Ignoring EQ? That's a Leadership FAIL

You know what makes a great leader.

Razor-sharp intellect, of course. Drop-dead analytical skills. Big-picture thinking. A charismatic persona.

But if your list, like so many, includes a steely imperviousness to emotion, think again.

Conventional wisdom says that emotional sensitivity, while it might be an asset in the helping professions, is a liability in the C-Suite. But research shows otherwise. Emotional intelligence, often called EQ, has been found to be a key characteristic of successful leaders. PepsiCo, for example, found that executives with high EQs were 10 percent more productive, had 87 percent less turnover, brought $3.75M more value to the company, and increased ROI by 1000 percent.

That's a big gain.

And it's not just important at the executive level: L'Oreal found that salespeople with a high EQ sold $2.5M more than others.

Even better? Unlike intelligence, or IQ, which is static, emotional intelligence can be learned. When Sheraton incorporated an EQ initiative, its market share grew by 24 percent. So even if you and your team are deficient in this key ability, it doesn't need to stay that way.

What is emotional intelligence?

At its simplest, EQ is self-awareness. It's also awareness of others. It's the ability to recognize your own emotions and adjust your behavior so that the way you feel doesn't lead you to behave in unreasonable ways. It's also the ability to recognize emotion in others so that you understand the reasons they speak or behave as they do.

People with a high EQ are better able to manage their relationships with others, which means that they perform better at work, whether serving as leaders or on the front lines. Leaders who have a high EQ are able to recognize the role emotion plays in their workplace, so they react appropriately and effectively to their employees. As a result, they are perceived as strong and authentic; people want to follow their lead.

People with a high EQ can admit and learn from mistakes. They take criticism well. They listen. They discuss. Those with a low EQ often feel misunderstood. They blame others. They don't think they should be expected to know or care about others' feelings.

Talentforce, a group that studies EQ, found a 90 percent correlation between high EQ and high performance, while only 20 percent of the lowest performers they studied were high in emotional intelligence.

EQ is a relatively new concept. First described in a 1990 paper by two psychology professors, it was popularized by New York Times reporter Daniel Goleman's 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence. The concept was quickly embraced by educators looking for a framework to educate the whole child. Social-emotional learning programs produced improved academic results. It wasn't long before the business community began to embrace the phenomenon, and Goleman's research said they were right to do so.

"My research," he wrote, "along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won't make a great leader."

So how do you increase EQ, either your own, or that of your employees?

Neurological research says that by changing our behavior, we can rewire our brain to behave differently. The brain is constantly making new cells, which respond to our experiences as they reshape the map of our brain.

The goal, then, is not to quash emotions (you can't!) but to learn to recognize them and the role they play in behavior. Goleman claims there are five components to emotional intelligence: Self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. You can learn them all.

Start with listening (empathy, self-regulation). When a peer or a subordinate speaks to you, are you listening attentively, rather than planning your response? If you bracket your own reactions while trying your best to hear what she is saying, you are better positioned to see the emotions underlying her statement. Take time to frame a response that addresses the emotional content of what she said, as well as its surface meaning.

Now, try reducing the negative (self-awareness, empathy). Negative emotions often cloud our judgment, so we should save them for when they are truly warranted. Try to catch yourself assuming a negative interpretation of someone else's action, and then consider other possibilities.

Are you feeling irritated and angry because John did not respond promptly to your email? Perhaps a quick response would have been best, but your anger is likely the result of your taking his lack of diligence personally. But it might not be all about you. Maybe John is overwhelmed. Or simply disorganized. Or maybe he is having a busy day and forgot to check messages. Consider the possibilities, rather than concluding that he doesn't respect you. You still won't like his sluggish response -- but you won't feel personally insulted, and can respond more coolly.

Practice expressing difficult emotions (self-awareness, social skills). A bothersome feeling that is not expressed will find its way out eventually, either through passive-aggressive behavior or a delayed response that is inappropriately strong or misdirected. Pay attention to things that bother you, and practice delivering a limited, measured, appropriate response. Psychology Today calls it "the XYZ response": "I felt X when you did Y in Z situation." It's specific, it focuses on how you were affected, and it's honest. People will respond, and you'll feel better.

Make people feel good (social skills). A key social skill is flattery. People with high emotional intelligence know that those around them have a strong desire to feel good about themselves, and research confirms it. While skillful flattery is best, even awkward compliments are usually well-received. Don't go overboard. Start small, but start.

Increase your own EQ, and pretty soon you'll be looking for ways to spread this skill set across your entire team. It could bring big results for your company -- and will also help to make the world a better place!