Do leaders REALLY need emotional intelligence?
Now this may seem a very strange questions given that my whole PhD was based around the problems which arise when those leading teams do not have any EQ! But given that my own personal experience amongst many many stories I've heard about "horrible bosses" - tells me that while it certainly isn't nice to work for someone lacking emotional intelligence, and those able to move jobs certainly do so, with the lowered attitude in response of those that remain likely to affect productivity and growth...while long (long) term a low EQ is likely to be unsustainable...in the short term, some of those leaders are here to stay (while they can).
The truth is, it isn't easy to fire someone; it's less easy on the grounds of being an a*sehole, and many people put up with it until they can find somewhere else...and some simply put up with it because they like the job itself, or it's convenient, or it's well paid. And, what someone may lack in "bedside manner" when it comes to making collaborations, they may make up for with a superior product or a strong brand...so while people may not like you, if you don't have much EQ, do you even care!?
Why Emotional Intelligence matters
Now I've said this before:
Emotional Intelligence may be defined as:
- The ability to recognise emotions and respond appropriately (in one’s own conduct as well as dealings with others)
- The ability to express and manage ones emotions in an effective manner
- The ability to handle interactive relationships effectively
Salovey and Mayer expressed the definition as four levels of emotional intelligence:
- Emotional perception (recognising emotions)
- Emotional reasoning
- Emotional understanding (of the self and emotions of others)
- Emotional management (so that emotions are expressed effectively)
For Daniel Goleman, often seen as the “father of emotional intelligence, or EQ”, it is the above as applied to ones self, to our interactions and to groups.
BUT, if my first two paragraphs are true, why is it such a problem when the boss has no EQ?
The answer is not just that:
- Good people will draw their boundaries and leave
- Clients may not want to work with you
- Some people may think - even if the product is good, or the brand is good, or the money is good, it's not worth it if you're awful (even I - self employed and therefore need to pursue leads - have an email label of "Not today Satan" where I file anyone I absolutely will not work with again)...and apparently Brad Pitt does something similar :)
BUT ACTUALLY - productivity (and profit) depends on performance, and performance is enhanced when the leader has a high level of emotional intelligence to be able to motivate, appreciate, support, direct, train, coach, mentor and role model to their teams...
Because emotional intelligence is not actually all that common!
WE have slip ups; WE have off days; WE get stressed and WE have moments when we are too overwhelmed to focus at our jobs - which in turn can lead to "behaviour contagion". The Betari Box model proposes that your attitude can influence your behaviour which in turn can influence MY attitude and then MY behaviour and so on...the cycle can be vicious (ie. I beep at a car and they cut someone up further down the road); or virtuous (ie. I let someone into my lane and they do the same for someone else).
Like any skill, not all of us are hugely practiced, nor even all that good at Emotional Intelligence! And while we may have been taught to share and to say please and thank you, we don't always get taught how to self soothe in a healthy way; or to release our emotions; or even be comfortable with them! (Think about it, how often do you say 'calm down' but never really explain the HOW TO!?... Could you even explain how!?)
In so many ways - leader, or those in positions of influence NEED Emotional Intelligence BECAUSE it is not necessarily commonplace! (And they are in a position to teach, model and draw it out from us...whereas if THEY don't have it either, then how are ANY of us going to grow!?)
So for me, I think leaders DO need emotional intelligence, but not just because of their position, but rather because of the opportunity they have to help others from that position! And I believe we can ALL practice flexing our EQ muscles, because you never know whom we might be influencing!
Ways in which we can learn to boost our emotional intelligence therefore fall within the identified categories – I will use those from Salovey and Mayer:
- Look at emojis for example and see how many emotions you can name. Or simply brainstorm the amount of emotions and emotional nuance you can bring to mind. The more ways in which we can express our emotions, the better we will be at recognising acute differences in how others present them, and if we can identify emotions effectively, we can better respond…for example someone who is “upset” may be lonely or fearful or feeling rejected…each will best be helped with a targeted response which will be quite distinct from each other.
- Rather than taking something personally or too quickly at face value, ask yourself “is there a different way this could be interpreted”. Unfortunately our own personal lived experience will often shape the narratives we tell ourselves and it may be that if we believe someone “blanked” us, then we might get angry with them, but the actual reason may be that they were too preoccupied to see us…which would open up a conversation about how they are doing, which a friend may really appreciate.
- Using a technique from Rational Emotive Therapy can help here, I am going to suggest the Positive Psychology adaptation however – and that is the ABCDE technique for helping us understand our emotions:
o A – identify the activating event – or trigger to an emotional surge
o B – identify what beliefs or behaviours naturally follow from that
o C – reflect on the consequences of those beliefs or behaviours, especially if they are unhelpful
o D – dispute that believe, or find a Different behaviour you could apply
o E (from positive psychology) – engage with Energizers that help you move forward with the different behaviour/belief identified in D. Energizers are ways in which we boost our positive emotions such as doing little things that make us feel good, or substituting an unhealthy reaction (such as comfort eating) for a healthier one (eg calling a friend or having a healthy snack)…they are what help us stay motivated to work through the reflective process.
- For younger children, it may be appropriate to help them express and understand their big feelings through colour – what does a red feeling feel like, what can we do about it…having that discussion and also talking about some of the things that make you feel better is a wonderful way to role model emotional expression and understanding that emotions are not “bad” they are simply like an indicator light – that there may be something that needs looking at.
- The STOP technique from Dialectic Behaviour Therapy is very effective here:
o STOP when you are in an emotional cycle
o Take a step back – think about what you want the OUTCOME to be
o Observe other options of behaviour
o Proceed trying something new
This helps you break a negative or vicious cycle.
- And for children, a lovely activity is to ask them (like a treasure hunt) to find things around the house which:
o Soothe them
o Would soothe mummy/daddy/siblings (other)
Then you gain an insight into how your child feels and what helps them best when it comes to making the big feelings become more manageable.
Emotional intelligence is NEVER about repressing or suppressing emotion, but learning to work with emotions in a positive, healthy way.
Dr Audrey Tang is a chartered psychologist and author with a specialty in the practical "how to take action", rather than just giving explanation and advice. Listen to her podcast Retrain Your Brain here; or her Radio Show "The Wellbeing Lounge", and catch her practical masterclasses Psych Back to Basics on DisruptiveTV & Energy Top Up for resilience. For self development tools based within positive psychology: click Her YouTube Channel . Twitter/IG @draudreyt
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