4 min read

How Can High Intensity Leaders Adapt to "Gentle" Leadership Trends in 2016

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A recent survey of research  revealed several compelling forces driving today's leadership in businesses today and the impact these are having on leadership development. 

Highlights of the trends impacting leadership styles: 

  • 4 generations in the work place with the majority becoming millennials, and all with different values
  • Globalization and cultural differences
  • Hyper-connected environments
  • Jobs that will still be 'safe' involve higher-order cognitive and emotional skills that technology can't replicate, like critical thinking, innovation, creativity, and emotionally engaging with other humans

Linking Trends to Changing Leadership Priorities:

  • Collaboration vs. command and control
  • Emotional intelligence and cognitive intelligence
  • Seeking ideas from others vs. reliance on self
  • Humility vs. inflated ego

Are you a high-intensity leader?

Leadership can demand anyone operate at a high-intensity at times, such as when there are urgent issues that surface and are time sensitive.  That isn’t the kind of high-intensity these trends are as pertinent to.  Where these trends do matter, however, are with leaders who are being asked to be collaborative, humble, and emotionally aware when they are hard-wired to operate with high-intensity.  This paradox can pose some challenges for leaders with this style. 

I have worked with many high-intensity leaders who are well intended and acting for the good of the organization and their team, yet were completely blindsided by how others perceived them as autocratic, self-serving and diminishers of others.  The most successful high-intensity leaders I know are highly self-aware about their intensity and their impact on others and have developed ways to regulate it. 

What is high-intensity?

High-intensity is typically described as: 

A great energy, strength, concentration, vehemence, etc., as of activity, thought, or feeling:  a high or extreme degree, a high degree of emotional excitement; depth of feeling. 

High-intensity then simply means a lot of those qualities.  Inherently, intensity is not good or bad.  This is key to examining this topic as it relates to leadership because frankly, some of the qualities of intensity are what make an effective leader. 

Steve Jobs is frequently held up as a great example of the pros and cons of high-intensity leadership.  Ultimately, Apple forced Jobs out of leading and brought in John Sculley (Apple CEO, 1983 – 1993), a very successful leader from PepsiCo.  Scully says in this 2015 Forbes interview, “I wish I had learned it earlier, but when you are young, you either think you can do everything better yourself, or you think you can’t admit that someone else might actually be better than you at a number of things a company has to do to be successful. It turns out that very few, if any of us, are equally good at everything you have to do to be a successful leader.”  Another confirmation of the importance for leaders to collaborate well with others. 

Understanding Intensity

One of the main reasons I use the Enneagram personality system as part of coaching and team development is to help people gain insight into their operating system.  Every personality type described in the Enneagram can demonstrate high intensity behaviors.  They just express it differently based on how their type is motivated.  There are a few personality types, I frequently find in leadership roles, whose high-intensity is part of what makes them really great leaders and can be both their strength and their weakness.  Their expression of high-intensity, such as extreme persistence toward results, perfectionistic approach to quality standards, and assertively providing re-direction can be counter intuitive to the collaborative, humble and emotional attuned leadership style expected of them.  The Enneagram is very useful in helping people understand their natural leanings and find ways to be the best, most adaptive version of you. 

Steps to Working with Intensity

If your leadership style is naturally intense, and your role requires a little gentler touch, here are some tips some of my clients have found helpful:

  1. Get Clear: Solicit feedback. Figure out what impact your intensity has on others.  Uncover the positive and detrimental aspects of your intensity.  Try this free survey by the authors of the book Multipliers to find out if you are an “accidental diminisher”of others.
  2. Get Real: Be open to new ideas about yourself image:  Evaluate the feedback you gather and get real about what it means.  If you don’t believe there are benefits to flexing your style, you won’t do it.  Many of the beliefs underpinning high intensity behaviors justify why we act in high-intensity ways.  An Enneagram 8 leader who feels vulnerable if they are challenged by someone who is putting up barriers to their goal will act assertively to remove the block.  Key to change is accepting yourself, for all your strengths and limitations and then deciding what is worth working on changing. 
  3. Learn: Learn about your operating system – the brain, your personality, how habits are formed, how emotions play a role in intensity and reactivity.  Few of us know a lot about how brains work, yet our habits of behavior are controlled by the brain.  Take advantage of the plethora of articles being published all the time with main stream applications about neuroscience in leadership.  Look into the Enneagram as a system to better understand your core drivers that lead to intense behaviors. 
  4. Get Guidance: A mentor, a coach, and some training classes are all ways you can leverage getting objective input, expert advice, a sounding board and support for making adaptations to your style.
  5. Practice: Make a plan to guide your changes and develop practices for creating ways to regulate your intensity.  I recommend two books to help you.  Triggers, by Marshall Goldsmith will help you learn more about the underpinnings of handling triggers and ways to focus on a daily reflection strategy to support regulating ourselves.  The book Multipliers, by Liz Wiseman describes research on intelligence and how “Multipliers” can have a resoundingly positive and profitable effect on organizations.  There are a lot of practical activities in both books to try. 

In summary, the collaborative, gentler model of leadership trending today holds the promise of getting more done with fewer resources, developing and attracting talent, and cultivating new ideas and energy to drive organizational change and innovation.  Those are some great benefits leaders with any style can appreciate.

In what ways have you adapted more gentle leadership instead of high-intensity? Tell us below!

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