Leaders Who Listen
Bill, an operations manager of a technology manufacturing company, was seeking coaching to improve his leadership of his team leaders without using command and control tactics. His use of fear and intimidation had created a work environment that resulted in those reporting to him either avoiding him or being overly dependent on him for fear of acting on their own initiative and making a mistake.
He was encouraged in his coaching to be more personable and emotionally sensitive and to listen to his people. Mary was one of Bill’s leaders who was loud and insensitive to the people she was leading. Bill noticed that as he simply checked in with her on a daily basis to ask her how she was doing she began to soften and became more available to her people.
John Bowlby was a psychiatrist who discovered that adults, like children, need to feel that they are attached to feel safe and secure. Children who do not attach develop significant psychological problems. Infants who are abandoned to institutions where they are fed but not held often die. We are biologically wired to need what psychologist Harry Harlow called contact comfort in order to survive as infants. According to John Bowlby we continue to require a sense of connection throughout the life span.
In the last fifteen years there has been a new focus on the importance of leaders being emotionally present in the work place. This emotional presence or emotional intelligence has been found to be the the most important predictor of leadership success. While much has been written about emotional intelligence there has been little mention in the literature about why it works from the perspective of attachment theory.
We are biologically wired to need attached relationships that are safe havens for our emotions. Our emotions are our chief source of motivation and discouragement. We naturally look to those we trust to be receptive to our emotional needs. Leaders who have high levels of emotional intelligence are naturally receptive to those needs. When we can trust those who lead us with our emotions we feel more secure and are better able to provide the same kind of emotional support and security to others.
Bill found that just a couple of minutes of listening to Mary’s emotional reality, which partially had to do with her carrying the burden of her daughter’s drug addiction, allowed her to be more focused and more sensitive and collaborative with those people she supervised. In other words as Mary felt more emotionally connected or attached to her boss Bill, she was able to feel more secure and become a leader that others could turn to when in distress.