Anyone who watches The Apprentice will have had a crash course in how not to be a good leader. Unless, of course, you favour leaders who are arrogant, back-stabbing and unable to deal either with the rigors of any given task or managing their team – though admittedly, the programme’s candidates are such fierce individualists that herding cats would be infinitely simpler.

While the potential Alan Sugar hopefuls are eager to spout their superior strengths and leadership abilities, they appear to have little insight into how they truly come across or where their weaknesses lie.
This lack of self-awareness means they are failing the most fundamental rule of good leadership. “The most significant aspect of being an effective leader is having a good understanding of yourself,” says Stewart Beaumont, who runs his own leadership consultancy for the public and private sectors. “You need to know how to be at your best the whole time.”

Emotional reaction

Although your IQ may have helped you rise through the management ranks, it is your emotional intelligence – your EQ – that is going to make you an outstanding leader. Being an expert in your field is no longer enough – it is not the depth but the breadth of your experience that will give you the tools to perform at the best of your ability and encourage your team to follow suit. After all, if you negotiate and enter an outsourcing deal with an EDS or IBM, it is your ability to manage that relationship that will ensure success, not your technical prowess. “I often think, whatever profession you are in, when you first go into it you’re buried in the technical part of things and when you become a manager you emerge from that tunnel and become a human being again,” says Jonathan Perks, managing director of leadership and coaching at human capital management company Penna.

"When you have coaching you feel re-energised. I don’t think coaching can totally change your personality, it’s about recognising how you work"

Steve Riley, CIO, The Pension Service

There are various techniques to help you improve your EQ and better understand the way you work and react to situations.

One of them is Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), which Perks describes as, “the way we’re wired to respond”. The neuro refers to the way we use our minds, linguistic to the language we use to make sense of our experiences and programming to the patterns we create to make sense or code our experiences.

Identifying weakness

It is a way of spotting repetitive behaviours that limit you and stop you performing at work or in your personal life, then “rewiring” the way you react to be more positive.

“You might find in an IT environment that language is often quite negative: ‘beware’ ‘risk’ ‘danger’ – and that’s hardly motivating,” says Perks. Changing the language used can help change the attitudes of the team. Perks warns against swinging too far into banal positives too.

“Clearly you don’t want to go to the Tony Blair school of spin extreme,” he says.

People can sniff out a fake at 50 paces, so it is vital that you believe what you say and have integrity. So rather than talk about the department in negative terms, if you can tell stories about successes in the department, then people will start to believe you and be motivated. NLP is about modelling success, says Perks.

“Just changing a few simple things in the way you behave is so much more important than reams of rhetoric,” he says.

Effective leadership

Going on an NLP course or using one of the many other techniques for improving self-knowledge and leadership, such as the Leadership Judgement Indicator from Hoegrefe or Occupational Personality Questionnaire (OPQ) from SHL is an important step to making you a better leader.

If this training is drip-fed through coaching and mentoring, the results can be very effective as Steve Riley, CIO at The Pension Service, has found. Coaching in EQ helped him and his team through a period of significant change.

He recognised that keeping the team motivated and on track would be vital to the success of his project. “We were on a five-year journey of change and we needed to know how to achieve that sustainability and keep the team motivated,” says Riley. There were going to be job losses and closures of call centres – all things that have a high emotional quotient. The training was designed to help get the best performance out of teams in those difficult circumstances.

“For me it was about improving performance. How we were going to give a good performance as a team,” says Riley.

A personal focus

All too often, when companies are going through change, they focus on staff skills sets and not personalities.

“If a person has to manage a group of people and turn them into a high performance team, they will think about the skills and experience of the team but not the behavioural side,” says Tony Dunk, principal at change management company, CDA.

But The Pension Service took a different tack and the training from Penna concentrated on looking at the motivation and behaviour of Riley and his IT team.

“I’m a CIO and for me, it’s always about solving problems on a daily basis. This gave me a chance to sit back and think about how to get more out of me and the team,” says Riley. Coaching was both on an individual basis for managers and in teams. “Individual sessions give you time to reflect on your own goals and that’s time you don’t get in the office,” he says.

Getting people to open up in teams is a different challenge. Talking in groups with a coach is less combative and more supportive than conversations during work. It gives everyone a chance to see how other people work and what makes them tick.

“It’s hard and that’s where you get the benefit of coaching – they take away the difficulty of doing that face-to-face,” says Riley.

Fit for purpose

For Riley, being a fitter leader meant actually becoming more physically fit too.
“It was a long time since I’d done any exercise and it struck me that if you didn’t have the energy to do the work then that would affect your performance,” he says. Riley took up running, taking part in the Great North Run and raising money for charity in the process

The coaching has given Riley a firm foundation for the challenges ahead and the emotional energy and motivation to cope.

It has also helped him learn to be able to switch off about work in the evenings. “When you have coaching you feel re-energised. I don’t think coaching can totally change your personality, it’s about recognising how you work,” says Riley.

Team effort

From a team perspective, there is more of an atmosphere of trust and that means people perform better.
“One thing working well in IT departments is the coaching of leadership as an approach to engage and motivate people,” says Perks.

“They are all bright and capable people, and just asking them to do something no longer works for the X and Y generation, they’ll end up moving on to other jobs quickly.”

Coaching, gives them the self-belief to solve their own problems. But you will only instil that self-belief in your staff, if you have tackled your own behaviour first. The Apprentice candidates, clearly have a long way to go.