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Emotional Intelligence: How Interim Managers Balance Empathy and Assertiveness

Anne-Pascale Posey has been working as an interim coach for Swiss Interim Management (SIM) for nearly two and a half years. She specializes in guiding managers in developing and leading their teams. Her work supports both corporate executives in organizational development and employee engagement, as well as individuals in professional crises and transitions through video conference coaching. Her experience and skills come from her training as a speech therapist and further education in management, Adlerian psychology, systemic perspectives, and HR and management. With her expertise in areas such as coaching, training, management, HR strategies, and interpersonal communication, Anne-Pascale assists companies, social organizations, government agencies, and NGOs. 


We met Anne-Pascale to discuss emotional intelligence and assertiveness. 




Emotional intelligence is more than a career boost; it is one of the keys to resilient leadership and organizational development. It combines the conscious recognition and regulation of one's emotions with the ability to maintain empathetic relationships and lead teams inspiringly. In the field of interim management, it is essential for adaptability, quick switching, and effective communication. Emotional intelligence, with its five core components self-reflection, self-control, motivation, empathy, social skills—forms the foundation for sustainably successful management. 


Anne-Pascale, in a world where the nature of leadership is rapidly evolving, how do leaders balance empathy/emotional intelligence and assertiveness? 

 

Anne-Pascale Posey: First, it's important to recognize that empathy and assertiveness can coexist very well today. It's interesting to observe how current trends in leadership are crystallizing, particularly in terms of balancing empathy and assertiveness. We see that these two aspects are becoming increasingly important. One example that comes to mind is Jacinda Ardern, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand.


She impressively demonstrates how one can be both empathetic and assertive, making her a fascinating example for our discussion. A quote from her that inspires me greatly is, "I proudly focus on empathy, because one can be both empathetic and strong." 

 

I want to emphasize the relevance of these themes as they directly impact the way we lead and how our leaders are perceived. By engaging with current events and inspiring leaders like Ardern, we can better understand how empathy and assertiveness can be applied in practice. 


Another inspiring example is Faustine Bollaert, a well-known French journalist, radio and television presenter who was voted the most popular TV presenter. Audiences appreciate her for her pronounced empathy. She shows how empathy is valued in public communication by conducting deep, respectful conversations, emphasizing solution approaches and people's resilience. 


And the oldest example shaping our culture is a story from the New Testament. It tells of a high-ranking Roman officer who actively advocated for the well-being of his servant when he became ill. I like this story because it demonstrates the responsibility and care of a leader who not only took care of his own affairs but also those of his subordinates. It also highlights the timeless relevance of leadership values and how they can inspire us to take responsibility in our position as leaders—to advocate for the well-being of our team. It reminds us that leadership is not just a matter of authority, but also of humanity. 


These are very good examples. Ardern's leadership has been praised worldwide. But how exactly can this balance be implemented in practice? 


Anne-Pascale Posey: It depends on respecting the other person as a valued individual. It's not just a trend; there are genuine examples of leaders who proudly combine empathy and assertiveness. It's about listening, understanding, yet keeping one's own and the team's goals clearly in sight. 


A key aspect here is the concept of mirroring. By consciously changing our own behavior, we can significantly influence the behavior of our counterpart and thus contribute to positive change. This technique is particularly effective in leadership positions, where one's own behavior inspires the team. It shows how empathy and adapted behaviors can integrate effective leadership in daily life, improving relationships and communication within a team. 


Could you explain the principle of mirroring a bit more? 


Anne-Pascale Posey: Of course. Mirroring is based on the idea that we listen to our counterpart by confirming with their words what we have understood. Even when we adopt a more open, empathetic stance, we encourage our counterpart to also behave more openly and trustingly. This approach is particularly important in leadership, where the emotional resonance between the leader and team members can significantly constructively influence team dynamics and performance. 








Anne-Pascale Posey: Empathy is a valuable trait that is often underestimated. It's still often thought to be useless until one finds oneself in difficult situations and realizes its significance. I encourage viewing empathy as a key component of leadership that helps strengthen connections and create a supportive environment where everyone can fully realize their potential. And isn't that what really makes a company successful? 

