the room and fostering an open environment in which others can express concerns openly and talk through ideas. Emotional intelligence can be the difference between your best decisions and your worst.

Finally, knowing that those you work with might disagree with you and choosing to get up and present anyway takes courage. It's never easy to open yourself up to critique and criticism – even when it's the constructive kind. But being open to feedback is especially crucial for entrepreneurs and small business owners because without feedback, they can develop blind spots. And those blind spots can derail a business.

Every one of the three characteristics of emotional intelligence is important, but courage is the secret ingredient.

Why courage matters most

Marching into situations that are rife with confrontation is tough. It requires an unassuming mindset in which questions, not statements or commands, take center stage. Before you ever speak, you have to set aside the idea that there is one right way and one wrong way. Instead, be willing to discover a new approach – one that wasn't your idea at all. Swallowing your pride doesn't tend to be a strength of emotionally unintelligent people.

Opening your mind and setting assumptions aside also means admitting that you might not have the answer. This sounds scary at first, but you don't know what you might discover once you stop assuming you've got it all figured out.

For small business leaders, there is a real possibility that this sort of open approach will lead you to discover your own mistakes and weak spots; there's a serious vulnerability to it. But on the other side of the courage is progress, and that's what every business is after in the end. Go ahead and get comfortable being uncomfortable – it's the only way to grow and see what's possible.

Harness emotional intelligence to be a better leader

Becoming an open-minded manager fosters improvement because of your courage to be wrong. You might stumble over someone's critique of your style of leadership or business decisions that yielded less-than-ideal results, but your ability to listen to and reflect on this feedback builds you and your small business more than you could have thought possible.

Follow this road map to navigate tricky leadership situations with emotional intelligence and grace:

1. Pause for fear, and then proceed with caution

When you begin to feel fear – maybe you're mid-presentation or on the other end of an unexpected challenge or comment – your instinct might be to freeze. I've certainly been there and done that. It's human instinct to let our limbic system override logic when we're nervous. 

Here's a secret, though: That's OK.

Small business leaders feel like the world rests on their shoulders. You're in a very vulnerable position – after all, you alone are responsible for your successes and failures. That's why it's so important for leaders to navigate fears; otherwise, those fears will steer you in the wrong direction and potentially lead to stress, damaged relationships and burnout.

When you experience fear, pause, recognize your fear, and then make a conscious choice to step away and consider how it’s influencing your perception of your environment. Recognize your tendencies when fear creeps in. Do you avoid it or accommodate it in order to not have to solve the problem or challenge? Do you get aggressive and have to win at all costs? Do you guard and protect and think that everyone is out to steal your ideas? Learn to give fear a seat at the table; just don't let it take over.

2. Jump-start your rational thought process

Emotional intelligence is all about recognizing the problem-solving patterns your brain follows and deploying strategies to make improvements where they are needed.

When I need courage and help coming back to a place of logic when my emotions have taken over, I reach out to peers I trust and ask them for their advice. This retriggers my rational problem-solving skills and tamps down emotions. When you're isolated, challenging tasks can feel impossible. But open the conversation to a few people you trust, and you'll be able to break away from that paralysis.

3. Lean into the problem.

Most CEOs, 90%, in fact, admit that fear of failure keeps them up at night. That might be why leaders often convince themselves that everything is perfect. Unfortunately, that's not a solution and causes problems to multiply in the end.

Perfection is never manifested without action. You only improve when you address problems and solve them.

The bigger the issue, the more you have to lean in. Sound daunting? Refer back to step one. It's time to tap into your emotional intelligence. You'll need your heart, brain and courage to do it, but it can be done. 

Also, tap into your network of friends and former colleagues to glean from their knowledge and experiences. People are usually eager to share about their areas of expertise, so don't feel like you need to be the expert in all things. Leverage your network.

The process of being an open, emotionally intelligent small business leader is constant. You must make the choice every day to listen to and connect with your team. Knowing that you might face tough feedback takes bravery, and there's no one-way ticket that takes you away and lets you avoid it – not if you want to succeed.

Take away power from fear and pave the (yellow brick) road to rational thinking, problem-solving, and success.

Image Credit: Fizkes / Shutterstock
Kerry Goyette
Kerry Goyette Member
Kerry Goyette is the president of Aperio Consulting Group, a corporate consulting firm that utilizes workplace analytics and implements research-based strategies to build high-performance cultures. She is a certified professional behavior analyst and certified forensic interviewer with postgraduate studies in psychometrics and neuroscience. Kerry is an international speaker and gave the popular TEDx Talk “Stop Trying to Motivate Your Employees.” She has consulted for clients across the globe, including Shell Oil, the Houston Texans, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, on scientific strategies to optimize performance.