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Mark Shinar
Coach, Consultant, Author: Practicing Authentic Living and Leadership

Emotionally Intelligent Leadership for Teens

Last night, I met with 12 high school students representing five different countries, Brazil, Panama, Spain, the United States, and Vietnam, who were on track to receive a certificate from NYU’s Entrepreneurship and Innovation program. When invited by the founder of the Institute for Impact and Intrapreneurship to speak to the kids, I considered what budding entrepreneurs needed to know about leadership before going out into the world. Although the program is not inherently Jewish, when it came to designing the class, I leaned heavily on the values we bring to the table when raising Jewish leaders.

I began the session by asking the students to brainstorm what leadership meant to them and was not surprised by their knee-jerk responses. Traditional definitions such as charisma, power, vision, and ability to “make it happen” rapidly surfaced. Of course, many of these qualities do define the types of leaders that our children see in the world, so surely they must be worthy of praise and emulation. 

To push the conversation forward, we shifted into a discussion about emotional intelligence, and once we had developed a shared vocabulary, I asked the students: What does emotionally intelligent leadership (EIL) mean to you? Using a word cloud exercise, students jotted new ideas down and created this visual for our consideration: 

Although we ran through the exercise in just under 2 minutes, I was excited by how well these international high school students understood emotionally intelligent leadership’s massive potential. Unlike in our first exercise which asked the students to capture the definition of traditional leadership in a word or two, the group now identified concepts like: aware, listening, perspectives, and impact. Great news that it didn’t take very long for students to articulate some of the skills emotionally intelligent leaders need in order to be successful in their crafts. 

The real work, however, begins when we ask ourselves not what EIL is but rather, how, as young entrepreneurs and the future leaders of the world, we can live lives where emotional intelligence and leadership are naturally integrated, habits of mind. 

American author, Daniel Pink, writes, “Get me some poets as managers. Poets are our original systems thinkers. They contemplate the world in which we live and feel obligated to interpret, and give expression to it in a way that makes the reader understand how that world runs. It is from their midst that I believe we will draw tomorrow’s new leaders.” So from this place, we, the teens and I, began our work, exploring some poems and even a few metaphors from Ted Lasso to help us break down who emotionally intelligent leaders are and how we can become one. 

Despite students’ initial disorientation with the metaphor, I like to compare leadership to the internet. We know that when the internet is working the way it’s supposed to, we don’t give it much thought. We only recognize how intensely our lives are dependent on it once it’s gone down. So is the case with emotionally intelligent leaders who, at their best, remain somewhat invisible, allowing everyone within their signal strength to do their work, only noticeable once they have somehow disappeared. 

It’s time to re-conceptualize what leadership means and why it matters, especially because the 21st century presents incredible opportunities and turbulent challenges for budding leaders who have to navigate the conflicting needs, wants and desires of diverse constituencies, all of whom deserve a voice around the table. To become beacons in the storm, emotionally intelligent leaders must be authentic, collaborative, and entrepreneurial. 

It all begins with awareness of self. Once we teach our students how to meaningfully self-reflect, they will motivate others towards development and growth. Old school leadership tends to place the leader in the operational weeds, so they are left with little time to consider how to maintain the balance between technical, “you’ve got a problem; I’ve got a solution” management and adaptive, values-based leadership. The former is quick and efficient. The latter is slow and murky, but it is also brave and inspiring. 

When leaders know who they are and what they value, they then turn their attention to building awareness towards others. EILs understand that leadership is a team effort (this is where the Ted Lasso clips came in handy), and that by celebrating risks and mistakes and by taking the time to deeply and empathetically listen to people, great leaders slow down in order to ramp up. Reminding us that “we all have the human need to see others and to be seen because the realness connects us,” Brené Brown likes to start her team meetings with a two-word check in to describe how people are feeling on any given day.

As I was looking at these wonderful teens, I was feeling energized and anxious. 

The work is hard, especially because our young leaders need to think not just about themselves and others, but also show astute awareness of context (what I tell my own children is: you need to read the room). To do so, they must understand both the setting and the situation in any given event, and as a result, Emotionally Intelligent Leaders are remarkably comfortable with ambiguity and know how to adapt. 

These global teens are quite impressive and intuitive, and although our session was just under 2 hours, I can’t wait to see how they will integrate their ideas into becoming the kinds of leaders who will, no doubt, change this world for the better. 

To learn more about how Mark Shinar Consulting can help you, a member of your team, or your school, please email me at  markshinar@gmail.com

About the Author
Dr. Mark Shinar is an educational coach, consultant, speaker and author. He earned his BA from Yeshiva University with an English Literature and Theater degree and completed a Masters degree in Private School Administration from Columbia University Teachers’ College. He taught General Studies and English Literature in SAR Academy’s elementary and middle schools before becoming Head of School at Oakland Hebrew Day School in Oakland, CA. There, he earned an Ed. D in School Leadership from Mills College. Mark returned to NY in 2009 to serve as the Director of General Studies at SAR High School for eight years, before making Aliyah with his family in the summer of 2017. Mark was the founding principal of an independent, bilingual school located in the center of Israel and most recently, he was the Head of School at Jewish National Fund-USA’s Alexander Muss High School in Israel.
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