By now you have probably heard about the importance of emotional intelligence. You may know that people with average intelligence quotient (IQs) outperform people with high IQs roughly 70 percent of the time, and that emotional intelligence explains the discrepancy. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to evaluate, control, and express one's emotions and assess the emotions of others, and it is more responsible for on the job success than IQ.
It makes sense that a high EQ is critical for a leader to be effective. Effective leaders need to be able to identify and control their emotions so they can make the right decisions for their organizations. They need to be able to take calculated risks, communicate effectively, and build relationships. They need to be able to understand the emotions of their teams so they can inspire and drive them to success.
The importance of EQ, particularly the components focused on self-awareness and self-regulation, became especially clear to me while working with the Women Presidents' Organization in 2010 at the height of the global financial meltdown. The executives who were part of the group had been leading their organizations through an incredibly chaotic time and were looking for ways to help manage the turbulence. An idea emerged -- these leaders needed to focus on their "way of being" rather than the circumstances they found themselves in.
It's a simple, intentional process that anyone can follow. Here's how:
Think about the last time you were in a contentious meeting. Maybe you were trying to figure out the best way to allocate your limited resources in the midst of competing priorities. Maybe an initiative or product that you launched is in trouble and you and your team are trying to figure out what to do about it. This meeting probably made you tense, anxious, maybe even irritated. That's completely normal and expected.
The challenge becomes when, as a leader, you let these "ways of being" cloud your judgment and negatively impact your behavior. When the leader of a group is anxious or tense, that energy can permeate the group and stall progress. It could also cause you to make a decision that alleviates your anxiety but may not be the best decision to address the challenge at hand.
Every moment of every day we're all "being" some way. Angry, happy, loving, stressed, aggressive, etc. Take a minute to stop what you're doing and notice how you're being. Take stock of how you're feeling in that moment. Are you happy? Irritated? Skeptical? There's no judgment -- there is no "right" or "wrong" way to be. Just identify the way you're currently being.
This step of noticing your "way of being" helps to increase your self-awareness, a key component of emotional intelligence.
After you've noticed how you're being, you then have the chance to decide how you want to be. Did you notice that you're being assertive? Is being assertive working for you in this moment? If it is, then you may choose to continue. But if it's not, figure out what would help.
Put yourself back in that contentious meeting. Notice your tension. While being tense isn't "wrong," it may not be helpful for the group. Maybe the group would benefit from a calming presence, allowing the team the space to see possibilities rather than becoming mired in any negativity associated with their conflict. Whatever you choose to be, acknowledge that it is your choice. This is a way to help manage your emotions and recognize the role your choice plays in increasing your emotional intelligence.
Channel the way of being you've chosen and become it. If you've chosen to be peaceful, calm your mind, slow your breathing, relax your muscles. Powerful? Stand up tall, uncross your arms, project your voice. This is the part where you implement the decision you made.
This process is a way to manage emotions and be a leader during difficult times. It's a conscious way to exist that, while intuitive, doesn't come naturally to many people. Take the time to practice it over and over again, and it will become second nature. When you choose to exist and behave in a peaceful way in the midst of chaos, screaming matches cease and people respond to the change. This process helps to empower leaders to recognize their emotions and then decide what action they can take for the benefit of their team.