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Values, Beliefs, and Emotional Intelligence

This is an excerpt from Leadership in Recreation and Leisure Services by Timothy O'Connell,Brent Cuthbertson & Terilyn Goins.

If it is not clear yet in this chapter, let me be unequivocal now. Leadership - your leadership - is about you. Your ability to be the best leader you can be does not depend on your attempts to copy others or emulate great historical figures. Rather, it has everything to do with knowing who you are and understanding what you need to do to become a better version of you. It is all about you. Of course, that doesn't mean that you can't learn from others, but you need to evaluate how what you learn from others will fit in with your own leadership style. In your ongoing efforts to know and improve your leadership, it is also important to recognize that your beliefs and values have a significant role to play.

Beliefs are the ideas and concepts that we hold to be true, even without complete knowledge or evidence. Many people, for instance, have religious beliefs that they hold dearly. People can believe in ghosts, in the existence of life on other worlds, or that they have a soul mate. Beliefs are generally not provable (at least for the time being; they may be proved or disproved later on), but they are important nonetheless because they form the basis for our values systems. Values, then, are ideas that we hold to be important. They tend to form directives for us to follow. As we weave together values we choose to live by, we create a values system, a coherent and internally consistent set of related values.

Values are outgrowths of our beliefs. We can believe a great many things, and those beliefs that have a moral imperative will potentially lead us to make some sort of value statement - or statements - that are dependent on the beliefs we hold. It is not always the case that a stated value is accompanied by a stated belief. The underlying belief may be unstated or implied, but it is present regardless. To understand the relationship between beliefs and values, consider the Three Laws of Robotics in Isaac Asimov's collection of science fiction short stories, I, Robot (1950):

  • A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  • A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  • A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

These laws described by Asimov are correctly thought of as values. They give direction for how robots should behave and how humans can expect robots to behave. They describe what is important in robot - human relationships. What is left unsaid is the foundation on which these values rest. Two beliefs that might inform the Three Laws of Robotics could be expressed like this:

  • Human beings are more important than robots.
  • The purpose of robots is to serve human beings.

People must believe these two statements to be true to hold the values set out by the Three Laws.

We all have beliefs and values that guide our actions. Depending on the amount of work and thought we have put into reflecting on them, our systems of beliefs and values will have varying degrees of consistency. In other words, if you have not spent any time thinking about the things that matter to you and the ideas you believe to be true, you likely either have a hodgepodge of beliefs and values that often conflict, or have simply adopted the beliefs and values of someone else, who has essentially done the work for you. In the first case, life may be more confusing than you would like it to be, whereas in the second case, you may not actually believe or value some of the things set out for you, which can cause internal conflict. The result is also confusion because you may feel compelled to act against your true values or ignore the values you claim to hold.

The ancient Greek philosopher Socrates was so convinced that personal growth was the highest purpose for humans that he said, "The unexamined life is not worth living." Although some may consider his statement extreme, research does show that critical reflection of one's beliefs and values tends to lead to personal growth and more consistent, more effective leadership. In their research on the subject, Kouzes and Posner (2006) found that "Clarity of personal values matters greatly to our feeling motivated, creative, and committed to our workplaces. When we're clear about our personal values, we feel empowered, ready and prepared to take action. Ready to be a leader" (p. 96).

As Kouzes and Posner maintain, a solid, well-thought-out system of beliefs and values is essential for developing authenticity in your leadership, the kind of leadership that demonstrates self-confidence and earns the respect of others. The question is: How do you go about examining your beliefs and values?

Like personality constructs, beliefs and values are complex and not easily pinpointed. You will also find that no values system is perfectly consistent. In addition, as a naturally flawed human being, you will never be able to live up to all of your values all of the time. Your values, and even your beliefs, will likely change with time as you learn new things and as some of your beliefs become refined or even refuted. Keeping an open mind and being willing to grow can also be important in the development of your values.

Many online sources offer lists of values that you can review and then choose as priorities. However, you can also develop your own list of values that may be more meaningful than those in lists provided by others. This way, you can be more specific and even create descriptive values statements rather than single words.

Beliefs and values are subjective. Even though logic and rationality can be applied to these subjective components, objective rules are of limited value in governing our communications. Have you ever been surprised by someone's reaction to something you've done or said - or something they thought you should have done or said? Have you found yourself feeling upset or elated without fully understanding what is making you feel that way? These common experiences are just two examples of the complexity of human emotions and interactions, and we have all had our share of miscommunication and misunderstanding. However, perhaps you also know people who seem really in touch with their own emotions, who appear to easily read others' emotional states, and always say the right thing. Such people display a high level of what has been called emotional intelligence.

Salovey and Mayer (1990) developed a framework for emotional intelligence (EI), describing it as "the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one's own and others' feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one's thinking and actions" (p. 189). Social intelligence is the degree to which we can understand the motivations and behaviors of others and adapt our own responses to work and communicate effectively with them. It's no surprise, then, that Salovey and Mayer (1990) saw EI as a set of skills. Like any other set of skills that relates to working with others, emotional intelligence has a lot to say about our effectiveness as leaders.

Goleman (2011) believes that EI and leadership are intimately linked. In fact, he maintains that most models attempting to explain leadership at its most complex are, in their majority, EI-based, with four basic components: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Self-awareness speaks to your knowledge of your own emotional states. Recognizing emotions as they surface, acknowledging the feelings associated with recurrent emotions, and understanding how emotions drive your thoughts and behavior all inform self-awareness.

Self-management is about engaging your emotions in a way that is positive or at least productive. You can choose to modify impulsive emotions; for example, delaying immediate gratification for a bigger gain later on is a form of managing a potentially destructive emotion. Once you have a handle on how you react emotionally to situations (emotional self-awareness), you can adapt and consciously select actions and even thoughts that would create more positive outcomes for you. If a new smartphone has just been released that you would really like to have, would you rush out to buy one, even though your old phone works just fine and a new one will cost you a lot of money? Or, knowing that your current network provider will allow you to upgrade three months from now, could you wait, get the phone for free, and save the money?

In social awareness, empathy - the ability to understand and connect with others - is an important characteristic. If you have had the privilege to be part of or witness a group in which all the members respect each other, take time to really hear and understand each other, and communicate honestly, you have no doubt witnessed the effectiveness that characterizes such groups as well. On the other hand, one or more individuals who are rude in their communication, lack respect for others and their ideas, display contempt, or try to intimidate people in order to push their own agendas can place a group and their productivity in jeopardy. In the latter situation, the motivation to work to your potential can be compromised, and groups full of competent people often fail or do not achieve what they could otherwise.

This understanding of others, and the associated benefits of acting on a heightened social intelligence, is an important asset for leaders. Researchers have found that people can be profoundly affected by the emotional tone set in a group, especially by its leader. The brain state that results in each individual from emotional comfort, emotional detachment, or even anxiety will inevitably influence the way they relate to others and ultimately the outcomes of the group as a whole. In this way, it's easy to see how the emotional well-being of the members in the group should be of great concern for leaders.

Relationship management, the final component of four in Goleman's framework of emotional intelligence, requires that one have a firm grasp of the other three (self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness). From a leadership perspective, this final goal of leading others effectively depends heavily on knowing yourself well, being in control of your own reactions to situations, and understanding others and their motivations. Relationship management involves inspiring others, focusing on teamwork and collaboration, and managing conflict (Goleman, 2011). While these themes are picked up in later chapters with more detail, and are less germane to the topic of self-leadership, perhaps one thing that should be said here is that emotional intelligence is another field of study that makes it clear that successful leadership is contingent on knowing yourself.

Learn more about Leadership in Recreation and Leisure Services.

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