You get to work 10 minutes late after dodging through traffic caused by four accidents.  Your boss then yells at you for wearing a shirt that is not sufficiently ironed.  You sulk to your desk where you check your emails to find that your hottest lead for a new client just canceled their appointment.

Hopefully you don’t have days like this too often, but when you do it’s hard not to let your emotions kick in and take over your resulting behavior.  You probably don’t go Hulk on the workplace and kick over your desk, but you may express it in subtler ways.  You might be distracted from your work as your brain races with ideas on how to manage a problem at home or you might not feel like attempting certain tasks because of how you’re feeling.  Even if you hold in the emotions, the results can still have negative effects on your productivity.

Understanding what emotional intelligence is, will give you a serious advantage in today’s workplace.  You will lower the amount of stress you feel, work more effectively, and make decisions with clear judgment.

Definition of Emotional Intelligence

Robert Cooper, author of Executive EQ, defined it this way, “emotional intelligence is the ability to sense, understand, and effectively apply the power & acumen of emotions to facilitate high levels of collaboration and productivity”

That is some heavy language, but a simpler way to understand emotional intelligence is by studying Daniel Goleman’s five emotional competencies;

1.  Self Awareness: The ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their effect on others.

2.  Self Regulation: The ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses and moods and the propensity to suspend judgment and think before acting.

3.  Motivation: A passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status and a propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence.

4.  Social Skills: A proficiency in managing relationships and building networks.

5.  Empathy: The ability to understand the emotional make up of other people.

By mastering each of these pillars, we are essentially managing and shaping our emotions in a fashion that will improve our ability to make decisions.  It helps to consider an example.

In Arizona where I live we have lots of venomous rattlesnakes.  A few years ago there was a story in the paper about a man who came across one of these snakes on a hike in the desert.  As he was crossing the trail a snake struck out biting him on the leg.  Immediately the man responded in anger, looking for anything he could find to kill the snake.  Running on adrenaline, he spent an incredible amount of energy finding a stick suitable for the job, and then chasing the animal down where he could enact his revenge.  When his hiking partner could finally convince him to calm down enough to get him to the hospital he was already in critical condition.  He was lucky to make it.

In our own lives, we often find our decisions are clouded with emotional venom.  Instead of thinking logically, we react purely on anger, frustration, or fear.  In a similar manner, strengthening our emotional intelligence will give us greater capability to control those behaviors.

What Do Emotionally Intelligent Leaders Look Like?

There are some key differentiators when it comes to those who have emotional intelligence and those that do not.

Highly emotionally intelligent leaders:

  • Listen more than they talk
  • Emphasize the “How’s and Why’s”, instead of simply telling people what to do.
  • Engage team members and recognize their contributions rather than continually criticizing and correcting their mistakes
  • Understand what energizes and engage people on their teams and create environments that foster that energy.

Whether in the heat of battle or under the pressure of meeting goals, your leader needs to not just have the required skill competencies, but the emotional intelligence necessary for long term success.

A great analogy to consider is that of a glacier.  On the tip are the job skills such as technical capability, certificates, degrees, everything that is visible evidence that the candidate can perform the job.  But what about everything we aren’t seeing?

Under the water are the five pillars; self awareness, self regulation, motivation, social skills, and empathy.  A potential leader can show great potential in the short term on visible skills alone, but for long term sustaining success, one needs to be emotionally intelligent as well.