Positivity, adaptability, active listening and the ability to motivate and delegate are terms often used on the subject of workplace leadership. According to Business Insider, “The most successful leaders have not only mastered technical skills, they’ve also mastered soft skills. Commonly known as “people” or interpersonal skills, soft skills like negotiating, building morale, and maintaining relationships are key to a leader’s success.”
Among the many pictures of what good leadership looks like, author and former Fortune 15 executive Kristin Harper has written The Heart of a Leader: 52 Emotional Intelligence Insights to Advance Your Career to share her well-earned wisdom, pragmatic tools and keen insight about leadership and emotional intelligence. Comprised of insider career-building secrets Harper has garnered while leading some of the world’s most iconic brands, such as Crest®, Oral-B®, and Hershey’s KISSES®—to name a few, this book is for high-achievers who intend to keep climbing the ladder of success.
Founder and CEO of Driven to Succeed, a leadership development company that provides brand strategy consulting, market research, keynote speaking on leadership and emotional intelligence, and career coaching for Fortune 500 companies, entrepreneurs, and rising leaders, Harper says, “Leaders who can identify and manage their own emotions and nimbly navigate the emotions of others tend to have stronger interpersonal relationships, greater executive presence, and more influence. Moreover, leaders’ emotional state has a powerful trickle-down effect on teams.”
I caught up with Harper to talk about these insights.
TNJ.com: Through your company, Driven to Succeed, you and your team are known for building successful brands and helping people accelerate their careers. What drove you to succeed throughout your 20-year career in business?
Kristin Harper: My drivers of career success include making a tangible impact on business, brands, and people. My expertise is in brand management, a combination of marketing and P&L management for product and service brands. I especially love the fuzzy front end of innovation. I get joy from listening to consumers and customers, learning their challenges and pain points, then working with a team to develop solutions that improve their lives. Equally motivating is working with, learning from and developing really smart people with diverse experiences and perspectives.
TNJ.com: You recently penned a book called “The Heart of a Leader: 52 Emotional Intelligence Insights to Advance Your Career.” What career experiences led you to the idea for the book?
Kristin Harper: A couple years ago, my former company made the largest acquisition in its history. Having been through several acquisitions, I knew all too well the flurry of emotions acquisitions can bring because change is inevitable and disruptive. Change of any magnitude can also take an emotional toll on people. The burden is even greater for people leaders because we need to work through our own challenges and uncertainties while simultaneously keeping our team engaged. I had enough self-awareness to know that I needed a positive, creative outlet that where I could control the outcome. That’s when The Heart of a Leader was born. It was a creative endeavor that brought me joy at a time when so many variables were outside of my control. I hope that what I’ve shared will help others strengthen their leadership acumen and advance their careers.
TNJ.com: What are the attributes of a good leader, and how can people determine if leadership is for them?
Kristin Harper: Some of the best leaders I know:
Have a vision that influences people and motivates them to act
Listen to others and invite diverse perspectives, as opposed to narrow-minded thinking; they don’t have to be the smartest person in the room
Don’t settle for status quo; good leaders strive for continuous improvement, learn and adjust as necessary
Are self-aware; they know their strengths, opportunities, triggers and how to neutralize their weaknesses
Celebrate others because success doesn’t happen in a vacuum
While leadership isn’t limited to those with positional authority, you’re ready to manage people when you’re willing to put others ahead of self, take responsibility for tough situations you may not have caused, and make decisions others may never understand. Leadership is not for the faint at heart, but it’s so rewarding.
TNJ.com: What does the phrase “prosper where you’re planted” mean to you?
Kristin Harper: Performing your current job with excellence, despite the circumstance, is the first step to proving that you’re ready for the next level of leadership. For example, you may have a challenging assignment, team, or manager. Humans are naturally wired to resolve conflict and address dis-ease, so it’s tempting to want to change assignments, leave the team or criticize others to resolve the pain. However, the most beneficial personal growth happens during times of challenge. Sometimes it’s better to persevere and learn how to thrive in spite of. Emotional intelligence, especially self-awareness and reflection, plays a huge role in helping you to prosper where you’re planted.
TNJ.com: What has been your biggest business lesson so far?
Kristin Harper: One of the biggest business lessons is that there’s no right or wrong answers, only tradeoffs. Risk is inherent with uncertainty, and some decisions will work out well, others will be mistakes. Leaders are accountable regardless of the outcome. That’s why I get diverse perspectives from multiple people, including dissenters and skeptics, before making big decisions.
TNJ.com: You’ve said that leaders’ emotional state has a powerful trickle-down effect on teams. What does that mean?
Kristin Harper: Leaders are deeply human, and deeply imperfect. When a leader is dealing with a challenge that may or may not be obvious to others, or just having a bad day, the combination of their humanity and frailty, hierarchy and power can cause their emotions to rub off on their team. Have you ever walked in a room and the mood totally shifted? That’s the type of impact, positive or negative, that leaders have on their teams every single day. Talent is every organizations’ greatest asset, and most people don’t quit their company – they quit their manager. That’s why emotional self-management is so important, especially for leaders.
TNJ.com: How important are relationships whether you own your own company or work in the corporate world?
Kristin Harper: I once worked with a Human Resources leader who asked a candidate during an interview, “Did you leave dead bodies on the side of the road?” While graphic, the questions gets to the heart of not just what gets done, but how it gets done. Good relationships are essential to a thriving business, organization, and culture.
TNJ.com: What are three takeaways from the book you hope will resonate with readers?
Kristin Harper: Three takeaways I hope readers will take from The Heart of a Leader are that 1) leadership is a lifelong journey of learning and growing, 2) workplace politics are unavoidable for leaders, and 3) emotional intelligence distinguishes good leaders from great leaders.
TNJ.com: What advice do you have for others who might be struggling in the workplace whether due to workplace politics or other issues?
Kristin Harper: While writing the book, I surveyed nearly 100 friends about the biggest barrier to advancing their careers: politics was at the top of the list. That’s why I wrote Chapter 5: Politics: Play or Get Played. So, my advice is to read chapter 5, and build more empathy because, at its core, politics are rooted in personal desire. More broadly, if you’re struggling in the workplace, take some time for reflection to uncover the root causes. Journal, talk to confidant or hire a career coach to gain clarity and develop an action plan. You are the architect of your career.
TNJ.com: What’s next for Kristin Harper?
Kristin Harper: I look forward to continuing to grow my business through brand strategy consulting and keynote speaking to help build brands and advance careers.