No doubt emotional intelligence is more rare than book smarts, but my experience says it is actually more important in the making of a leader. You just can’t ignore it. —JACK WELCH
What Is Emotional Intelligence?
The set of skills that make up emotional intelligence have evolved along with humankind. The need to cope, to adapt, and to get along with others was crucial to the survival of the early hunter-gatherer societies. The human brain reflects this undeniable fact. Sophisticated mapping techniques have confirmed that many thought processes pass through the brain’s emotion centers as they take the physiological journey that converts information into individual action or response.
Basic emotional skills are the building blocks of emotionally intelligent competencies. —STEVEN STEIN
Self-Perception: Know Thyself
We tend to underestimate how important our emotions can be in not only getting through our day, but in getting to where we want to go in life. We refer to knowing your feelings in the moment as Emotional Self-Awareness. I find that people who are successful in life tend to be not only good at recognizing exactly how they feel about other people, things, and situations, but they tend to know themselves as well. That is, they know their strengths and weaknesses and how to best deal with them.
Knowing your strengths and weaknesses, and having the right amount of confidence is referred to as Self-Regard. Truly successful leaders also have a sense of how they are doing in terms of their life plan. They know, in their gut, that they are doing the kind of work they love to do, living the life they chose, and pursuing learning experiences that reinforce their worklife choices. They also, along the way, contribute to other people’s success. We refer to this as Self-Actualization.
Emotional Self-Awareness: Know Your Feelings
We all have feelings stored away in our brains that are associated with events, people, and circumstances. These emotions range from joy and happiness to fear, disgust, and anger. Some of us are better able to recall these emotions and reexperience them. Others spend their lives suppressing many past emotional experiences.
By gaining awareness and analyzing your feelings and thoughts you will then be better able to take control of your emotions and modify them as needed. For example, knowing that your frustration comes from thinking you can’t change the circumstances, such as the financial results at work, you may try channeling the frustration into a more motivating emotion, such as a bit of excitement or challenge. That may lead you toward looking at ways you may, in fact, be able to come up with creative solutions, such as enlisting employees into looking for ways to save money/reduce spending, and looking at new opportunities for customers or products and services. You might want to meet with some of your more senior staff to help you look for solutions, or perhaps set up a special committee involving employees in helping find solutions. Remember, your emotions can be a call to action, as opposed to a reason to withdraw.
Changing Your Perception of Stress
Being aware of your stress is the first step in managing it. Often we first become aware of our physical cues: our heart rate increases, we get butterflies in our stomach, our skin may become flushed, our muscles tense, we start to sweat, and our voice suddenly gets louder. You can try and control your feelings, even fight them, but that doesn’t tend to work. In fact, the symptoms may get worse once we get anxious about our lack of control over the anxiety symptoms.
Another way to deal with these situations is to change your perception—your thoughts or interpretation about what is happening. How you interpret the symptoms, for example, can affect how you deal with anxiety. Instead of Joanne focusing on her speedy heart rate and sweaty palms and instantly connecting it to her fear of public speaking, and then worrying about all the things that can go wrong, she could have restructured her thoughts. She could feel her symptoms and then reinterpret them as part of the excitement of a new challenge. She could then try to revisualize her presentation as a great leadership encounter that she can conquer.
Looking at Self-Awareness and Self-Regard
By introspection we get at how we see ourselves, which can often be different from how we really are (or at least as we are seen by others). However, our self-perception may be somewhat flawed by the unrealistic view we have of ourselves. Hogan refers to this as our identity, which may be self-fulfilling or self-sabotaging.
On the other hand, how others see us is referred to as our reputation. This may be closer to Socrates’s version of self-awareness. Rather than simply introspecting on ourselves, as Socrates said, “To know thyself” goes beyond self-reflection. In the Greek concept, self-knowledge means being aware of your personal performance limits and understanding your strengths and shortcomings. And that kind of self-knowledge comes from experience, not introspection. That experience goes beyond your own self-reflection and considers evidence from others as well as your successes and failures in navigating the world.
This helps explain why some people’s self-report on 360 assessment measures (360s are where your self-rating is compared to other people’s ratings of you, such as subordinates, peers, supervisors, and so on) fail to match the report that others make on them. Now it may be that some of your thoughts and beliefs cannot be observed by others and therefore are not available for them to accurately evaluate. However, most 360 assessments try to compensate for this by being based on observable behaviors. In any event, people at work are often rewarded (or punished) because of how their performance at work is seen by others, most often their superiors. Their self-perception can be important, but your fate is often based on the judgment of others.
Discovering Your Self-Regard
There are various ways to learn more about your own self-regard. An easy way is through an emotional intelligence assessment, either self-report or 360.
However, it’s one thing to look at your relative strengths and challenges, but there’s an additional dimension to looking at how you compare to a large sample of other leaders. Leaders can see how they stack up against others because their EQ-i 2.0 scores are based on our large sample of normative data. Once they review their reports they quickly discover whether they tend to be over-, under-, or precise estimators of their emotional skills in the different areas. For many leaders, this is their first insight into how they see themselves in comparison to other leaders who have self-assessed.
Leaders high in self-regard are confident leaders. They feel good about themselves and where they are in life. They tend to be in tune with their emotions. That means they can recognize what they’re feeling emotionally and can predict how they might feel in certain situations. Further, they can detect nuances in their emotions. Understanding these differences can be helpful when making both large and small decisions.
On the other hand, leaders who score low in self-perception are not in touch with their feelings. They tend to lack inner strength and confidence. They often feel insecure and will sometimes come across to others as erratic or not in control. Instead of using emotions as a guide to making choices and managing stress, their emotions either elude them or are likely to confuse them. They often have difficulty understanding the emotional landscape and this hinders their ability to be effective as a leader.