Emotional Intelligence is Critical for Leaders to Make an Impact
When I was in school, my teacher held each student accountable for what he or she learned. He insisted that we put our learning into practice doing math problems, rewriting essays, discussing book themes, and running science experiments. We did things over and over again--together--because that’s how humans learn best. It’s how we learn to drive a car, cook food, grow vegetables, and play basketball. It’s also how we learn to become more emotionally intelligent.
Emotional intelligence (EI or EQ) refers to the ability to recognize and regulate emotions in ourselves and others through four key elements: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness (or empathy), and relationship management. The goal is to become enlightened enough to recognize and regulate these areas. By doing so, we maximize our personal state of being, which in turn improves our interactions and relationships. The feedback loop guarantees benefits, many times over, back into our ways of being.
A heightened degree of emotional intelligence has personal benefits. For example, increased self-awareness helps you respond better to day-to-day situations you face as a citizen and consumer, such as poor customer service or road rage. In the same cases, a heightened level of empathy can help reduce the duration of these episodes and can lead to a healthier response from the other parties.
Emotional intelligence also translates to optimal outcomes as a leader in your business. In challenging situations such as contract negotiations and terminations, or even in positive cases such as company celebrations and closed deals, a high degree of EI can go a long way in building strong relationships and cementing your role as a strong leader.
What’s missing from the ways we tackle our emotional intelligence?
Businesses now take it for granted that effective leaders are highly emotionally intelligent. Studies say EQ can be learned and increased in adulthood, increases worker performance regardless of industry or position, and improves organizational performance and profits. But questions remain: How do we actually learn EI, put it to practical use on a daily basis, and know it’s working, especially in a fast-paced growing company?
From my experience, the answers are team-based learning, practice, and accountability.
The challenge with something as complex as EI is similar to other learning efforts we pursue as adults: it just can’t be learned and implemented by reading a book or attending a seminar. In those cases, the learning goes on the proverbial shelf and rarely gets pulled out over time. Instead, the subject matter must be learned with others so that our thoughts are shared and discussed, it must be practiced on a consistent basis, and we must have others who hold us accountable for the learning.
Learning has an effect when accountability is built in.
When we engage in learning with others over time--when accountability’s built in--we’re better able to assess whether our learning is having an effect. We reflect on the daily practice, share our learning with others, and hear what they have to say.
I can assert this because of my work at The Junto Institute, in which founders and leaders of growing companies learn together. One of the programs in the 10-month curriculum is a leadership forum licensed from The Liautaud Institute, which designed it and ran clinical trials that showed a 23 percent increase in EI for participating executives over a two-year period. Our particular take--in progress now for the first time, with startup CEOs--requires leaders to attend meetings together, practice specific habits, and then report on and discuss the outcomes with forum members.
Practical exercises help you put learning into practice.
At each monthly meeting, moderators assign participants a specific exercise (such as becoming a better listener) that he or she must practice during the following month. Each participant receives reminders and encouragement via short daily text messages that reinforce elements of the exercise. At the following meeting, participants share the highs and lows of their experiences. For example, one participant talked about how he moved his desk against the wall to remove the physical barrier between him and other employees when they walk into his office. He noticed that employees visited him more consistently because he would listen more attentively.
Layered on top of the leadership forum is a series of monthly classes, taught by seasoned entrepreneurs, that cover EI and business topics. Those topics are designed to reinforce elements of the program. At the start of each class, participants share their actions and outcomes since the prior class.
In one case, a participating CEO shared the outcome of an action he took as a result of two classes: self-management (EI topic), during which active listening was discussed, and financial management (business topic), in which profit margin formulas and cash flow management were covered. The experience he shared was when he "[practiced] active listening methods in meetings with buyers, resulting in more transparent information" that led to better terms for his company with regards to cash flows and profit margin.
Learning EI pays immediate dividends.
We’re anxious to assess the long-term impact the curriculum will have, but already have plenty of results to assess the short-term impact. (Outcomes get collected monthly from each program.) But participants got positive results right away. For example, the firing of a senior employee was handled well. Employees were more engaged and morale was higher. One said he got to the office earlier than he used to. Another said he learned how to better manage expectations of a new Head of Sales. A third said he was able to turn down an investor group while maintaining the relationship.
Each outcome is desirable for a leader of a growing company. At the surface, they may seem simplistic and obvious, but anyone in a leadership position knows how challenging it is to achieve just one of these. What it makes it more challenging--and what often leads us to giving up--is trying to accomplish these things by yourself and hoping for immediate results.
But when you learn with peers, you put the learning to practical use on a daily basis, and you share the ups and downs with those peers, you can also overcome the two hurdles of implementing learning as adults--practice and accountability. And even if that learning is for something as complex as emotional intelligence, you can start seeing results fairly quickly.
Raman Chadha founded The Junto Institute, a progressive school that develops leadership capabilities, emotional intelligence, and management skills for founders of growth companies. He's also a Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship at DePaul University, a frequent speaker and blogger, startup advisor, and graduate of Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management and the University of Illinois.