While robust business acumen is a must for any leader of a large organization, it is only one piece to the leadership puzzle. As any CEO could attest, being a successful leader is much more complicated than it appears. It requires an arsenal of character traits that will never show on a resume and a complexity that reflects more on genetics than on acquired skill.
So how does one develop into a more successful leader?
Perhaps the most important ingredient is what some experts have termed moral intelligence — the ability to lead with four core principles: integrity, compassion, responsibility and forgiveness.
Simple as it may seem, this is where some learning leaders could use refreshing.
Different from moral competence — the ability to know when one is or is not acting morally — moral intelligence means knowing how to lead with these traits. Doing so may not only improve the soft success of a leader, but the bottom line for the organization he or she leads.
This is one of the arguments championed by Doug Lennick, CEO of the Lennick Aberman Group, a performance-enhancement consulting firm that works with executives, leaders and athletes. He, along with co-author Fred Kiel, co-founder of KRW International Inc., a consultancy that works to fix human systems in organizations, published Moral Intelligence 2.0 last spring. The book, which was first published in 2005 and then repurposed with new lessons following the financial crisis, suggests that the key to leadership greatness is leading those four core principles.
“Businesses that are anchored in these four moral principles and have leaders that practice them will return greater value to their shareholders, employees, customers [and] the communities that they operate in than leaders who aren’t. That’s our core assertion,” Kiel said. “We find that in these four, integrity will yield trust from the workforce; responsibility will inspire; forgiveness will promote innovation; and caring [compassion] will gain retention.”
A former executive himself, Lennick is privy to the tendencies that some leaders fall into once they attain positions of power. Leaders stepping into these positions for the first time must learn to be more self-aware.
“Humans are born to be moral just like we are born to be lingual,” Lennick said. “Although we are born lingual, we aren’t born speaking, so there is a nurturing to help us learn the language that we learn. Similar to that, we have a nature predisposed to discovering moral principles, but we also need a nurturing environment.”
It’s nurturing one’s moral intelligence that is important and could always use refreshing. Executives are so predisposed to years of core business training that often learning to lead through moral and behavioral principles gets lost. It’s the little things: knowing to let a subordinate begin a one-on-one with his or her agenda instead of yours; listening to your team as opposed to telling them; showing greater respect for your employees not just as professionals but as humans.
According to Lennick, some leaders often become too distracted and lose sight of their own behaviors, which leads to irrational decision making. “Irrational decision making trumps IQ every time,” he said. “The way the brain works, practice makes permanent, so people can actually learn to be very self aware … That’s a skill few people have mastered.”
But learning the skill, he said, could change all leaders for the better and, in turn, allow them to find greater success for not only themselves but for the people they lead. Yet Lennick issues a stern warning — making a pronouncement is only a step. Actually working toward a behavioral change is something organizations need to pick up on and where CLOs can highlight learning and development overall.
Lennick said, “Organizations under-invest and underestimate the importance of developing and helping people accomplish an awareness of themselves.”
Frank Kalman is an associate editor for Chief Learning Officer magazine. He can be reached at fkalman@CLOmedia.com.