Chief Executives survive 2010

For all business leaders, 2010 has been a year as hard as any. I have never known or known of so many Chief Executives under greater pressure than this year. Our most empathetic and strong leader must surely be Peter Whittall, whose public pain and love for his men we have observed every evening. Yet there are thousands of CEOs who have borne a spiritually draining load in this, our third year of recession.

I have worked this year with leaders who have been depressed, exhausted and practically burned out. Chiefs who can see no end to the harshness of business in a recession, and to the harsh decision-making which is their lot. Men who have stayed Kiwi-tough when a cry for help and consolation would have been more constructive and therapeutic.

And others who have failed to hide their darker side when the going got unbearable. So I have unfortunately seen more examples of CEO bullying, lying, paranoia and abuse of proper governance than in more prosperous days.

I turned to much wiser minds to help me understand this, and (among others) re-read Daniel Goleman, whose great insight gave us the Emotional Intelligence (EI) concept.

Goleman found that while the qualities traditionally associated with leadership – such as intelligence, toughness, determination and vision – are required for success, they are insufficient. Truly effective leaders are also distinguished by a high degree of emotional intelligence, which includes self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill. In the 2010 context: –

  • Self-aware – to know yourself (your moods, emotions and drives), to remove your ego as a hindrance, be candid and realistic when you are in difficulty, and be brave enough to take remedial action. You often show a disarming and self-deprecating modesty. 
  • Self-regulating – to be cucumber-cool, calm and considered in judgment, open to change, honest and trustworthy.
  • Motivated – to maintain a deep desire to achieve, despite obstacles, to remain optimistic and front up responsibly, to be committed to the organization. 
  • Empathetic – to know intuitively how your people are feeling, to listen, to be sensitive cross-culturally, and to share honestly in your people’s anxieties.
  • Socially skilled – the top of the EI tree, social skill builds trusting relationships in the work community, so that persuasion can succeed, teams can be built, and challenges can be met together.

New Zealand is often blessed with leaders who demonstrate exceptional Emotional Intelligence. Two current examples among many are John Key, whose EI holds his poll ratings sky-high, and John Waller, named last month as Chartered Accountant of the Year, who has shown in a glittering business leadership career a high degree of maturity and EI.

Congratulations to you all for surviving 2010.

I wish you Peace on Earth and a Prosperous New Year.