When we face steep challenges and setbacks, it is easy for architects to become jaded and openly cynical. We struggle to evolve legacy systems designed for a different place and time, and develop roadmaps that our organizations postpone indefinitely. We make strong business cases for change in our assigned domains, only to have our organizations prioritize change elsewhere. Organizations make decisions without proper governance or stakeholder management, and we must deal with the consequences. Organizations invest too little in architecture, giving us scant opportunity to systematically apply established standards and best practices. Indeed, many of us must use our technical and business skills to tactically address urgent situations, further starving our architecture efforts.
Yet we are leaders, and all organizations must balance competing priorities, make clear choices, and perform the work those choices dictate. The status quo always presents us with opportunities to lead, coach and mentor, and to facilitate the best possible choices. How can we capitalize on these opportunities? The renowned psychologist Daniel Goleman has long championed emotional intelligence as a distinguishing characteristic of great leaders. Goleman’s definition of emotional intelligence focuses on the ability of leaders to perceive their own emotions and those of others, to regulate their own behavior and maintain their intrinsic motivation to succeed, and to empathize with others, especially when making decisions.
Recently, in the New York Times, Goleman discussed the competencies of emotionally intelligent leaders. Here is my interpretation of those critical competencies for business, enterprise and solution architects:
- Self Awareness, including realistic self confidence and emotional insight. We know when we can go it alone, but also know when to bring in an expert to complete a deliverable or participate in a decision. We are productively aware of our feelings. When we are feeling frustrated by a lack of progress, for example, we recognize that feeling, get it under control, perhaps with an appropriate private discussion, and decide if and how we will harness it to move forward.
- Self Management, including resilience, emotional balance, and self motivation.. We handle adversity well. Projects get cancelled, layoffs are announced, people don’t get their work done. We process our reactions appropriately, and stay calm instead of blowing up. We tactfully shift negative conversations to, for example, what the impacted project team can do next, what can be done to help individuals impacted by a layoff, or how to help a struggling colleague.
- Empathy, including cognitive and emotional empathy, and good listening. We notice and absorb what people are saying, writing or communicating non-verbally. We try to read people’s perspectives and emotions accurately, and check in with them explicitly to see if we are succeeding. Often in high-stakes discussions, there is pressure to cover “just the facts” and proceed with a decision, when the most important facts are the unexpressed concerns or feelings that will keep participants from wholeheartedly executing what is decided in the meeting. We surface and address these undercurrents before they derail progress.
- Relationship Skills, including compelling communication, and team playing. We consider our audiences for formal and informal presentations and discussions. We balance facts and logic with themes that drive emotional engagement. We interact differently with executives, middle and line managers, fellow architects, analysts and developers, based on what we know about their roles, perspectives, and personalities. We build or join diverse teams to conduct R&D, strategic planning and implementation oversight. We create environments where people feel at ease, and are motivated to contribute their best efforts. One of the signs of success, as Goleman notes, is that people “laugh easily” around us.
How do you foster and apply emotional intelligence in your daily work? What difference does it make? Please post your comments.