How to Build Emotional Intelligence in Emerging Leaders
Part of the responsibility of managers in the enrollment field is to prepare developing professionals for the future. While there are certainly opportunities for formal professional development through national and regional conferences, these opportunities are not sufficient for forming well-rounded leaders. Although budget constraints often limit our ability to send junior staff members to a sufficient number of conferences, the events themselves are often more focused on content and knowledge transfer than on specific skill building. This is particularly true when it comes to helping staff develop their emotional intelligence, which is a critical tool for success in enrollment and all of higher education.
Emotional intelligence describes individuals’ ability to recognize and navigate the emotional reactions of those around them. Higher education is a people-focused endeavor, which means that we are constantly interacting with the emotional and temperamental differences of our coworkers and colleagues. As any good manager can tell you, a large portion of a manager’s work is helping others sustain good working relationships. Recruitment and retention staff may be excellent in their core duties working with students, but they may struggle to negotiate the political and emotional dynamics within your institution. As they progress, here are a few of the skills they are likely to need.
Everyone wants to be heard, and nothing will lose you the support of others as quickly as making them feel as though you are ignoring their input. Listening to others’ ideas and giving evidence that you understand and value what they say is critical to success at every level.
As they start to take on leadership opportunities, your staff members will frequently find themselves pulled into disagreements between two parties with opposing viewpoints. Often, however, there are more than just two choices. The ability to find a third way, such as an unexplored solution or a compromise—is one of the most powerful and effective tools for breaking gridlock.
Committee participation and leadership
Sometimes committee meetings feel like the bane of our existence, but they are necessary for getting things done. There is an art to successful committee participation, and in particular committee leadership, that can be learned. Getting practice in this art can help a developing professional build important bridges on campus and begin to gain a reputation as a contributor and leader.
Understanding the team
Potential leaders who want to manage a team need to learn to identify the working styles and values of the people around them. Achieving team objectives is much easier if the leaders understand how to connect the goal to the individual motivations of team members. An understanding of temperaments can also be a powerful tool in managing the inevitable conflicts between staff members.
Conflict is a normal part of working in a people business, but sometimes that conflict can escalate and turn ugly. Do our emerging leaders have the skills to stay objective and confront issues professionally? Do they know the proper protocols to navigate conflict while protecting both themselves and the institution?
Professional brand management
Most of these emotional intelligence skills contribute to an emerging professional’s brand on campus, but many young leaders underestimate how important it is to manage their professional reputation within the community. Mid-level leaders, in particular, may not have all the formal authority they need to get things done. Building good relationships across departments and divisions and developing a reputation for professionalism and collaboration can be key to effectiveness in a college environment.
These emotional intelligence skills come more naturally to some people than others, but anyone can practice and improve their awareness of the reactions of those around them. In my experience, emerging leaders frequently do not realize how important it is to be able to “read” and respond to the emotions of others until they encounter a problem in one of these areas. While a minor crisis can be a very effective teacher, we can save developing staff from some hard knocks by intentionally mentoring them as they build their emotional intelligence.
So how is emotional intelligence taught? Usually it requires a combination of practice and self-reflection. Assign your mentees to committee work that you know will stretch them but not overwhelm them. Don’t feed them to the sharks of your institution, but let them run with a few of the wolves. Ask them to act as first-round mediators for conflicts between staff members who are junior to them, or give them homework to attend staff meetings and observe the emotional pulse of participants without speaking.
Once they begin this type of practice, meet with them and ask what they have seen and learned. Challenge them to record principles they want to put into action. With practice and reflection, they will begin to internalize emotional intelligence skills.
As managers, we can train a new generation of enrollment leaders and prepare them for success by exposing them to these emotional intelligence tools. When you conduct your next round of performance evaluations or engage in your next coaching opportunity, consider setting emotional intelligence goals as well as enrollment objectives for your emerging leaders.
Aaron Basko is assistant vice president of enrollment management at Salisbury University.
Reprinted from “Building Emotional Intelligence in Emerging Leaders” Recruitment and Retention 30.7 (2016) 6, 8 © Magna Publications. All rights reserved.