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How great leaders balance execution and empathy

5 min read


They’re caring. They also get $tuff done.

It’s often the great debate of what defines an exceptional executive, the discussion of EQ (emotional intelligence) versus IQ (intellectual intelligence).

Go Google it and you’ll find plenty of mixed reviews and articles that point in different directions and various forms of measurement of both EQ and IQ. With all of the compelling arguments around both, the common sense answer is balance. Of course, this is the easiest answer, perhaps a cop-out, but the reality is that the most effective executives have a holistic leadership DNA. They combine the cognitive ability (which drives things like revenue) with the caring nature that resonates genuinely with the employees of the company.

The concept of IQ relates directly to business results, practices and execution. Smart capable leaders get down to efficiencies and the numbers of the organizations. It’s how things get done and the financial gains of the organization are directly produced.

Capable in their own realm, are the EQ-centric, the leaders who create a genuine following of people. There are engaged with, and instinctively think first about, the people that make-up the company. They often see numeric gains as a direct result of the value of the cultural well-being.

Not every leader may inherently have an equal balance of both forms of intelligence, but a conscious effort to avoid being too heavily weighted to one side will result in a more well-rounded impact on the company and add depth to the cultural diversity of the business. Executives who are self-aware in this respect have a few commonalities in how they lead with a balanced approach.

They set goals and deadlines, but also embrace creative work styles

Effective leaders understand the importance of creating a strategic vision and purpose that resonates and can be executed by the organization, but also know that strategy is only a lofty idea if it is not measured effectively. Establishing performance metrics and measurable outcomes is not just a management exercise to follow productivity, as employees crave clear direction and tangible objectives. Metrics and measurable outcomes are tools for self-motivation and, more importantly, provides real purpose.

The balance is when hard deadlines and concrete goals are met with the autonomy in how they are met. If employees can achieve performance objectives in a work style that suites them, the result is a sense of control and pride in their work. This is where the IQ and EQ approaches come together. Hard metrics met and employee fulfillment is high.

They promote a wave of new ideas and explore corporate mindsets

Smart leaders know that great ideas and corporate innovation come from a diverse pool of sources. They know to look for ideas that come from outside the organization and apply a broad, long-term view to the business. Whether it’s undergoing a transformational change to evolve, or to revisit current strategy, great leaders know how to get the most from their current employees and attract top talent in areas that lack. To fill the corporate “creative bucket,” it’s necessary to keep evaluating both internally and externally to ensure a collection of varying views and suggestions exist. Real cultural diversity must be present in the organization and, furthermore, people must be encouraged to speak up and contribute.

Exceptional leaders, whether classed as IQ- or EQ-centric, will see eye to eye here. The cognitive measure of ideas (business results) cannot exist without an engaged, culturally rich environment that is comfortable enough to share with senior leadership. Again, this balance is where the business outcome of innovation exists when the cultural dynamic feels appreciated and accepted.

They delegate to the interested and ambitious

The importance of delegating the right work to the right people is critical both for efficient productivity, but also employee development. Leaders with proportioned balance know how to feed hungry future leaders. Both EQ and IQ leadership tendencies can appreciate the desire of future leaders to take on more challenging assignments. The balance is met is when new projects are delegated to those who are seeking the work, but also capable and being set up to succeed.

It is counterproductive to be stagnant, and it is careless to proceed without proper training and resources for employees to tackle larger challenges. With the stage set to delegate, balanced leaders take an interest in the data and measurement of projects in addition to the engagement and participation of employees.

If you’re intellectually ahead, then you’re smart enough to take note and apply these practices. If you’re an empathetic leader, you care enough about everyone’s well-being and are already evaluating how these habits will benefit everyone. Either way, finding the balance will result in a well-rounded organization.

Adam R. Lloyd serves as president and managing partner of Webber Kerr Associates. As an executive talent strategist and consultant, he supports the leadership challenges and objectives of multi-nationals, private equity held and family-owned companies. Lloyd’s experience in CEO and executive appointments spans multiple industry sectors in the Americas and EMEA markets. Prior to founding Webber Kerr, he began his career in financial services and co-founded a midsize human capital services company. He received his a BS, human resources, from Michigan State University. Contact Lloyd on Linkedin, and Webber Kerr on Linkedin and Twitter.

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