Several years ago I was introduced to Daniel Goleman’s book, "Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More Than IQ." At the time I remember thinking, “This seems like common sense,” but didn’t see the lack of emotional intelligence among leaders as a huge problem. Since then I’ve come to appreciate that many corporate and political leaders are emotionally very ignorant — maybe even immature.
My grandson, who is now three weeks old, makes faces, cries, and gets very cranky when his needs aren’t met. However, he can’t talk — he can’t do anything for himself — and I expect him to cry when his diaper is wet or his tummy is empty. This behavior won’t be acceptable as he gets older, and certainly not when he becomes an adult. Although it makes me smile when he carries on like a baby, I don’t feel the same about political leaders, presidents or CEOs who stamp their feet and carry on like children when they don’t get their way.
Speaking about emotional intelligence the other day, author David Peck said, “How you respond to stress, relate with colleagues and listen to your feelings are all keys to leading others well, and to doing your best work. Such emotional intelligence or ‘EQ’ is not a fad or psychobabble; it’s grounded in experience and data.”
Since my first introduction to emotional intelligence, I must admit I’ve witnessed countless business leaders, executives and political figures throw tantrums that demonstrate their lack of EQ. I’ve also noticed that the guys and gals who I root for as they rise to the top are those who are emotionally savvy and mature. They are able to relate to others well, get along with everyone in the office, and ultimately succeed.
Nevertheless, Peck suggests, “While this is familiar ground for leadership development and talent management professionals, many in the trenches wonder what, exactly, it means — and why they should care.”
One emotionally ignorant (I can’t think of another term) executive I once worked with didn’t see the need to worry about whether or not he was able to effectively communicate with or have empathy for his staff. When he was assigned a coach to help him better relate to his staff and improve his success, his comments were along these lines: “I’m already very successful. Why do I need any of this?”
I’m afraid he’s not alone in his opinion. What’s more, he is very successful and it’s not hard to see why he doesn’t comprehend the relevance.
If you’re interested in seeing where you fall on the EQ scale, Peck offers a list of six data points to measure your emotional intelligence:
Your real-time access to the full range of your feelings: There are many men of my generation who shut off their emotions when something makes them feel uncomfortable. I don’t think anyone would disagree with the fact that there are appropriate and inappropriate times to display emotion, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be aware of the emotions we’re feeling and acknowledge that others might be feeling that way too. How can we expect to understand what others are feeling if we don’t have a handle on what we are feeling?
The balance between your level of positivity and negativity: We all know people who are perennial “Debbie Downers,” but I don’t think that’s any more detrimental than the person who takes a “Pollyanna-ish” approach to everything either. In the extreme, neither approach reflects reality and both have been known to make me want to smash something.
The degree of your orientation toward yourself versus others: It’s been said that “you” is the most powerful word in the English language. It might be interesting to take your smartphone out during your next conversation with a colleague, record the interaction, and count how many times you say “I” versus how many times you say “you” during the conversation. I imagine you’d be surprised to learn just where you fall on the “yourself versus others” continuum.
How you balance your reliance between your thoughts, actions, and feelings: I think balance is the key here. Are your actions a reflection of your thoughts and feelings?
How accurate your empathy may be: This is really asking if you can put yourself in another man’s or woman’s shoes — and whether or not you really understand what it’s like. I’m amazed at how many leaders don’t seem to be able to do it and aren’t very accurate. I read awhile back that men who read novels (I assume the same is true for women, but men tend to read less fiction than women), are more empathetic. Reading fiction requires the reader to have empathy for the characters in order to engage with the story — in fact, it helps us learn how to be more empathetic. I can’t help but wonder if the fact so many men don’t spend time reading fiction is one of the reasons so few of them seem to be successful at understanding their colleagues and subordinates at work.
Your overall level of empathy and compassion: All this talk of empathy and compassion is likely a little too touchy-feely for some, but it’s a critical part of understanding what motivates people, how successful we are at communicating with people, and ultimately whether or not we are successful leaders.
It’s true that feelings might not be facts, but Peck suggests, “When you pump a little iron on finding the best balance between your thinking, actions and feelings, you can’t help but improve your career fitness as a leader, whether you are a new manager or CEO.”
I couldn’t agree more.
As a main street business evangelist and marketing veteran with more than 25 years in the trenches, Ty Kiisel writes about leading people and small-business issues for Lendio (lendio.com).