Great Leaders Are Great at Recognizing People

You have probably already seen it in your organization.

There are some leaders—directors of departments or senior leadership team members—who not only stand out for what their employees achieve, but who know are great recognizers of their staff. Employees like and trust them and they produce top results because of how they are treated by their leader.

Why is it that great leaders are also great at recognizing people?

Leading With Heart

It seems the qualities that make for good leaders are also essential for giving meaningful recognition.

In the book Executive EQ: Emotional Intelligence in Leadership and Organizations, the authors, psychologist Robert K. Cooper and entrepreneur Ayman Sawaf, point out how emotional intelligence is critical with leadership skills. Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, allows leaders to live by open and honest communications and develop trusting relationships and teamwork.

They point out that emotions are inherently neither positive nor negative. But emotions are a powerful source of human energy, authenticity, and drive. They help drive the feedback loop essential to giving great recognition. Great recognition comes from the heart and not just the head.

Cooper and Sawaf define emotional intelligence as “the ability to sense, understand, and effectively apply the power and acumen of emotions as a source of human energy, information, connection, and influence.”

Great leaders are able to feel deeply and be authentic no matter what circumstances or challenges they face. They understand how their personal emotions and actions affect people around them. Because of this they can develop emotional intuition as to how another person feels.

The Rise of Emotional Intelligence

Daniel Goleman, who helped establish the importance of emotional intelligence to business leadership, wrote an article for the Harvard Business Review in 1998 titled, “What Makes a Leader,”. In the article, Goleman states unequivocally:

“The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but…they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions. My research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.”

When Great Leaders Become Great Recognizers

In my research on the frequent and important behaviors for giving meaningful and effective recognition by managers, I discovered about 40 behaviors that are essential in good recognizers. These behaviors I have categorized under the headings Appreciative Listening skills, Recognition Talking skills, Praiseworthy Actions skills, Rewarding Giving Skills, and Acknowledging Intent attitudes.

It will come as no surprise to you then, that in order to develop your emotional intelligence awareness and skills, you need to do some of the following actions:

  • Use active listening skills.
  • Demonstrate self-motivation to set and achieve goals.
  • Practice ways to have, and not just believe in, a positive attitude.
  • Show empathy towards other people.
  • Be approachable and accessible to others.

These qualities and skills are a part of the mindset and behaviors required to be a great recognizer. And they correlate with the categories of the recognition behaviors we have identified.

Becoming a Great Leader and Recognizer

Besides developing the list of qualities mentioned above there are many other skills you can learn and hopefully master. Consider the following:

1. Work on self-awareness of your feelings. Understand how you feel under different situations. Appreciate what makes you happy versus sad. Learn how you can have a certain feeling but not let it take over your physical responses.

2. Develop self-regulation of your feelings. It is one thing to be aware and know the emotions you feel at different times. But how do you control those feelings when you are leading others? Are you able to prevent acting out when you feel angry, for example?

3. Understand how your emotions drive your motivation. How you feel about a certain task influences your desire to complete it in a timely manner. At the same time you can reflect on the emotions you need to develop to fulfill an assignment that is not too appealing at first glance.

4. Allow your emotions to help you gain empathy towards others. Having emotions on your radar allows you to be more sensitive to others. You can understand emotions on a cognitive and emotional level. Hopefully your feelings towards others will allow you to demonstrate sincere compassion.

5. Let your emotions and authenticity impact your social skills. By being in tune with your emotions you are more open and vulnerable. You have a greater tendency to be authentic and genuine. These attitudes come out in your social communication skills, which is what you want for giving great recognition.

Do whatever you can to personally become a great leader in recognizing those you work with. And orchestrate opportunities for facilitating emotional intelligence exercises to strengthen the emotional strengths of all employees.

Recognition Reflection: How well connected are you to understanding your emotional intelligence?

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