In late spring, I had the honor and privilege of giving the opening keynote talk at the UW-Whitewater Local Government Leadership Workshop. The title of my presentation was “Boosting Emotional Intelligence-A Key to Improved Municipal Working Relationships” and I presented ten strategies for working on one’s emotional intelligence in order to be a more effective local government leader.

The ten strategies I presented to the group of about 50 local government administrators from southern Wisconsin were the following:

  1. Pay Attention to Your Own Emotions First
  2. Shut Up and Listen
  3. Try to learn Something from Everyone You Encounter
  4. Maintain an Open Door (and Mind) Policy
  5. Model the Behavior You Want to See in Others
  6. Take Feedback Well and Often!
  7. Get Angry Only on Purpose
  8. Mention/Complement Others’ Emotions
  9. Remember the Little Things that Have a Big Impact
  10. Face Difficult Conversations Head On

In future blogs, I will focus on strategies 3 through 10 but in this one I will just briefly expound on numbers 1 and 2.

Pay Attention to Your Own Emotions First

To be a good leader, we must periodically examine our feelings and then decide if you are going to buy into them or let them carry you away. This concept of mindfulness makes us less reactive, more reflective and less susceptible to being buffeted by unexamined emotions. Robert Wright in an influential article in WIRED Magazine (10/8/2017) entitled “How Mindfulness Meditation Can Save America”, called this mindfulness as something we desperately need in our society and workplaces and “will make us less inclined to embrace and hand on to that “enemy” vide when it surfaces”.

Shut Up and Listen  

I don’t know about you but I typically don’t say first what I am actually thinking. I think that is true for most people. Listening to what people are saying takes courage and patience (I know that I try to sometimes dictate the conversation and consequently don’t listen very well nor ask the questions of the others that I should). Allison Wood Brooks and Leslie John in the May-June, 2018 Harvard Business Review wrote an article called “The Surprising Power of Questions”. Brooks and John have found in their research at the Harvard Business School that “we don’t ask enough questions-most people don’t realize that asking a lot of questions unlocks learning and improves interpersonal bonding”. The authors advocate a new Socratic method: 1) Simply ask more questions; 2)Favor follow-up questions; 3) Know when to keep questions open-ended”; 4) Get the sequence right; 5) Use the right tone, and 6) Pay attention to group dynamics.  Brooks and John conclude with “good news is that by asking questions, we naturally improve our emotional intelligence”.

Kevin Brunner, PAA Managing Partner