Marcia Reynolds

Recently, we checked in with Dr. Marcia Reynolds, president of Covisioning and author of The Discomfort Zone: How Leaders Turn Difficult Conversations into Breakthroughs to learn more about her leadership philosophy. “Leaders are responsible for creating an environment where the employees are not only happy, but are loyal and want to commit their time and energy to doing their best work,” she says.

In order to accomplish this, leaders need to develop people first. When leaders listen, understand and see the unique gifts and dreams of each of their team members, they are able to ask questions and challenge people to aspire to their highest potential. This is the true purpose of leadership. “In turn, when people see themselves and the world more broadly and full of potential, they deliver the results needed and often beyond expectation,” Marcia says. Read on for more of Marcia’s perspective on leadership and the importance of emotional intelligence.

What’s your professional background? How did you become so passionate about leadership?

As for many people, my focus on leadership is an accidental yet perfect career. After earning my first masters degree in broadcasting, I was hired to move television sets and slide projectors around a psychiatric hospital. Then my boss decided to get her doctoral degree. She dumped the entire training responsibility in my lap, starting with the management program for the entire hospital corporation.

After teaching my first class, I was hooked. I went back to school to earn a degree in educational psychology where my passion for understanding how humans learn was triggered. As the research in the neurosciences uncovered more and more about what it takes to be motivated to change and then what it takes to sustain that change, I realized that most of the management training programs I had been teaching were inadequate in equipping managers to become effective leaders. It has been my purpose and mission ever since: to help leaders understand what inspires people to commit to change and to give their best efforts. I have loved this journey.

What leaders inspire you? What can we learn from them?

I am not impressed by many of the “celebrity” leaders, but I have worked with some amazing leaders around the world. The one that most often comes to mind is the CEO of Miele in the Russian Federation and nearby countries. Miele is a German-based manufacturer of high-end domestic appliances. I was hired to teach a class in Emotional Engagement for him and his executive staff in Moscow. He then attended my classes in Coaching Skills that I offer through a coaching school in Moscow.

This CEO is committed to creating a company culture of caring for each other, full of conversations based on mutual respect no matter your position. He has fired leaders who don’t believe in this new style of leadership. He is a warm, caring leader, full of good humor, modeling what he wants all leaders to be. Even with the economic difficulties in Russia right now, his team is beating expectations. Their parent company is so impressed by his work, they said they will keep his division alive no matter what happens.

This leader walks his talk. He has not let power blind his eyes and close his heart. He knows that success depends on the attitude of the employees, not just their skills; and he knows how to keep it positive, productive and hopeful even in difficult times. I hope his life inspires others to lead well.

How did you come to believe that the most effective leaders are the ones who can help people think more broadly for themselves?

I have always believed that humans want to be heard, understood and valued. I also believe that most people desire to get better, to not just achieve but perceive their best efforts, enjoying what it feels like to do even better work than they thought they could. To give people what they most want from their work, leaders must believe in their employees, see people’s potential beyond what they can see for themselves, and share what they know about the broader perspective of both work and the world so employees can see this for themselves. When leaders expand the minds of others, they expand possibilities for greater results.

How can leaders encourage broader thinking among the people they work with?

First, leaders should stop solving everyone’s problems and instead ask important questions so employees can solve problems for themselves. For example, when a problem arises, instead of saying, “Try this” or “What have you tried?” ask questions such as, “Who will be affected by the results? What have you considered but are afraid won’t work? What do you think is possible if we come at this problem from an entirely new perspective?”

Second, leaders should encourage people to practice taking a strategic perspective daily. They can monitor trends that are forming by:

  • Listening to what the executives are talking about
  • Reading the industry newsletters
  • Tapping into bloggers who write about their industry
  • Holding brainstorming meetings to discover what colleagues are seeing as trends and possibilities for the future.

Leaders can then have conversations about patterns that are popping up that indicate changes are coming. It’s a great way to continually broaden people’s minds.

What are some bad habits you help the leaders you coach break?

There are three habits I love seeing moved into the background.

  1. Being the expert problem solver.
  2. Waiting for people to come to them if they have a problem or idea.
  3. Claiming they don’t have time to coach people or have one-on-one conversations unless there is a problem to solve.

What good habits would you like to see them develop?

To counter the habits named above, I would like to see leaders:

  1. Trust that others can solve problems and would love the opportunity if their leaders showed them confidence and support. Then the leaders should ask the questions their employees need to think about for themselves to find the solutions.
  2. Go to their employees regularly to ask them what challenges they are facing and what good ideas they have been pondering.
  3. Practice listening to people beyond their words. Leaders need to use curiosity, respect and courage to hear and share what they sense people are fearing, what they are disappointed about, and what they desire but don’t have the words to articulate on their own. These make for rich conversations that inspire employees and create committed, results-focused employees.

Why does it help for leaders to outsmart their brains to be more effective?

When leaders understand how their brains work, they can become masters of their emotional reactions instead of victims. This puts them in charge of themselves and in charge of the impact they have on others. Also, with this knowledge, they can see when they are rationalizing their behavior instead of making up “good reasons” for what they do. When they observe their brain at work, they can shift both their thoughts and emotions. This gives them the ability to be more effective in making decisions and motivating others to better perform.

Why is emotional intelligence such an important aspect of effective leadership?

Every aspect of a leader’s presence has social meaning, including the leader’s emotions, intentions and regard for the people in the room. Emotional intelligence gives leaders the skills to both monitor and regulate their internal state and to choose the impact they have on others in the room by sensing what they need in the moment.

I often ask the leaders I coach, “What happens when you enter a room? What happens when you leave it?” Leaders inspire or deflate others by their presence. But presence is a dynamic state. Leaders have to use their emotional intelligence every moment to create safe, vital environments and activate passion, creativity and hope. I believe emotional intelligence is a foundational skill for all leaders.

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