19 Feb

Openness: the key to emotional intelligence in team leadership



Emotional intelligence enables leaders to engage in a meaningful way with themselves and their teams in order to achieve the best possible results. A key element of emotional intelligence that facilitates effective leadership engagement with teams, is the concept of openness. Openness could be defined as the ability to allow for the free generation, flow, assessment and implementation of ideas, without the interference of personal, interpersonal or structural prejudices. This means that ideas are assessed solely based on value-added and contribution towards problem solving and achievement of results.


There are three important values required to facilitate openness:

  • Respect: This means leaders should treat all team members and their ideas with dignity and respect, irrespective of the status of individuals or the merits of their contributions.
  • Honesty: Leaders and team members should provide one another with accurate, complete and honest information, with the intention of finding appropriate solutions to problems and achieving the best results possible.
  • Trust: Leaders should create a safe environment where people are encouraged to disclose themselves and share information and ideas, without fear for retribution.

Only once these three values become common practice within a team, leaders can proceed to develop an openness team culture. Openness should be developed on the following three levels:


Reflective openness is the ability to be open and honest with oneself and to take personal responsibility for results. This means that reflective openness has two dimensions. These two dimensions and criteria for each dimension are:

  • Self-understanding:

Criteria for self-understanding:

  • The level of self-awareness of own strengths and weaknesses
  • The level of self-disclosure within teams
  • The level of understanding and admitting of own paradigms
  • Personal responsibility:

Criteria for personal responsibility:

  • The ability to conduct introspection
  • An ability to admit own mistakes and dysfunctional behaviours
  • The ability to accept responsibility for correcting own mistakes and dysfunctional behaviours


Interactive openness could be described as the capacity to share, receive and capitalize on ideas in order to find the best solutions for problems and to achieve the best possible results. The following dimensions and criteria could be identified for interactive openness:

(i)   Idea sharing:

Criteria for idea sharing:

  • Taking emotional risks to share challenging and even unpopular ideas
  • Stating ideas without fear for retribution
  • Focus on making contributions rather than trying to win arguments

(ii) Idea receiving:

Criteria for idea receiving:

  • Listen with an open mind to other people’s idea
  • Incorporating other people’s ideas into their own to find solutions
  • Looking for solutions that capitalize on all contributions, rather than promoting own ideas


Structural openness implies that inputs and ideas are valued based on merit, irrespective of the status or seniority of the person contributing the ideas. It also implies that people in a team care for each other and serve one another as internal customers. The following dimensions and criteria could be identified for structural openness:

(i) Status openness:

Criteria for status openness:

  • All team members are considered to be equal, irrespective of role or seniority
  • Recognition given based on merit, irrespective of role or seniority
  • Contributions and added value, are rated higher than status or seniority

(ii) Caring culture:

Criteria for caring culture:

  • Team members share in each others’ successes and failures
  • Team members serve each other as internal customers
  • Team members support each other to deal with professional and personal challenges


Teams with a higher level of openness have proven to be more creative, innovative and effective than teams with lower levels of openness. Openness also contributes significantly to job satisfaction, motivational levels and capacity to cope with change. The development of an openness culture has, therefore, significant benefits for any team. The following steps could be followed to develop openness in a team.

  • Conduct an openness assessment. This could be done by using the available assessment instruments based on the levels, dimensions and criteria for openness referred to above.
  • Set objectives for team openness standards.
  • Develop the required team values.
  • Provide feedback on the openness level of the team and analyse reasons for lack of openness.
  • Facilitate team development processes to deal with the underlying reasons for lack of openness, eliminate dysfunctional behavioural patterns and build an open team culture.
  • Develop the Emotional Intelligence Leadership and Team skills required to sustain openness levels.
  • Conduct follow-up assessments to monitor progress with openness levels.
  • Provide feedback on progress.

opennessBy following these processes, significant and measurable improvements of up to 80% in openness levels of a great number of teams have already been achieved. Openness provides the key to effective engagement between leaders and teams in order to significantly improve team performance.

Dr Niel Rall

CEO: Leadership Dynamics

Website: www.leadershipdynamics.co.za

Cell phone number: 0824551093



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