Monday, November 22, 2010

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

Really interesting article on emotional intelligence and leadership from the Center for Community Leadership.

The Role of Emotional Intelligence in Leadership
by Anne Lezak

"Throughout history and in cultures everywhere, the leader in any human group has been the one to whom others look for assurance and clarity when facing uncertainty or threat, or when there's a job to be done. The leader acts as the group's emotional guide."
- Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, & Annie McKee, Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead with Emotional Intelligence, 2004, Harvard Business School Press, Cambridge, MA

In the book Primal Leadership, the authors build on Goleman's ground-breaking work on emotional intelligence, demonstrating the key role emotional intelligence plays in leadership. According to Goleman and colleagues, leaders can increase their emotional intelligence and thereby improve their leadership effectiveness.

The leader's style is "contagious" – he or she sets the emotional tone of the group that either makes people want to come along and work towards common goals, or pushes them away and causes discomfort and uncertainty. The best leaders build resonance with their teams; they are in tune with the group's emotions and needs and are able to drive emotions positively, to bring out the best in everyone. Such leaders lead with empathy, enthusiasm, and conviction.

This doesn't mean that leaders ignore difficult situations or shrink from conflict. Rather, they are aware of their own emotional reactions to situations, and of the impact this has on those who look to them for cues. They learn to manage their emotions in ways that inspire confidence and help move people ahead. Whether they are giving good news or bad, their responses are genuine and are in sync with what the individual or group to whom they're relating is feeling.

Becoming a more effective leader means attending to the four dimensions of emotional intelligence:

• Self-awareness: Recognizing one's own emotions and appreciating the impact they have on others; maintaining an honest understanding of your strengths and limitations; and experiencing clarity in your values and goals. Self-awareness is key to that "gut-level" intuition that we can't quite explain, but that we learn to trust.

• Self-management: The ability to control and direct one's emotions in ways that are helpful and positive, including under stressful situations. From Primal Leadership, p. 47: "By staying in control of their feelings and impulses, [leaders] craft an environment of trust, comfort, and fairness." Leaders with strong self-management skills are able to adapt their leadership styles to match different situations, and maintain an upbeat, can-do attitude under pressure, both calming and energizing those around them.

• Social awareness: The ability to empathize; being attuned to how others feel and what response will help them overcome their fears, bring them along, and bring out the best in them. This applies both on an individual and group level; leaders with high social awareness can sense organizational tensions, changes, and needs. Social awareness enables leaders to build resonant and lasting relationships with followers, client, and stakeholders.

• Relationship management: Bringing together self-awareness, self-management, and social awareness to "inspire and move people with a compelling vision (Primal Leadership, P.51)." This speaks to Goleman's definition of leadership: The art of getting things done through other people. Successful leaders use their emotional intelligence to influence and guide others; establish strong networks; and build the trust and energy that enables them to lead in new directions and be catalysts for positive change.

Questions to Consider

1) Can you think of times when your leadership style was "contagious" in a way that helped a group gain confidence to move forward or tackle tough challenges?

2) How well do you trust your own intuition to tell you when something "just doesn't feel right"? When in a leadership role, have you ever ignored this warning signal and regretted it?

3) Are you able to recognize your own emotional state in times of stress? Could you do better at channeling your emotions in ways that are helpful to those you lead?

4) To what extent does the relationship between highly developed emotional intelligence and strong leadership skills make sense to you?

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A great way to exercise a little social work leadership is to write a letter to the editor. These are simple and powerful statements that let you share your view on an important issue--in a way that portrays the social work perspective. Remember to identify yourself as a social worker when you write.

Here are some examples from our students [please note I'm supporting their effort and don't necessarily endorse everything in the content]. To see them you'll need to use Explorer (wont' work with Mozilla).

Friday, October 1, 2010

Advocacy versus Stridency

Lately I've noticed a number of people who seem to think that being a good leader and advocating for oneself or others equates with being verbally abusive, strident, and simply rude. I know that there are times that the gloves have to come off, and we have to truly fight for what we believe in as leaders. However, I don't think this should be the first tactic we take. As social workers, engaging in verbal exchanges that are hurtful to others, that burn bridges and ruin social capital, and that are, frankly, not often effective, are NOT good leadership. We are supposed to believe in the importance of human relationship, of respect and dignity of the individual. Yelling and demanding aren't exactly syntonic with these values.