Personally, my respect for leaders who show empathy continues to grow. Because empathy is more than just an emotional reaction; it is a sign that shapes the character and effectiveness of a leader. 


How do you manage to effectively use empathy while maintaining a healthy level of self-reflection to avoid becoming overly involved? 


Anne-Pascale Posey: A significant part of my work involves regularly reflecting on and reevaluating the relationships one builds. It's important to understand the current state of these relationships, clarify common goals, and also recognize personal boundaries. 

I particularly emphasize the importance of clear boundaries. It's important to recognize when one is being "pulled" into something that goes beyond personal or professional boundaries. This recognition and the courage to set my boundaries are crucial for maintaining my integrity and self-respect as well as the respect of our counterpart. 

We can only be responsible for our own actions and do our best to create a positive and supportive environment, even when others behave differently. 

It's important to consider the needs and perspectives of both parties without neglecting one's own boundaries. Excessive adaptation can lead to an imbalance and ultimately impair the coaching outcome. 

Therefore, it's crucial to set clear boundaries and maintain both self-respect and respect for others. Only in this way can we maintain a healthy coaching dynamic while effectively supporting our coaches. 


What is particularly important to you in coaching? 


Anne-Pascale Posey: I often encourage people to be brave and try new approaches, even when they have doubts about whether something will work. An experience I frequently have: A person who was initially skeptical dared to try something new, and as a result, not only gained more self-confidence but also respect and influence in their area. This shows how the courage to try new solutions pays off. 

I value the openness to pursue concrete new solutions because they lead not only to personal growth but also to greater respect and more recognition from others. It's important that we encourage each other to try new paths and take risks, as only in this way can we drive true change and innovation. 


Have you recently coached someone who realized they needed to work on their emotional intelligence? 


Anne-Pascale Posey: Yes, in my coaching practice, I have had the opportunity to support many committed and ambitious individuals who, however, had difficulties effectively working with their teams. One example is a person I accompanied who was willing to take concrete steps to improve their management style. 

Through individual coaching, we were able to identify specific examples and measures that they could implement in their daily work environment. These practical steps led to noticeable changes in their dealings with their team and their leadership. 

An important aspect was adjusting their leadership style to the different personality types in their team. They recognized the importance of leading and supporting each team member individually to maximize the team's potential. 


How should leaders deal with criticism from the team constructively? 


Anne-Pascale Posey: It's important to recognize that even the most challenging conversations can offer opportunities for growth and change, both for ourselves and for our relationships with others. 

Especially in crisis situations, it can be challenging to work on oneself and make progress. Nevertheless, it's important to persevere in one's goals and continue despite difficulties through self-reflection and perseverance. 

Ultimately, it's up to us how we handle challenges and promote personal and professional growth. By maintaining a positive attitude and continuously striving, we can learn from even the most difficult situations and emerge stronger. 


How much time should one plan to achieve results? 


Anne-Pascale Posey: I always emphasize the need for sustainable changes through coaching. It's not a short-term "cosmetic program" but requires time and commitment. Therefore, I recommend several coaching sessions to achieve lasting improvements. 

As a coach, I need to be flexible and adaptable to meet the individual needs of my clients. This also takes time. Overall, my goal is to help my clients develop personally and professionally and achieve long-term positive changes that they can continue to build on independently. 


You also offer emergency coaching. Can you explain that a bit more? 


Anne-Pascale Posey: Absolutely. Emergency coaching offers leaders the opportunity to seek support in challenging moments. It's about finding possible solutions for their specific situation quickly when they feel stuck. 

Empathy brings about change and de-escalation. I also apply this principle when I am contacted over the emergency phone. It takes courage to call. Most often, the person who called feels better already because they know they are no longer alone in tackling a challenging situation. Very often, the person who called has figured out concrete constructive steps for their emergency situation during the call. They feel better as a result. 


Finally, what would you advise interim managers to find the balance between emotional intelligence and assertiveness? 


Anne-Pascale Posey: I would advise using active listening techniques and being open to feedback. It's important to have the courage to address difficult topics while simultaneously communicating clear goals and boundaries. This not only builds trust but also creates a work environment where everyone feels valued and understood. 

Thank you, Anne-Pascale, 


 

 



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