Improving Leadership Capacity and Capabilities, Part I: A Three-Pronged Approach


Many of us in the workforce have come to realize that  “normal” no longer exists – if it ever existed in the first place.  

Recent work transitions have created a sense of disequilibrium, leaving so many of us  scrambling to find our balance. For others, the transitions have been an opportunity to recalibrate and reconnect with our values and passions. Regardless of where you stand on this adjustment scale, a few things are certain; change is pervasive, and uncertainty defines many aspects of our lives. Like so many other moments in time, leaders have to rethink how they stay relevant and create value in an uncertain environment. 

There are benefits of operating in an environment of significant disruption.  One such benefit is the opportunity to create a future state that more adequately meets your needs and the needs of your organization.  Your workplace is not a set destination, but rather a continuum of rapidly changing dynamics that require mental flexibility, emotional state awareness and regulation and versatility.  

As we grow, we trade our childlike sense of wonder, curiosity, and spontaneity for fixed preferences.  We stop pushing the edges of our own comfort and our growth slows, eventually plateauing as we become specialists in our personal and professional lives.  But the world does not stay still.

As the leader of your own life and your organization, being able to navigate any given marketplace requires a unique set of tools to strengthen your capabilities as well as your capacity. The tools are available to anyone who is willing to challenge their mind and push past their current perspectives. Your mind, and the lens you use to view your world, are your greatest resources.  

Here is a three-pronged approach to positioning yourself to master your unique, ever-changing circumstances and become an influential leader.  

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence (EQ), a concept first coined by Peter Salavoy and John Mayer in the article “Emotional Intelligence” in 1990 and later expounded upon by Dan Goleman in his 1995 book titled Emotional Intelligence, is defined as our ability to recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions and recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others.  It is our ability to perceive and understand our own emotions and those of others; to express our emotions effectively and to manage our emotions.  The science of emotions has shown that our emotions guide our thinking and our behavior and that these abilities are not part of our personality.  The theory of emotional intelligence postulates that these traits are more like skills that can be improved over time when given attention and training.  

When we have a greater awareness of our emotional responses, we are able to see the impact those emotions have on our thoughts and how those thoughts are impacting our behavior.  Viktor Frankl, an Austrian Psychologist, Holocaust survivor, and founder of logotherapy, wrote “Between Stimulus and response there is a space.  In that space is our power to choose a response.  In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” He recognized the power of a response born from self-management, taking space to recognize, understand and manage one’s emotional response.  The growth and freedom he speaks of, is the result of expanding emotional intelligence.  

Our ability to understand and navigate our own emotions and the emotions of others, and to respond appropriately to challenges, enables us to develop healthy relationships. Leveraging those relationships in challenging times increases success in overcoming adversity.  Additionally, increasing our EQ affords a personal awareness that opens the door to self-reflection and self-exploration — a growth mindset.

Growth Mindset

Growth Mindset is a concept identified by Dr. Carol Dweck nearly 30 years ago.  In contrast to a Fixed Mindset, people with a Growth Mindset believe achievements are about effort, not simply inherent talent; they learn from mistakes and find value in criticism; they believe intelligence and ability can be enhanced through effort, learning, and resolve.  People with a Growth Mindset lean into challenging tasks that stretch their current level of performance.

A Growth Mindset supports increased resiliency when faced with setbacks.  Seeing adversity as a challenge to overcome or a lesson to be learned drives persistence and determination, increasing the likelihood of achieving one’s goals. 

In the face of uncertainty or seemingly insurmountable changes, someone with a Growth Mindset is more likely to see opportunities to learn, grow, or pivot rather than feel overwhelmed or threatened by potential failure.  The Growth Mindset creates fertile ground for creativity, innovation, and adaptation.

When you face adversity with a Growth Mindset, you believe that your capacity and capability are unlimited with the right type of effort and attention.  This positive attitude fosters optimism and confidence when future challenges are encountered. How a person faces challenges, how they process failure and how they adapt and evolve is regulated by their mindset, thus increasing resiliency, creativity, and innovation.

Adaptability Quotient

Adaptability Quotient (AQ) is a more recent hypothesis founded on the belief that a person’s level of adaptability can be enhanced and measured.  The importance of our capacity to adapt is not revolutionary and in fact takes root in Darwin’s theory of evolution.  However, as our world has become increasingly complex, uncertain, and volatile, our ability to deftly navigate these conditions has become indispensable.  Notably, our ability to learn, grow, and re-calibrate, not only after a setback, but as a predictive strategy, will drive our success.  

An individual with a high AQ will seek new learning experiences, increasing knowledge and/or skills necessary to navigate challenges more effectively.  They will look at multiple perspectives, update mental models and beliefs, and test assumptions.  By managing their stress levels, time, energy, and attention, they will have increased resiliency, thus fostering an awareness that problems and conflicts are opportunities waiting to be explored.  

Most importantly however, is that adaptability drives the question, “what else is possible?” This one simple question embodies all three pillars – Emotional Intelligence, Growth Mindset and Adaptability. Curiosity and inquisitiveness – the childlike sense of wonder, coupled with a passion for adventure, positions us to be agile in creating our future state.  

Putting it all together

How effectively a person can lead themselves and others through these tumultuous and fortuitous times will depend on their EQ, Growth Mindset, and AQ.  As you can see in the Venn Diagram on Page 1, all three of these pillars are intersecting, each influencing the other and all strengthening the overall impact on leadership.  A well-developed EQ sets the foundation for embracing our growth edges and/or blind spots (Growth Mindset).  A Growth Mindset drives inquisition, a propensity to take on challenges with confidence and a belief that potential is ubiquitous (AQ).  Higher levels of AQ support a willingness to override old data with new information, effectively unlearning in order to approach challenges with a beginner’s mind.  To have a beginner’s mind requires believing in one’s innate capacity (Growth Mindset) and self-awareness (EQ). 

Understanding the interconnectedness of these three distinct mental fitness strategies, and striving to improve mental flexibility, emotional state awareness, regulation, and versatility, all while grounded in a Growth Mindset, will increase your success in leading yourself and your organization during any time of change, uncertainty and work-life challenges.

Conscient Strategies was founded with the idea that every organization is capable of thriving through change. With a focus on strategy development, program implementation, workplace dynamics, and leadership development, Conscient Strategies equips leaders with the tools necessary to continuously navigate the constancy of change in ways that not only benefit their team, but, equally as important, their business outcomes as well. From mergers to c-suite changes to sudden or explosive growth, organizations turn to Conscient Strategies when change is threatening their financial health and cultural wellbeing.

Based in Washington, D.C., Conscient Strategies is comprised of a talented group of consultants, executive coaches, strategists, and account executives. The team has worked with organizations of all sizes in the private, federal, and non-profit sectors across the United States and Internationally.

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