“The quality of your life is in direct proportion to the amount of uncertainty you can comfortably deal with.” ~Tony Robbins
To help professional communicators start the year off strong amidst a period of rapid change, Zoetica Media founder Kami Huyse spoke with certified coach Ken Jacobs about the 9 vital traits he believes all communication leaders should develop and implement in their professional lives.
Covered in depth in his complementary eBook How To Evolve Your Leadership Style So People Will Follow You Through Uncertainty, these include strengthening emotional intelligence, recognizing that energy is reciprocal, adopting transparency, expecting superior performance versus unattainable perfection, setting high leadership standards, increasing empathy, talking less and asking more questions, leading with courage, and accepting uncertainty.
On Emotional Intelligence
Ken explains that emotional intelligence accounts for 90% of what sets high performers apart.
“You have leaders doing well and you have what I call ‘uber leaders,’ super leaders just killing the metrics and and not just for themselves, but their people,” says Ken. “Ignore it at your own risk. If you want to be a more effective leader you must enhance, increase your emotional intelligence.”
To Kami’s question of whether communications professionals believe they are already high in EQ, he responds that, “when you think you're good at it, that might mean you need to do a little work on emotional intelligence, because if your reaction is ‘oh, I'm curious what, what might mine be, how do I use it in leadership, da da d da’ shows me you're already a little more emotional intelligence. And If it's, ‘well I'm already good at that,’ that might say it's time for you to take the assessment and see how you really score.”
Ken recommends reading the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0, which provides a step-by-step approach to increasing EQ skills, including an assessment readers can take and the resulting recommendations they can implement.
On Energy as a Reciprocal Force
Kami says she’s personally experienced the contagious nature of people’s energy and the power individuals have in influencing others.
But she expresses concerns about people perhaps reflecting an artificially positive facade when circumstances dictate otherwise. “One of the things I've seen recently is this relentless focus on positivity, maybe almost at the ignorance of anything being wrong…ignoring bad things, putting out positive messages, spin, spin, spin.”
In response, Ken maintains that, “we create our own realities, so we can look at something, interpret it a certain way, and if that interpretation doesn't benefit us or the organization or people, you look at it another way.”
He recommends people “get away from the black and white of positive and negative.” Instead, he wants people to “do an inventory of what works for their leadership style or the organization….because when we do that list we realize maybe things aren't so bad. Then we look at not what's negative, but what do we want to be improved, what do we want that to look like. When your brain gets away from ‘it's negative, it's bad,’ because the brain says, ‘okay. I'm done here, let's shut it down, well that's not going to lead to change or improvement. But if we say what are the outcomes we want, what does that look like, our brain engages and our brain goes into constructive mode and starts to think about ‘here's what we could do better and different’.”
Ken suggests people look at 2024 as a year of opportunity. “What's the opportunity you bring as a leader that will be contagious as well? So it’s energy, it’s mindset, it's everything. The question is, do you want to take that first step and bring energy and and doable optimism to the equation?”
Kami notes the connection between positivity and transparency, commenting that, “in order to be positive you also have to be transparent too, because you can't pretend that things aren't happening.”
Referring to his own time as a business leader, Ken says, “when I was a leader, I was afraid that if I shared the bad news it would create fear among my people and so I held back. But there's all this research now… that when leaders are transparent about their decisions, about a situation, etc. etc., it creates a sense of psychological safety” for the people working under them.
On Emphasizing Superior Performance Rather than Perfection
When it comes to performance, leaders sometimes make the mistake of expecting their employees to produce error-free work. But this emphasis on perfection often backfires.
“I think part of it is accepting perfectionism doesn't work. It might come as a leader from a good place, we think we're enhancing performance [but] it's quite the opposite. Because if you think about it, perfect is impossible. And so when we encourage, or demand, or suggest, or any of the above perfectionism, we are encouraging and demanding the Impossible,” Ken says.
Instead, focus on what you want your team to do. “The more we reinforce what they do well, you’re going to get more of that behavior and performance.” Follow up on that with a constructive approach of correcting behavior by “next time, here's what superior performance looks like, next time. When you make it about the future, people don't have to be defensive and then they're open.”
On Empathy and Modeling Healthy Behavior
Empathy really comes to bear in the one-on-one. That's where you have to try to understand what the person is thinking and feeling,” says Ken.
“When I think of organizations supporting mental health, to me it's, are you giving people time off, are you respecting when they don't check email?” Additionally, “if you can afford to, give them benefits related to physical health, are you encouraging whatever they need, you know, mindfulness, meditation, yoga, walks outside?”
But modeling the right behavior is equally important, which is why Ken argues that self-care starts at the top. “If the leader says do this, do that… they said, ‘oh, I had a 13-hour day
yesterday,’ ‘oh, I'm so stressed,’ ‘oh, I only got five hours of sleep last night’ like it's a badge of courage…. so if you're saying do these things but you're not doing them, why would they follow suit?”
On Listening More Rather than Dictating
He also recommends tapping into the power of listening. “To be an effective leader you give up on the ego a little bit. It feels great to tell people what to do, fantastic, [but] not as effective…”
To get leaders out of their traditional tell-others-what-to-do zone, he suggests they “keep your mindset of what's going to get me the solution fastest, the most effective solution, the best creative, etc. etc. And when you realize that, you will get your team coming up with effective solutions more quickly.”
Lead with Courage
Courage isn’t the absence of fear, Ken argues, but rather the decision to take action and move forward despite fear. In reference to great world leaders, he says that, “It's not that they weren't afraid, they had fear and walked through it because they felt, I think. this obligation, this sense of purpose.”
Additionally, he reminds others that “To walk through your fear and live your courage gives courage to your followers even if you're just at an agency and your followers are account supervisors or account AES. I think it takes courage to be in PR, I think it takes courage to be in an agency to speak your truth to clients.”
“So courage, courage, courage, it will always serve you so well. And if you have fear, lack of confidence, any of the above, do some work around it.”
On Accepting Uncertainty
Feeling uncertain is associated with fear, Kami points out, noting that people “lead with what they’re fearful of and what they don’t understand.”
“If you expect the unexpected” you’ll have a much easier time dealing with difficult situations and be able to respond with “‘Wasn't expecting that, what can I learn from this, what's the opportunity here?’ You put your brain into creative mode, into a positive mode, say ‘I'm the leader, what do I want to do about this?’”
To hear more insights from Ken and Kami, watch the full livestream.