I hope that students and professionals will realize that leadership is more than shouting "I demand what I deserve!!" every time something doesn't go the way we think it should. A spirit of inquiry, sitting down and saying "Can we talk about this? I'm seeing things differently that you seem to be." are more likely to get results and more likely to communicate respect and professionalism.

Strategic, not strident. Effective, not abusive. Engaging, not antagonistic. Leadership that effects change without sacrificing our values.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Hispanic Heritage Month

Sept 15 through October 14 is Hispanic Heritage month. UNC will be having a number of events. Check them out at

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Social Work--the easy career? NOT!

Sigh.. it happened again. Today's Washington Post has an article by their Career Coach Marshall Brown ( In abbreviated form, it goes like this:

I am seriously considering "reinventing" myself. I was just laid off and I thought that I might as well do it now. I wonder if I can make a fresh start without having to start over, but how?

I am a firm believer that it is NEVER too late. So, the good news is, you can. Here are some tips that I hope will help you: [a number of tips omitted here to save space]

Transferable Skills
Instead of starting something entirely new, you can start by building on what you already know and have done. From accountant, try a transition into financial planning; from teacher, try moving into social work; from real estate, maybe consider becoming a tour guide. The same skills that served you in the past can work for you now."

Lovely idea, but it implies that this transfer can happen without additional education. As social work leaders we need to bust this myth that social work requires a basic education and a good heart. We are a profession with a body of knowledge and educational standards from accredited schools of social work, and shouldn't let ourselves be sold short. Social work is not an easy career--it requires education and training and hard work. It also happens to be an incredibly rewarding career. Let's make sure people know both these facts.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Copy of part of the welcome comments to incoming MSW students

I’d like to add my welcome to our Dean’s …we’re very excited to have you here with us. Dean Richman congratulated you on being chosen and choosing UNC. I’d like to add another congratulations to that…congratulations for choosing the profession of social work.

I know I’m biased, but you have chosen the best, most flexible, most satisfying career there is. You’re entering a profession where you will do things that matter. You will make a difference and make change in the world.

I hope you’re aware that you’re also joining a profession that has a long history of leaders who have stepped forward to speak truth to power, even when that was risky, and to fight for social justice.

Think about it...In the profession of social work you’re joining people like:

• Jane Addams, founder of the settlement house Hull House, and Mary Richmond, who developed social casework
• Lugenia Burns Hope, who in the Progressive Era spent her life improving the community through a network of Southern African American women’s clubs—AND who helped found the first African American school of social work @ Clark Atlanta
• Harry Hopkins, who ran the Federal Emergency Relief Administration for FDR, and Francis Perkins, FDR’s Secretary of Labor and 1st woman cabinetmember
• Leah Katherine Hicks Manning, who helped developed the Indian Child Welfare Act
• Carmen Ortiz Hendricks, who has worked tirelessly to increase the Latino presence in social work
• and our own recently deceased John Turner, former Tuskeegee airman, former dean of Case Western’s SSW and former dean of our SSW…and the “turner” in “Tate, Turner, Kuralt” building that houses us.

These people, and countless others, make a path through history to now…and to you.So welcome to your new profession, and to your place in social work. We can hardly wait to see the amazing things you’re going to do.

Friday, August 6, 2010

New Students

The new students are beginning to come in for orientation; today was the Triangle Distance Education Program. They seem like a great group--energetic, connecting with each other, smart, enthusiastic. Our challenge and responsibility will be to help them channel that energy into developing their social work leadership voice. We need many more strong social work's exciting to see a new group of them take shape.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Just finished reading an interesting book...
The Contrarian's Guide to Leadership by Steven B. Sample and Warren Bennis.

It has some really fine ideas, like learning how to think "gray" and working for those who work for you. Highly recommended.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

OK,so I have a question. How do leaders keep their own hope going, as well as the people around them, when things look bleak?
I've read in several places that NC is predicted to have a $4 billion (yes, with a "b") deficit next year. As leaders how do we help folks keep working in the face of this? I do believe in fighting the good fight, but keeping spirits up is a hard part of leadership.

