This month’s featured leader in the Taking Leadership to Heart series is Eric Adams, Senior Manager -Business Operations for Verizon Wireless. As we look at his leadership style, you will see there are some commonalities with the others leaders who employ emotional intelligence – the first of which is transparency. When I asked Eric about emotional intelligence, this was his response.
I haven’t always had emotional intelligence. For example, when I moved to the south, I discovered people talk more slowly here. I was impatient and anxious for them to get to the point. I would interrupt and look at my phone with impatience. Then I took an emotional intelligence class and had an aha moment. I quickly realized that was not the way to do business here and that I needed to listen with an open mind. You must also assume the other person is not going to change which means you must adapt. I also cue into others’ nonverbals and tone. Body language tells you a lot. It helps you recognize others emotions.
Adaptability is a key emotional intelligence skill and without it we become irrelevant (think ‘Who Moved My Cheese’) or at the very least we appear obstinate. Adapting your style to the environment means using your social awareness to recognize you aren’t connecting the dots, using your self–awareness to see how you are missing the target, and using your self–management to make the necessary adjustments. Instead of letting your ego or pride rule your actions, you make full use of your brain.
Listening without judgment is part of empathetic listening – also a critical emotional intelligence skill. So often we are driven to jump to judgment so we can apply a quick solution. Unfortunately, that solution may solve the wrong issue, or worse yet, create a new issue. To really be present and listen without judging requires self–awareness and self–management. We must recognize that we are making a judgment before we can suspend it. And we have to wrestle with the emotions that support our need to be right over our desire to listen with an open mind.
Eric initiated a Behavior-Based Document which outlines how he expects his team to behave. For example, think before you respond is a requirement for communication style, as is walking away instead of engaging in destructive conversation. This is classic impulse management and so valuable. Taking even a moment to pause and think before reacting to a trigger enables you to get a grip on the emotion that is tempting you to react. In that moment, you can coax your logical brain to re-engage and overrule your emotional brain which is trying to take over. And walking away is a great strategy because it gives your emotional brain time to settle down and allows the logical brain to come back online.
Neuroscience has proven time and time again that emotions drive behavior which drives performance. Plus, it’s well documented that an employee who feels valued is more engaged and productive than one who is not. Eric capitalizes on these facts by making recognition a cornerstone of his leadership. He implemented a program where he sends an email to all his customers with an organizational chart and asks them for input on his team. He then uses that feedback as the basis for rewarding team members who are performing well. The especially cool part of this program is that the team member who wins gets to see exactly what customers say about them – and all their colleagues see it as well. Not only does it create a sense of pride for the winner, but a sense of appreciation from customers and colleagues as well.
Effectively managing relationship landmines is a skill most of us aspire to have, but few people do. Eric is one of those few. Last year Eric was promoted to a leadership position in IT over one of his peers who was up for the role. More interesting is the fact that Eric did not have a background in IT and his peer did. This was a delicate situation, one ripe with the possibility for animosity. Eric’s approach was to address it head on and be transparent. He acknowledged his peer may have some reticence or even resentment to working for Eric and assured him he understood that. He also impressed upon his peer (now direct report) that he was there to support him, learn from him, and help him succeed. Eric worked to help restore that team member’s confidence and he was eventually elevated back to a lead role at a similar level.
Turnover is typically an easy way to measure employee engagement, a standard success metric for many organizations. Eric has had zero turnover on his team from people leaving because of his leadership. However, Verizon did have a reduction in force and reorganization which resulted in losing 30% of his staff due to layoffs and promotions. The motto was ‘do more with less’. Eric knew it was critically important to keep a close eye on his team members to see how they were feeling. His efforts to continually check in with them and show genuine concern about their well-being resulted in the team rallying and keeping production relatively the same. That’s no small task!
Here is an example of how Eric builds loyalty and keeps turnover down. A team member worked until 9 pm a few nights putting out fires. When he learned this, he told her to go home, work from home the next day for a couple of hours and take the afternoon off so she could enjoy a long weekend. With that gesture, Eric made it very clear to her that he cared about her as a person, not just as an employee.
Eric doesn’t just check in with his team when there are challenges; he believes that day to day conversations like ‘how was your weekend’ are the key to building a good team. Maintaining high visibility and high accessibility are two more cornerstones of his leadership. His door is always open and he is constantly texting, calling or IMing his people to see how they are. He serves as a sounding board. It’s not about micromanaging either. Eric trusts his team to do the job. He believes in empowering them and is hands off until he needs to be hands on. In return, they trust him completely.
His direct reports will tell you that Eric is big on personal development for his team. He brings in guest speakers on topics like emotional intelligence and personality styles and he encourages continuing education for self-improvement. They also feel like he supports them. One person shared this example.
Not long after I started reporting to Eric, I was called out by the Region Vice President (Eric’s boss) for an issue in a store. The RVP was so angry that he questioned whether it was the right move to put me in the role. The conversation was completely demoralizing. I went to Eric and asked him to reassure the RVP I was competent. Eric was calm and collected as he listened to my story and said, “I did my research on this team before I took this job; no doubt you are competent. I will call him and share responsibility for this.” I knew in that moment that he had my back.
For fifteen years, Eric has been making a difference at Verizon Wireless. Starting in a store and working his way up the ladder has given him great empathy for what it takes to be successful in the various roles. Undoubtedly it has paid off for him as he continues to be promoted year after year. His emotionally intelligent leadership is serving both him and the organization well.
Do you know a leader who uses emotional intelligence? Drop me an email at Dawn@DayBreakEQ.com and we will get them featured in this series.