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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Silence

Leveraging the Quiet Power of Silence

As many parts of our society re-open and we enter a phase of the “new normal,” quiet time has never been more important.

We’ve become a plugged-in world. It’s not just the office, with its constant stream of interruptions, meetings, and distractions. It’s outside office hours, too, that seem to offer no respite from noise.

Zoom meetings disrupt home routines. During a relaxing dinner out, even if we’re chatting face to face with a friend, we abruptly ignore them to answer our phone.

We even take our phones into the bathroom with us. And into the bedroom…

Do we even remember what silence is? Most people shun it and have become so used to 24-7 noise that they’re uncomfortable in the silence.

And yet, silence is a powerful healer. The more hectic our lives are, the more we need silence. Our souls demand it.

Scientific data notes the mighty benefits of silence – its restorative abilities not only reduce stress, but can increase creativity, cognitive functions, and elevate mood.

Take a moment right now – in the silence – and discover why silence is truly golden – and good for your overall wellbeing.

Structured Silence: Going Beyond the Noise

What do author JK Rowling, psychiatrist Carl Jung, and Governor Jerry Brown have in common?

They all credit dedicated periods of silence as a component of their success.

The busier our lives are, the more critical it is for us to cultivate times of silence.

Silence fuels the brain, boosts energy levels, and even increases production of brain cells.

Recent research confirms the benefits of silence:

  • A study by Imke Kirste of Duke Medical School discovered that silence can stimulate the development of new brain cells in the hippocampus – the area of learning and memory.
  • Psychologist Jonathan Smallwood discovered that creativity was boosted when one is able to be in silence and focus self-generated thought – thoughts that occur when the mind is not interacting with the outside.
  • Physician Luciano Bernardi discovered that just two minutes of silence between musical pieces created more balance to the respiratory and cardiovascular systems than even ‘relaxing’ music.

The Impact of Noise in the Workplace

On the flip side, noise in the workplace can harm morale, creativity, and production.

  • The Journal of Environmental Psychology published a 2013 survey study noting that participants working in open floor plans were frustrated by distractions that they felt held their performance back. Nearly half the 43,000 employees surveyed felt the benefits of increased interaction of open floor plans were outweighed by the negative effects of increased noise levels.
  • The New Yorker reviewed research on open-plan offices and discovered that it did not enhance employee performance: it hurt productivity, attention spans, and hindered creative thinking and satisfaction.

“Work hard in silence, let your success be your noise.” ― Frank Ocean

Quiet Introvert or Bold Extrovert Leader: Which Style of Leadership for the Future?

Extroverted leadership is openly exhibited in politics, leading many to believe that the louder one speaks, the more boastful one is, and that bragging about achievements and being a noisemaker comprise a great leader.

Not so fast.

New research has discovered that for tackling the historic challenges of the world today, a quiet and introverted style of leadership may be the better way.

In an Open Learn article, we read that the value of introverts, notably in leadership, is not valued enough – this according to Susan Cain, author of “Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.” She cites two notable introverts: Steve Jobs of Apple and physicist Albert Einstein.

The Hidden Power of an Introverted Leader

Research notes the benefits of introverts in leadership positions. Introverts:

  • Tend to listen to their teams more
  • Are humble, and more likely to give credit to their team
  • Give more thought before taking any action
  • Are unlikely to jeopardize performance by seeking greater benefits, such as money or power

This might be surprising to some, but it’s true: the workforce is made up of 40-60% introverts. Their success in leadership positions comes in their ability to listen – not to react – but to respond. And in today’s turbulent world, listening is a greatly valued trait.

Words Aren’t Everything:  Silence in Leadership

Successful leaders know the value of silence – it can speak louder than words.

Avery Blank offers leaders ways to make the most of silence in her Forbes article:

The value of silence can:

  • Highlight a point. Fewer words means we’re heard – when it matters most.
  • Cultivate trust. To build trust, we must listen –dominating with excess chatter does the opposite.
  • Empower others. It allows our team members to speak up with their ideas and give them opportunity to lead. It builds respect – and boosts our impact and reach as leaders.
  • Bring power during business negotiations. Silence can be a strategic tool that leaves a person wondering what you’re thinking.

Every leader should make a daily commitment to silence – even for just a few moments.

In the busy, noisy, congested (and increasingly digital) world we live in, many may think silence is meaningless, that it’s empty space that must be filled.

Not so.

We’re so busy listening to the world that we don’t take time to listen to ourselves, to self-reflect, to let our brains immerse in quiet healing, to take note of things we’ve overlooked.

And just as importantly, silence helps us hear things that are drowned out in our plugged-in world – leaves gently rustling on a windy day, birds singing their melodies, even the songs of evening insects on a warm summer night.

Sure, many people want to be seen – and heard. But the most important to first see and hear is ourself. Until we can do that, we really can’t do much of a good job seeing or hearing anyone else.

“The quieter you become, the more you can hear.” -Ram Dass

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