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Business Observer Friday, Oct. 12, 2018 10 months ago

Humble teacher: Exec leads by listening

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Sorry, Elon Musk, the era of the bad-boy boss is fading. Here’s why emotional intelligence gets results.
by: Brian Hartz Tampa Bay Editor

For all his genius, Steve Jobs, by many accounts, could be a Grade A jerk. The years following his death have brought out into the open many stories about the visionary Apple co-founder’s lack of sensitivity, even outright callousness, toward employees, colleagues, rivals and other people in his orbit.

“You need to be able to utilize your knowledge in ways that people understand and accept.” Shelley Broader, president and CEO, Chico’s FAS Inc.

Suffice to say, emotional intelligence was not Jobs’ strong suit. But did that make him a less effective leader? Based on results alone, one could easily make the argument Jobs excelled as a leader.

Shelley Broader, president and CEO of Fort Myers-based retailer Chico’s FAS Inc., might disagree.

“The marriage between emotional intelligence and intellectual capability is what great leaders are made of,” she says. “It’s not just what you do, it’s how you do it. You might get a good result at the end of the day, but if there are dead bodies along the side of the road in order to get that result, you’re not going to be a good cultural fit.”

Broader is not alone in her emphasis on emotional intelligence as a key quality for modern business leaders who want to cultivate a positive, inclusive work environment and empower employees. EI, sometimes referred to as “EQ,” a play on “IQ,” has been touted as an aspirational trait for executives since at least 1998, when a Rutgers psychologist identified five key EI components. That list includes:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation 
  • Motivation 
  • Empathy
  • Social skills

Broader, 54, spoke in depth about emotional intelligence at a recent Women Executive Leadership luncheon in St. Petersburg. Edited excerpts from an interview with Broader after the event follow.

On the level: “For so many years, there’s been so much focus on IQ, on people’s intelligence, but I think we’ve all come to realize you can be incredibly intelligent but sometimes that isn’t leveraged as well it should be, or others can’t tap into your knowledge," she says. "You need to be able to utilize your knowledge in ways people understand and accept.”

Broader says EQ could easily stand for “empathy quotient.” She adds, “It’s about meeting people where they are, and communicating your strategic messages to them in ways they understand. And that can mean tapping into how your customers are feeling.”

For Broader, EI means “knowing how to change your communication style based on who you're speaking to, in order to get the kind of results they'll understand and that will drive the best performance.”

Authentic approach: “Most one-on-one conversations I have with our associates involve listening to their ideas and their career aspirations. I try to apply the principle of being a ‘humble teacher, proud learner,’ which means you teach someone the things you know with humility — you can’t preach from on high," Broader says. "I tell people about times in my career when I was so proud to learn from someone else, to take and use their knowledge, instead of coming across as someone who always has all of the answers.”

She adds, “With EQ, there are times when you say, ‘I know you’re confused or don’t know the answer, and that’s OK; you can seek out experts.’ Having that kind of empathy, being a strong listener and seeking input allows us to lead from a different place (and) allows our associates to have a lot of faith and trust in leadership.”

Problem solver: “It comes down to transparency,” Broader says. “When you are in a turnaround situation like Chico’s was in, an IQ approach would be, ‘Here’s the business situation and here’s the desired outcome that our shareholders are looking for, here are the actions and here’s how we are going to implement those actions.’ Whereas with EQ, you’d ask, ‘What do you think is the right way to go?’”

Such an approach helps people understand and execute “hard changes that are necessary for the company,” Broader explains, “because they weren’t told to do it — they were asked to think about how to do it. And so they are more accepting of those changes.”

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