Bond With Feeling

This post was originally published on LinkedIn on November 2, 2015.

Our work is all about people. This is a place where qualities like creativity, insight, curiosity, empathy and intuition are valued just as highly as intellectual ability and analytical, logical thinking.”

Reads just like a message from those well-intentioned but slightly irritating engagement champions downstairs in HR, doesn’t it? Fact is, it’s the text of a new recruiting ad for Britain’s MI6 Secret Intelligence Services.

It’s no wonder that today’s real spies have to be intuitive and insightful. Nowadays we expect even the toughest guys to master these skills, all thanks to Daniel Craig’s superb portrayal of a mature James Bond as a hero with the necessary psychological strength to show vulnerability. In Spectre, Skyfall or The Quantum of Solace he may be battered, but is never bitter.

So, fact has finally caught up with fiction at MI6. And if the world’s most secretive organisation is now publicly wearing emotional intelligence on its sleeve, then you had better do so too.

After all, you’ve read your Daniel Goleman; you’re versed in Appreciative Inquiry, Presencing, and all the OD wisdom culled from a dozen airport best-sellers. Your direct reports expect their performance appraisals to be delivered using the ‘coach approach,’ as you guide your team’s espousal of corporate values to ever-greater heights.

There are no questions about living the values, so your only uncertainty is whether “making the numbers” refers to the employee engagement score, or the P&L. Yet you hit that target too.

But sometimes – just sometimes – doesn’t the Old Adam get the better of you? Do you sense recidivist flashes of an older, unredeemed model of leadership rising up, with the unconquerable urge to raise a finger, to outsmart, to control? Forget 2015’s empathy Bond: is there a cynical 1970s Bond or – even worse – an unreconstructed 1960s sexist Bond with a Walther PPK lurking deep down in there?

Likely as not, it’s just a misunderstanding, caused by bad old communication habits. There’s been so much change in the expected behavioural standards, these days even a saint could be wrong-footed. But we can’t afford to let that old unreconstructed Bond break any more china in the modern workplace.

Instead, leaders are expected to display full-spectrum sensitivity 24/7 – paying a great deal more than lip-service to the new leadership paradigm. Yet for most of us, behavioural attributes and softer skills built up over a lifetime are the defining traits of our personality. Change is hard.

So how can we graft on new skills, losing some old flaws – all the while retaining our authenticity? This won’t happen automatically. The truth is that just acquiring a cognitive understanding of what emotional intelligence is, doesn’t mean our conduct will be emotionally intelligent. Likewise, values or qualities kicked about in Friday’s experiential workshop won’t automatically be modelled in our behaviour come Monday morning.

When it comes to learning how to bond with feeling, then practice, and yet more practice, makes perfect.

For those with unlimited time and money, the best solution is extensive executive coaching. But such costly and time-consuming bespoke “talking therapies” are now under pressure. If we know that developing emotional intelligence and showing empathy are requirements for people managers, why not standardise the process?

Compare what’s happening in the domain of mental health, where open-ended psychoanalysis and other “talking therapies” are being substituted for cognitive behavioural therapies providing cheaper and faster response to known conditions. In the field of executive development, online evaluation tools and methodologies are now helping to address the challenge of turning these people skills into integral parts of our learned behaviour.

This is the province of continuing professional development. If we could map, measure and then manage the way we interact in the workplace, then the challenges of people-based management could be addressed as a natural part of our personal and professional evolution.

There is now a methodology designed to do exactly this. Communicate Charisma is a tool to measure and focus the way we communicate, as part of a programme of ongoing personal development. It’s designed to strengthen our ability to influence others not by wielding that Walther PPK, but with the instant rapport  that lowers barriers of mistrust and gets people to do things they  would not otherwise have done. We call this charisma.

Click here to read how the global leaders we’ve been tracking use  charisma to optimise their communication skills (the graphic at the top of this article is a wisdom-of-crowds assessment of US President Barack Obama); and how our methodology can help you to benchmark and grow these skills.

We won’t guarantee Communicate Charisma will set you up for a job as the next James Bond. But we do think when MI6 starts saying publicly that people skills are important for national security, you should be taking the topic seriously