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The Socially Intelligent Leader

Dr Irena Yashin-Shaw PHD - Tuesday, March 01, 2016

Today’s innovation age requires leaders to think differently about how they bring out the best in people. The leader of the future is the leader who asks rather than tells, who mentors rather than directs, who requests rather demands and collaborates rather than commands. As with so many other shifts taking place today, there is a fundamental shift in what constitutes good leadership i.e. the kind of leadership that brings out the best in people and creates a high performing workplace. Let’s conceptualise the evolution of leadership as follows:


Leadership 1.0:
"I'll tell you what to do." This is the traditional style of authoritative command and control leadership where the leader makes the decisions.

Leadership 2.0:
"I'll provide direction and trust you to do your job." This is the leader who demonstrates confidence in their team members to get things done without micro-managing them.

Leadership 3.0:
"I'll provide you with the opportunity, resources, context, and space to develop yourself so you can perform at the highest level possible and I’ll make myself available to help, guide and advise as needed." This is the leader who creates an environment in which innovation can flourish by tapping into the inherent talent of the team.


But even these distinctions don't tell the whole story. Because ultimately a good leader needs to be flexible enough to work across all styles. Perhaps we could even call that Leadership 4.0 – the kind of leadership that has the wisdom to know when to be highly directive versus when to be a catalyst, when to provide structure versus when to remove it.

For this, leaders need 'social intelligence'. It is the ability to understand the situation, including the context and relationships as well as the ability to select an appropriate response and ultimately the ability to vary one's behavior in response to changing conditions. In a report produced by the Institute for the Future, called "Future Work Skills 2020",Social Intelligence was identified as being number two on the list of top ten work skills for the future workforce.

To be a socially intelligent leader:

  • Take the time to get to know your team members in a way that builds trust
  • Look out for those subtle but important cues that signal unspoken needs
  • Be prepared to offer the tools, advice, and counsel of a mentor
  • Adapt your behavior in response to changing workplace conditions as well as the changing needs of team members

The result is an engaged team that takes pride in their work, high levels of trust and an environment in which innovation will flourish.


2016 has kicked off with another group of inspiring leaders in our Innovative Leader's Mentoring Program. As part of this program people undertake a project which provides them with the context for the learning while working with me.

I am always genuinely blown away by what people achieve in their workplaces in a relatively short space of time. Some people undertake a project that has massive impact across their entire organisation or even a region, while others focus specifically on transforming the culture of their team or piloting new technology.

The outcomes are so diverse and inspirational that I thought it might benefit people in my broader network to hear about some of them. So I am going to include a short audio interview with a different leader from time to time. You’ll hear about the why, the what and the how of what he or she did and the impact and outcomes of their project.

Our first interview is with a leader from the Department of Local Government and Planning in Toowoomba who implemented a very simple innovation that reaped exponential results. I interviewed Bernadette via webinar. Click here to access the 20 minute recording.


If you would like to join us for the second quarter intake then please drop a line toadmin@innovationedge.com.au and we will send some information and arrange a time for a chat.

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