What makes a great leader? Steve Gutzler says it is how one behaves during “17 percent moments.”

Gutzler, president of Leadership Quest, said being a good leader comes down to how someone handles times of stress.

“Most professionals do a great job about 83 percent of the time,” he said recently during the National Association of Federally-Insured Credit Unions’ annual conference in Seattle. “We operate at optimum levels and handle relationships well. That is fine, but during those 17 percent moments, when stress levels are high, when there is a challenging relationship to deal with, that is when people perceive your true leadership and your reputation.”

Steve Gutzler, president of Leadership Quest, speaking during the 2018 NAFCU convention in Seattle.
Steve Gutzler, president of Leadership Quest, speaking during the 2018 NAFCU convention in Seattle.

Leadership can be defined by three elements, Gutzler continued: being a positive influence, having an impact and inspiring others.

“Are you a positive influence? Do people look to you?” Gutzler asked members of the audience. “Strategy, marketing and technology are important, but the No. 1 trait for leaders is to be a positive influence. The way you treat your employees is how they will treat members. It is a ripple effect. Be a flight instructor to people. Be a coach. Give them the core essentials, but don’t be a micromanager.”

According to Gutzler, emotional intelligence affects how we manage our emotions under stress, how we navigate relationships and how we achieve positive leadership results. He offered attendees “emotional body armor” for the 17 percent moments, which he described as six actionable shifts to “keep us smart”:

One, understanding the role emotions play. “Remember: If you don’t deal with the emotions that drive behavior, you are at risk,” he said.

Two, gaining greater self-awareness. “Everyone is contagious, positive or negative. We feel before we think. During the Olympics there are more personal bests than any other time – and more personal worsts. There is brain science behind our emotions. Some of you have automatic, default reactions to situations that are ill-advised. You need to rewire your brains. Cortisol, the stress hormone, hijacks your brain from rational to emotional for an average of 17 minutes. If you can manage your brain for 17 to 18 minutes during stressful times you can keep yourself from harm.”

Three, practicing self-regulation. “You need body armor to self-regulate your emotions during high-pressure times. Stop when you see the warning lights to avoid emotional reactions.” He recommended people stop and breathe deeply through their nose during stressful times to counter the physical effects of cortisol. After oxygenation, appreciate the situation for what it is and seek solutions, he said.

Four, be ready to emotionally manage others. “When someone else is in a ‘hijack state,’ logic and reason are out the window. Sometimes you have to cross the bridge to their side.”

Five, have emotional connectors and loyalty. “At the end of the day, as a leader, the people you lead must feel valued.”

Six, have personal leadership standards of greatness. “You will never rise above your personal leadership standards, so set them high. Not perfection, because that is not possible, but make them great. Don’t stop at the halfway house, go all the way to the summit. You have to predetermine to finish. Your code of honor will determine your success.”

“There is an art and a science to leadership,” Gutzler said.

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