The thing that I hold on to during times like these is a quote from TS Eliot's Four Quartets "For us there is only the trying, the rest is not our business."

Our job is to do our best, to keep trying and doing, knowing that if we do that the best possible available outcome will happen.

Any other thoughts out there?

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Today I've been thinking a great deal about a social work leader in NC whom I admire immensely. I'm thinking about Jack Register, who for the past several years has been the Director of Advocacy and Legislation at NASW NC Chapter. Jack will be stepping down June 30, and this is a huge loss for the Chapter and for social workers across the state.

The leadership skills I most admire and learn about from Jack are his ability to be simultaneously passionate and articulate about an issue. When he lobbied he could present a logical and persuasive argument with energy and intensity--a truly compelling combination. His energy level is huge and his identification and dedication to the profession of social work is total.

Jack has made a difference in this state; lots of legislation, including title protection for social workers, the anti-bullying bill, and others, are thanks to him. He will be tremendously missed at NASW NC, but he leaves a legacy of which he can be proud, and for which we can all be grateful.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Just got back from a 2 week training at the Harvard Institute of Higher Education's Management Development Program. Lots of excellent material. One of the most helpful things was a book called "Reframing Organizations" by Lee Bolman and Terrence Deal. Part of their premise is that effective leaders use four frames or lenses when analyzing situations or issues: a political frame, a symbolic frame, a structural/organizational frame, and a human resource/relationships frame. I've been thinking about social work as a profession--we are so good at the human resource frame, and can be good at the symbolic and structural frames...but are we comfortable with the political frame? Are we comfortable thinking about strategy and limited resources and power and competing? It's a useful frame, especially if coupled with and guided by our code of ethics...hmmm....something to chew on.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010


I've been thinking a lot about leadership transitions lately. My own leadership role as President of NASWNC is coming to an end, our state Division of Mental Health is going through major leadership changes, nationally there will be a new leader on the Supreme Court--it's everywhere.

So what does a good leader do in transition? Three things come to mind for me.
The first, and most obvious, is sharing information--policies, facts, forms, event histories, budgets, personnel evaluations--all of that concrete stuff.
Second, and more subtle, is conveying culture; helping the new leader understand the tenor of the environment, the emotional subtext, the norms and expectations.
Finally, is the hand-off, stepping back and fading a bit so the new leader can step in and create her own space. A long time ago a clinical supervisor taught me a trick when working with couples. If one person in the couple only looks at and talks to you, if you repeatedly look at the non-speaking person, the person speaking will begin to do so too...and that way you shift their attention from you to their partner. Similarly, a transitioning leader helps the group/organization/coalition look to the new leader by shifting their attention. Getting out of the way gracefully, without abandoning the new person or organization and without overstaying, is a leadership skill.

So here's to transitions in leadership, and exciting new times ahead. Good luck to all the new leaders out there!

Monday, May 3, 2010

I'm posting a paper that I think is a wonderful example of leadership and of parallel process. Two students in our MSW program, Rebecca Graves and Leah Oster-Katz, wrote a paper on the history of the Crest Street Community in Durham, NC and its decades-long struggle to stop a highway from being built through the community. The story is one of social capital, community activism, and local leadership coming together to prevent the destruction of a neighborhood that is predominantly African American and of historical importance.

The parallel process is that the two students demonstrated amazing leadership in developing this project independently--jointly creating something based in their vision of what is important in social work macro practice.

It's an excellent piece, and you can find it at the link below.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Arizona Immigration Law

Arizona just passed a new, sweeping immigration law. The law requires state and local police to determine the status of people if there is "reasonable suspicion" that they are undocumented immigrants and to arrest people who are unable to provide documentation proving they are in the country legally.

As social work leaders, we are ethically mandated to consider the potential civil and human rights violations of laws such as this. What does it mean when we give police the power to stop anyone they wish to consider as possibly an undocumented person? Does this mean all citizens of Arizon must now carry their birth certificate with them at all times? As a Latina and a U.S. citizen, does this mean if I visit Arizona I must carry my birth certificate or risk arrest?

