Emotional Intelligence

The Hidden and Sometimes Scary Key to Impactful Leadership…Our Feelings

“To master your emotions is not to suppress them.
It is to process them with diligence and express them with intelligence.”- Kam Taj

In my 15 or so years working with leaders, there is one topic that has stood out as The One to go gently on: Feelings.

Expressing emotions in the business world is (still) oftentimes viewed as useless and inappropriate. After all, people are hired to get the job done, not to feel, right?

And in the case where some feelings, like enthusiasm, passion and inspiration might occasionally be acceptable, any feeling such as sadness, fear or anger indicating an unmet need erroneously seems to signify an irrational, unstable or weak person.

In reality, nothing could be further from the truth: our emotions can play a pivotal role in leadership, even guiding the decision-making process. Think of emotions as a compass that can guide our choices.

Do you believe that disagreeable emotions have no place in leadership? Think again. Consider fear – this instinctual response can alert us to danger…and even help to protect us. Emotions are information about what might be missing for us. That’s powerful, isn’t it?

Enter Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EQ) – is the ability to perceive, manage, express, and understand one’s own emotions as well as others. The benefits of EQ can positively impact everything from everyday workplace productivity to the entire culture of an organization.

In fact, according to Oxford Leadership, developing our emotional intelligence not only makes us better leaders, it can be attributed to:

  • 58% of job performance
  • 90% of top performers
  • an additional $29,000 in compensation annually

Leading With Your Heart or Your Head?

Use Both. A clear example of using emotional intelligence as a strategic tool is revealed in a powerful book, “Leading with Feeling: Nine Strategies of Emotionally Intelligent Leadership,” by Dr. Cary Cherniss and Dr. Cornelia W. Roche.

They cite the story of Tom, a young, successful engineer in a large steel company who suddenly finds himself a manager. At a meeting with a major auto manufacturer firm his firm supplied, Tom was bluntly told he and his team were lousy at just about everything they did.

For Tom, it was like having the rug pulled out from underneath. Now what, he thought?

Instead of immediately reacting, he took the time to listen to their lengthy list of complaints. Then Tom spoke from a place of contained emotions, telling his critics: “I wouldn’t blame you if you fired us as a supplier. But if you give us a chance to fix the problems, I guarantee you that we will not have this kind of meeting next year.”

Tom met with his team, asking for their explanation for the poor performances. He refrained from lashing out, from berating anyone.

Take the Time to Listen

Instead, Tom took the time to understand his team, to ask questions and listen to their answers. He then asked: “What can we do to remedy the problem?”

What was a profound outcome of Tom’s response to the many criticisms thrown his way?

His team had a clear realization that Tom cared.

The next year, at a meeting with the formerly disgruntled company, he heard the best news of his career – they had never witnessed such a turnaround in business in just a year.

How did Tom do it?

He effectively used his emotional intelligence: he perceived and understood his own emotions, how to use them to his benefit and he was able to tap into the emotions of those around him.

To become the best version of ourselves and to achieve the best possible results, every leader can (and should) develop emotional intelligence. This is how we can build teams that believe – and trust – in us.

“It is very important to understand that emotional intelligence is not the opposite of intelligence, it is not the triumph of heart over head–it is the unique intersection of both.” – David Caruso

What are the Characteristics of Emotional Intelligence?

The School of Life lists 26 ways to determine how emotionally mature we are. Among them are:

  • Understanding the enormous influence of so-called ‘small’ things on mood: bed-times, blood sugar and alcohol levels, degrees of background stress etc.
  • Learning that what is in our head can’t automatically be understood by other people.
  • Realizing that most of the bad behavior of other people really comes down to fear and anxiety.

We know that the most impactful leaders are emotionally intelligent – and people are naturally drawn to them.

They are not impulsive or quick to act and think before they speak, much like the example of Tom, the successful engineer in the example above.

An impulsive, non-emotionally intelligent person finding themselves in a situation like Tom’s would most likely behave in a defensive, blaming manner. Such reactions most often result in undesirable outcomes like tense relationships, information hoarding, and victim stances toward growth.

Increasing Your Emotional Intelligence

Abhi Golhar writes in Inc., stating that statistical data has proven that employees with high levels of emotional intelligence see profound increases in productivity and sales.

Can we learn to be emotionally intelligent? Absolutely.

Some highlights from Golhar’s suggestions:

  • Develop an assertive – not aggressive – style of communication.
  • Mindfully respond instead of reacting to situations.
  • Listen more. (This is a key trait for every leader to develop, read more here…)
  • Cultivate a positive, can-do attitude.
  • Show empathy to those around you. (Here are simple strategies to try in this article.)

Practicing Self-Awareness or Self-Reflection is a Solid Foundation to Developing Emotional Intelligence.

Today, get on the metaphorical balcony to observe your emotions. And, rather than labelling them as “good” or “bad,” see them, as the Center for Nonviolent Communication does, simply as emotions when your needs are satisfied and emotions when your needs are not satisfied.

Understanding the source of your own emotions more deeply, cultivating a knack for appropriately expressing them – and being able to hold the space for others to do the same – is where your leadership genius can take root.

“Leaders must either invest a reasonable amount of time attending to fears and feelings or squander an unreasonable of time trying to manage ineffective and unproductive behavior.” – Brene Brown

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