Emotional Intelligence: The Ever-Evolving Leader

Everything we’ve covered in our first two leadership articles (five practices of progressive leadership and self awareness and authenticity), make one thing perfectly clear:

When it comes to leadership, how book smart you are doesn’t determine success.

So, what does?

Research over the last decade or so has shown that while IQ is valuable to organizations in many ways, what really gets results, and what’s needed far more than smarts or even genius, is EQ or Emotional Intelligence.

According to Daniel Goleman, the neuroscience pioneer who brought EQ/EI to fame, emotional intelligence is the ability to manage the self and relationships effectively, and it consists of four fundamental skills:

  1. Self Awareness
  2. Self Management
  3. Social Awareness
  4. Relationship Management

Together, these skills define our ability to recognize and understand emotions, as well as our ability to use this awareness to manage our behavior and our relationships with others. They include aspects of our being that regular intelligence does not.

To better illustrate the point, let’s look at employee and manager performance within an organization:

In the workplace, IQ applies to WHAT. Specifically, what’s getting done; what we are doing. EQ, on the other hand, is about the HOW; how it’s getting done; how we’re managing the implementation.

Everyone has EQ, to one degree or another. But the exciting news for leaders is that emotional intelligence can be learned and developed.

At The Singer Group, we’ve been using EQ Theory with leaders for quite some time, especially with regard to managing change, simply because we’ve witnessed the dramatic impact developing EQ skills has on outcomes.

One client, in particular, stands out as a wonderful example of what can happen when a leader commits to working on EQ.

Sally (not her real name) was director of a public-sector organization. Although highly educated and classically intelligent, she had a rather “bull in a china shop” approach to leadership. Not surprisingly, her style “passed” much of the time – at least, as long as the organization stayed status quo.

The moment change was required, however, Sally met resistance at every turn. So, she called us.

The initial meeting went much as we’d anticipated. Sally asked us to work with her staff, because that, of course, was where the problem was! Fortunately, for her team, her organization, and her career, she was willing to trust us when we explained that she would need to model the culture she wanted to create first.

For a short time we worked closely with Sally on deepening her self- and social-awareness, as well as on improving her self-management and social skills. At end of the process, she jokingly reported that her entire staff “had changed overnight.” Clearly, she now understood that the changes she had made within herself, and in how she managed her relationships, were what had really changed everything.

This speaks to a very important point:

We can change the world only by changing ourselves.

Now, let’s look at the two sides of EQ separately (managing ourselves and managing our relationships).

Emotional Intelligence = Masterfully Managing the Self

We talked about self-awareness last month – the ability to accurately perceive our own emotions in the moment, and the ability to notice our patterns.

The only way to genuinely understand your emotions is to spend enough time thinking through them to figure out what they are, where they came from and why they’re there. Emotions always serve a purpose, and it’s only through reflection that we come to understand what that purpose is.

Self-management, then, is the ability to use our awareness of our own emotions to remain flexible and direct our behavior in a positive manner: how you act – or don’t act – in response to a situation.

Simply put, self-management is managing your emotional reactions to situations and people.

That said, make no mistake about it. Emotional intelligence is not about being nice. In fact, it might be about being blunt. It’s whatever reaction is most needed in the moment – and which comes from a 100% aware and authentic place. A reaction inspired not from blind stimulus-response, but from conscious choice.

Emotional Intelligence = Masterfully Managing our Relationships

Social awareness and social facility are the two skills that comprise managing our relationships. Together, these equal social competence – the ability to understand other people and manage relationships. Being able to accurately pick up on other people’s emotions, even when you do not feel the same way, is an example of social competence. A leader’s level of skill in this arena is what determines the success or failure of a meeting or any interaction.

Emotional Intelligence = Leadership Competence

The well-known Harvard psychologist, David McClelland, found that leaders who have six or more emotional intelligence competencies are far more effective than leaders who lack them. In one study, McClelland analyzed the performance of division heads of a global company and discovered that of those leaders identified as having a high EQ, 87% placed in the top third for annual bonuses based on business performance. Additionally, their divisions outperformed target revenues by 15-20%. Leaders lacking emotional intelligence were rarely rated as outstanding in their performance reviews, and their divisions under performed by almost 20%.

So, the big question is, how do we grow our emotional intelligence in order to become more competent leaders?

Like all the principles and skills we’ve covered in our series on progressive leadership, growing your emotional intelligence requires making changes. And, as humans, we’re up for the task.

A colleague of mine explains it this way: If you take a plastic fork and press it against a wall, it bends easily under the pressure. A metal fork, however, remains rigid under the same amount of pressure. Our brains are more like the plastic fork in that our cells adjust to influences from the outside world. While they may not bend exactly like the plastic fork, they do grow in new ways and communicate with each other in response to pressure and change.

This means we can increase our emotional intelligence by providing our own form of pressure. Getting out of our comfort zones, practicing the skills we’ve discussed and trying new behaviors all work to help us become more comfortable with new ways of being. Thanks to the plasticity of our brains, personality change typically follows our practice, ultimately resulting in permanent change.

Is All this Work Worth It?

We don’t want to sound overly dramatic, but if we as leaders don’t become more progressive, our organizations don’t stand a chance of remaining relevant.

There’s always a significant ROI to be gained when we keep pace with changes in culture and society, and what’s being required of us now (and what will be required of us in the future) is vastly different than what’s been required in the past.

The reality is that the “system” will never change on its own. It’s up to you to challenge the status quo and guide your team and organization to success.

But we can only do this if we’re willing to evolve ourselves into even more exceptional leaders than we are today. We have to be willing to ask ourselves the hard questions:

  • Are we open to knowing ourselves more deeply?
  • Are we open to growing and changing?
  • Are we willing to let go of old models of how we’re “supposed” to lead and, instead, become truly authentic leaders?

The future is, quite literally, riding on your answers.

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