For me personally there is a sense of the totally unreal about this...Remember those old WWII movies? The bad guys would stop innocents on the streets, snarling "Show me your papers" and we could feel smug and secure know that this would never happen to us in the U.S. Well, not any more.

As social work leaders, we are ethically mandated to consider these things, and to challenge social injustice. We are mandated to act.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Today, the nation lost one of the foremost leaders of the Civil Rights Movement and the social work profession. Dr. Dorothy I. Height was a renowned civil rights leader and a vital force in the struggle for human rights and equality in the United States for more than half a century.

Her tireless efforts on behalf of others exemplified the social work commitment to social justice and advocacy. In 2009, the Dorothy I. Height and Whitney M. Young, Jr. Social Work Reinvestment Act was introduced into the 111th Congress by U.S. Senator Barbara Mikulski (MD) and U.S. Representative Edolphus Towns (NY). The bill seeks to create a national commission that studies the impact of social work interventions, and to fund social work training and research grants.
(Information courtesy of NASW)

For more information you can go to

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Advocacy and Social Work

As social workers we talk about advocacy a lot. We advocate for our clients, making sure they can access services they need and are entitled to, that their rights are respected, and the like.

But larger-scale advocacy at more political levels, and advocacy for ourselves as a profession—for some reason that seems harder to do sometimes. Things like lobbying the General Assembly or writing op-eds can be intimidating at first. So how do we do the positive self-talk needed to push ourselves to advocate...why should we as social workers advocate at political and public levels?

As I think about this I am reminded of an old TV commercial for Quaker Oats where a wizened Wilford Brimley told us that we should eat oatmeal because “it’s the right thing to do.” It was true, but I never found that a very compelling reason to consume bland breakfast cereal. Similarly, I think sometimes the only reason we are given for why we should engage in advocacy is because “it’s the right thing to do.” Our Code of Ethics says we should promote social justice (e.g. through advocacy), our chapter Director of Advocacy and Legislation tells us we ought to, emails from NASW national office tell us we ought to.

All of these are true and good reasons—advocacy is the right thing to do. But I’d ask you to think about it differently. Advocacy is also important for each of us to do because it is a form of self-care. Let me explain a little. One of the hardest things about social work practice (at least for me) is feeling helpless as I watch clients struggle with an illogical and unfair system. That feeling of helplessness is stressful—it can make us sick. Advocacy to change the illogical and unfair systems is a way to fight the helpless feeling, to know we can make change and not have to feel stressed and powerless.

Advocacy is also the only way that we will improve our own working conditions as social workers. When we advocate for fair systems that provide good services with quality providers we are advocating for healthy places where we can offer services, places that are safe, that provide a respectful service context (for clients and for providers), that ensure that provider turnover is low. Fair systems benefit social workers and clients alike, so when we advocate for these we advocate for ourselves.
Finally, advocacy is a way to claim our voice and thus our power as professionals. When we advocate we demand attention, we say “we are here and we have valuable things to say”, we own our power. Advocacy is a way for each of us to do this, to become more empowered as individual social workers. It is also a way for us to do this as a profession.

So, I’d invite you to think about all of this, to talk with your colleagues and join in advocacy efforts. Do this because it is ethical, because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it’s a way to take care of ourselves, of each other, and other the profession to which we’re dedicated.

(Taken from an NASW NC newsletter article I wrote)

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

international social work and leadership

Given the recent disasters in Haiti and Chile, I've been thinking a lot about international social work, and how a social worker can travel to another country during a time of crisis and be truly helpful. Not paternalistic, or colonial, or oppressive, but helpful. International social work, and leadership in international social work efforts, requires above all the ability to listen and to be humble.

Dr. Gina Chowa recently gave a great talk on this topic at the UNC SSW. You might want to take a look--it's at

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

DSM and Social Work leadership

The proposed new version of the DSM was unveiled recently, to the great consternation of many. Some see this as a way to more accurately diagnose people who suffer from disorders and get them the scientifically-based treatment they deserve. Others worry that the new diagnostic categories cast too wide a net and may pathologize some atypical but healthy behaviors. For a story on this, see

Once materials are posted on the APA web, there will be a public comment period until April 20. This is a perfect opportunity to engage in some social work leadership. Read the materials, post comment, and make your (and social work's) voice heard on this important issue.