Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

I am so pleased to be able to talk with you this morning about one of my favorite topics, which is emotional intelligence and leadership.

So what exactly is emotional intelligence? In 1995, Daniel Goleman, who is a psychologist and a science journalist, published a New York Times bestseller book entitled “Emotional Intelligence Why It Can Matter More than IQ” and that’s really what got emotional intelligence out into the public and it became kind of a popular idea.

Goldmann went on to write many more books and he is the first person to establish a link between emotional intelligence and business leadership. Goldman said, “In a very real sense, we have two minds, one that thinks and one that feels.” If we have these two minds, doesn’t it make sense to measure them differently? So the thinking mind gets measured by IQ, our intelligence quotient, and our feeling mind gets measured by EQ, our emotional intelligence quotient. (That’s the shorthand for emotional intelligence that I use is EQ.)

I’m going to start out by telling you what emotional intelligence isn’t. It isn’t about being nice and it isn’t about letting all your feelings hang out. What it is about is recognizing that our emotions are always present and doing something intelligent with them. It’s about using our emotions for good rather than using them against us.

I’m going to share with you a couple of real-life examples of emotional intelligence.

A number of years ago there was a 60 minute segment and it was done by one of the correspondents, Steve Hartman, and this was about Los Angeles traffic cop and his name was Elton Simmons. This guy had been a traffic cop at that point for twenty years and he had made 250,000 traffic stops. Not remarkable on its own, however, he did not have one single complaint against him during all that time and all those traffic stops. So Steve Hartman wanted to investigate this, how could this happen? He went and observed officer Simmons doing what he did, stopping people. And in his words Officer Simmons had the pitch perfect mix of diplomacy and authority without the attitude. As he watched some of these people get stopped and sometimes given tickets, he noticed that these people seemed actually smitten by Officer Simmons smile and just his general attitude and demeanor. It’s not that Officer Simmons didn’t give out tickets because he did, it’s just that he gave them out without the guilt trip. At the end of this 60 minute segment, there’s a woman who had just been given a ticket and she’s smiling and she says “I’ve never been so happy to get a ticket in my life.” So that’s emotional intelligence at work!

My next example comes from my own coaching work, where I was coaching a mid-level manager and I knew that he had a pretty high degree of emotional intelligence. But I had heard this about him, he would take people into his office for disciplinary reasons and sometimes he would have to write them up and yet they would come out of his office and they wouldn’t seem disgruntled, they wouldn’t seem upset, they wouldn’t seem angry. The people surrounding this manager’s office would say, “Um, didn’t you just give so and so a disciplinary action? Didn’t you just write him up?” And the manager would say, “Yeah I did and he actually thanked me on his way out of the office.” So again that’s emotional intelligence at work.

Now I’m going to talk to you about the four components of emotional intelligence, which are self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management.

First we’ll talk about self-awareness, which is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence. Self-awareness is about identifying our emotions, understanding them and our responses to them. Self-awareness really helps us is to be able to identify what our emotional tendencies are and what our own personal strengths and weaknesses are.

You may see on your tables there are colorful emotions wheel. I want you to take it out and take a look at all the emotions that are listed there, you can see there are many more than just sad, mad, and glad. What I’d like you to do for a few minutes is to take a look at that emotions wheel and try to come up with one or two emotions. In terms of how you’re feeling at this exact moment and you can just jot them down one or two emotions and I’ll just give you a minute to do that.


If you’re interested in increasing your own self-awareness, just get into the habit of checking in with yourself a couple times a day and over time you will just automatically become more self aware, very very simple.

Next, I’m going to talk about self management and that has to do with managing our emotions and controlling our reactions and responses to our emotions. We can’t control our feelings, but we can control how we choose to respond to our feelings. And, keep this in mind, that out-of-control emotions can make a leader, a smart leader, seem pretty dumb.

I’m going to teach you a technique to manage your own emotions, a very quick technique, and it is called deep breathing. Sounds pretty simple right? So if you’re willing, what I’d like you to do is to close your eyes and we’re going to do some breathing to the count of four. What I’d like you to do is breathe in through your nose to the count of four, hold it to the count of four, and blow it out your mouth to the count of four. All the way out and just take a few normal breaths keeping your eyes closed again, breathe in through your nose, hold it, and blow it all the way out. Take a few normal breaths, we don’t want you to hyperventilate. And again breathe in, hold it, and blow it all the way out. And we’re going to do it one more time. So breathe in, hold it, and blow it all the way out. And then just slowly and gently open your eyes and come back to the room. So hopefully just from that short little exercise, you see that it does help to just calm you down a bit and if you practice it on a regular basis you will definitely take the edge off. And if you’re in a really stressful situation, that’s when it really helps to calm you down!

Next we’re going to talk about social awareness and social awareness means being able to accurately pick up on the emotions of other people and to anticipate their needs to some extent. Empathy plays a major role in social awareness because it helps us to see and feel things from other people’s perspective. So if you ever want to increase your empathy towards someone, ask them to tell you their story, we all have a story. What I’d like you to do for the next couple minutes is pick a partner at your table, if it’s an uneven number it can be a group of three. And I’d like you to just for a few minutes exchange your favorite childhood memory, go. PICK A PARTNER AND SHARE CHILDHOOD MEMORY.

