What is emotional competency and how does  it relate to effectively leading a nonprofit?

Effective leadership is not simply about being a charismatic person. Instead, it’s about gaining a specific set of skills to help you do the job right.

In fact, research has shown that effective leaders have a strong set of emotional skills in common that manifests in a variety of leadership “styles.” This is where a leader becomes more than a manager. And where a nonprofit evolves from an organization doing good to an organization doing great.

These emotional competencies allow a leader the flexibility to choose an appropriate leadership style or approach, to respond fluidly to situations that arise, adapt as needed, and ultimately elicit the best results.

Four leadership styles that are most effective in nonprofit situations

The Style Associated Phrase How it Works
Authoritative “Come with me.” States the goal but gives people the freedom to choose how to get there.
Democratic “What do you think?” Gives people a voice in decisions, builds flexibility and responsibility and generates fresh ideas.
Coaching “Try this.” Focuses on personal development and helps people meet their goals.
Affiliative “People come first.” Builds team harmony and morale.

Adapted from The Six Leadership Styles at a Glance, Leadership that Gets Results, by Daniel Goleman, Harvard Business Review, March-April 2000.

By emotional competency or strength, we’re really talking about the ability to manage yourself and your relationships effectively. This is achieved through five fundamental capabilities:

  1. Self-awareness. This is the ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions and drives, as well as their effect on others. Self-aware individuals are self-confident and recognize not only their strengths but also their weaknesses.
  2. Self-regulation. This is the ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods and think before you act. This results in trustworthiness and integrity, comfort with ambiguity and openness to change.
  3. Motivation. This is a passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status and a drive to pursue goals with energy and persistence. This results in a strong drive to achieve; optimism, even in the face of failure; and organizational commitment.
  4. Empathy. This is the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people and the skill to adapt according to the reactions of others. This skill allows leaders to build and retain talent. It also results in cross-cultural sensitivity and the ability to effectively service constituents.
  5. Social skills. This is the ability to manage relationships and build networks. It’s the ability to find common ground and build rapport. It allows leaders to be persuasive, build and lead teams, and drive change. Source: Harvard Business Review, Nov. – Dec. 98.

It goes without saying that an effective leader needs to have vision and passion along with the analytical and technical skills necessary to master the responsibilities of the job. But emotional competence is really the key to putting it all into practice.

Getting there is possible. With study and practice, anyone can readily overcome tendencies that might negatively affect their ability to build and maintain healthy professional relationships and effectively manage situations that arise. To help facilitate your process, try practicing the skills above. Then, ask for feedback from others and adjust as you go. If you’re unsure, consider approaching a leadership coach for assistance. A coach can offer objective insight to help you see yourself and situations more clearly and guide the changes you wish to make.

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