The next and final component of emotional intelligence is relationship management and that has to do with making the most of our connections with other people. What that really requires is having good social skills. So I like this quote by David Deming, he’s an associate professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Education, and he says “If it’s true that work is becoming more team-based, and there’s a lot of evidence that it is, then it ought to be true that people who are more able to work with others will become more valuable.” Being able to work with others is what are referred to as soft skills, which I’m proud to say were mentioned earlier in this meeting.

What exactly are soft skills? They’re not specifically job-related or technical, they have more to do with you know your personality traits or habits. Keep in mind that having hard skills without soft skills is pretty well useless. So let’s talk about some specific soft skills. Drive and work ethic, they can be a little bit tough to measure, but you kind of either have them or you don’t, but there are actually some assessments that do measure this. The most important soft skill for a leader is to be able to communicate clearly and effectively and that includes both the written word, spoken word, and also being able to be a good active listener. Just remember hearing is not the same thing as listening. It’s also important to be aware of your body language and to remember that bad news should always be delivered in person. You have to be good at making quick decisions and thinking on your feet. Being able to organize and run a team is a really important skill for a leader, the way to do that is really to know what the specific strengths and weaknesses of your team members and combine them to reach a common goal.

Often times employees will look to their leaders for reassurance during times of change and transition and how a leader reacts to the pushback or the resistance that always comes with some type of change can really determine how they’re viewed by their team members. A successful leader is first and foremost a problem solver. It’s really important for that leader to keep their emotions under control in pressured situations. Also quick stress recovery is critical. It’s important for leaders to be able to be resilient and to bounce back quickly from adversity. You don’t have a leader who experiences something you know stressful that gets them upset and then carries it out throughout the day.

What happens when leaders aren’t emotionally intelligent? I was working with a large company, I was coaching some pretty high-level leaders and they told me that they were encouraged to develop what they called “sharp elbows” and be more like porcupines. Well I don’t know about you, but when I’m kind of expending my energy trying to protect myself from quills and elbows, I really don’t have the energy that I need to be able to do my best work. People in that environment tends to be a little bit paranoid and afraid of making mistakes. Now I’m not really sure what kind of leadership books the executives at that company were reading, but I know they’re not the same ones that I’ve been reading.

Another thing that a leader who is not emotionally intelligent, they might you know lash out at their employees. They lose their cool because they are not able to manage their emotions and if you recall that is the second component of emotional intelligence, self-management. A leader who is not emotionally intelligent is going to tend to avoid conflict situations. When a conflict is not addressed in the workplace, often times it gets worse for one thing, and people are very uncomfortable working in a real tense stressful environment and may end up leaving. So if a leader does not deal with a conflict in the workplace they may end up losing some very valuable employees.

Another thing that happens with leaders who are not emotionally intelligent is that there are low levels of psychological safety. According to years of research at Google, the psychological safety is the single quality that really contributes most to team success.

What exactly is psychological safety? It’s when team members feel comfortable and relaxed enough to say what they need to say, to be honest in their groups, and to be vulnerable in front of each other.

How does one go about increasing psychological safety? Well, one thing is to use the Platinum rule. We all know the golden rule which is to treat other people the way we like to be treated, but the Platinum rule goes a little bit further and says to treat people the way they like to be treated. In order to know how they like to be treated, guess what, you have to have a little bit of social awareness and have some empathy. Which, you may remember is the third component of emotional intelligence.

It’s important to establish an atmosphere where employees are willing to learn and participate in conversation because that really helps them to be more creative and more engaged at work. And, I mentioned when a leader is not emotionally intelligent that they avoid conflict. Leaders who are and who want to promote psychological safety deal with conflict in a proactive way. Actually if you’re dealing with conflict effectively, it can be really yield some excellent results.

It’s important to give employees a voice, you want to provide opportunities for employee feedback and for them to get involved in conversation. If an employee comes to you with a good idea, do what you can to try to get that idea implemented. If you can’t, just let them know that that’s not possible, because you certainly don’t want to discourage them from coming to you with ideas in the future.

It’s important to create an atmosphere where employees experience interpersonal trust and mutual respect for one another, that really goes a long way towards creating psychological safety.

Promote effectiveness, you don’t want to look at your employees as just a means to an end. If they know that they feel emotionally safe, meaning that they know that their leader has their back, then they’re going to be more productive, more innovative, and more engaged. Think differently about creativity, all ideas should be encouraged and employees should feel comfortable being able to make mistakes without penalty.

I once read about a company where the CEO had a rule and that was that he wanted all of his employees to make at least seven mistakes a day. He followed that and the reason for that is he said, “if you’re not making seven mistakes today you’re not trying hard enough.” Not only did he not penalize people for making mistakes, he actually encouraged it.

What do emotionally intelligent leaders do differently? They can leverage their emotions for the good of the group. Leaders are often called upon to be change agents. If they can anticipate how their employees are going to respond to change, then they can prepare for it and plan for the change to be initiated and carried out in a way that is accepted a little more easily. Leaders who have emotional intelligence don’t take things personally, they’re able to go through their plans without any kind of impact on their egos.

My final point about emotional intelligence comes from the world of primates, specifically chimps. So when a chimp is injured, another chimp may mimic their distress in order to give them some empathy, and maybe a chimp will come over and start stroking the injured chimp to give them solace. Well in a chimp world, female chimps provide solace more often than male chimps do. With one intriguing exception, the troop leaders or the alpha males, provide solace even more frequently than the female chimps do. So in nature’s design, leadership requires a pretty high dose of empathy.


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