Emotional intelligence matters.
As my Inc. colleague Justin Bariso has shown in a series of excellent articles, higher emotional intelligence (also referred to as EI or EQ) can lead to better performance, better pay, and greater overall success, can improve your relationships, and even help prevent you from being manipulated.
But here's the thing: Just like most of us feel we're above average drivers, which means half of us are wrong, most of us also tend to think we have high emotional intelligence.
Think about it: When was the last time you heard someone say, "You know, I pretty much suck at accurately identifying my and other people's emotions, at applying emotions to thinking and problem solving, at controlling my emotions and cheering up or calming down other people...really, I'm probably the least self-aware person you'll ever meet"?
That was definitely true for me. I assumed I possess high emotional intelligence. I especially thought I had high emotional intelligence from a leadership perspective; I spent years supervising and managing manufacturing teams.
But that was just my opinion--so to find out for sure I talked with Dr. Steven Stein, the founder and CEO of Multi-Health Systems (MHS), a three-time Profit 100 (fastest growing companies in Canada) company that helps improve leadership skills and emotional intelligence for Fortune 500 companies, the military, government organizations, and professional sports teams. He's also the author of the new book EQ Leader: Instilling Passion, Creating Shared Goals, and Building Meaningful Organizations Through Emotional Intelligence, as well as the best-selling The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success.
So yeah. Dr. Stein knows a lot about emotional intelligence and leadership.
First I took the EQ-i 2.0, a 15-minute psychometric assessment that measures emotional intelligence and how it impacts people and the workplace. EQ-i 2.0 is a scientifically validated test that helps identify strengths and weaknesses in personal leadership abilities.
The test is simple and easy to take. You see a series of statements and click the appropriate "sometimes," "always," "never," etc. prompts. Since there are no right answers, I went fast on purpose. I tried not to think hard because, as anyone who has taken any type of personality test knows, it's tempting shade your answers towards what you think will make you look good, rather than how you really are.
Hey, the fact I recognize that is a sign of emotional intelligence!
(OK, maybe not.)
Eight or so minutes later, I was finished. Easy.
Then came the harder part. Seeing my results.
I eventually received a 27-page report detailing my specific results, showing me how I compare to other leaders, providing insights into each aspect of emotional intelligence, and describing ways I can work on improving areas where I'm particularly weak (and even where I'm relatively strong).
But before I got the report, Dr. Stein asked to talk me through my results to give me even greater insight (or maybe just to keep me off a ledge). He picked out three areas where I ranked relatively high and three areas where I...well, let's just use the term "needs improvement" and leave it there.
Keep in mind I took the Leadership Version. There's a general version that compares test takers against the norm. The Leadership Version compares your results to those of successful leaders. The benchmark is different (something I kept reminding myself) because leaders generally score higher in emotional intelligence.
That's why--in most cases--they're leaders.
Here are my top strengths:
I tend to make my own decisions, go my own way, and do my own thing. I sometimes take advice from others, but largely I make my own decisions.
That makes sense since I don't lead teams. When I did, I like to think I often sought input and feedback. Now, I'm in the business of me.
But still: I could benefit from more input and more advice. I don't have all the answers. I never have. So while independence came out as a strength, it's also a weakness. I want--I need--to actively get advice from people I respect.
2. Impulse Control.
According to Dr. Stein, relatively few leaders have impulse control as one of their top three strengths. For example, entrepreneurs tend to be more impulsive.
On the other hand, corporate leaders tend to do well on impulse control because loose cannons typically don't rise through a hierarchy.
This result made a lot of sense. I'm really good at following routines. I'm good at not doing things that are not a part of my program. I might occasionally be better served by leaping before I look, though, if only because blind leaps can often be fun leaps.
Even though I like to create routines, it turns out I am fairly good at adjusting to change. I can go with a new flow. Flexibility is a critical strength for leaders; seeing the future is one thing, but adapting to that future is where many fall short.
I agree with this one, too. When things change, I do go through that "Aw, crap," moment and grieve for what once was, but I'm pretty good at adapting to new realities. I don't look back for long; I tend to think, "OK...how do I make the best of (this)?"
Those were my strengths--although compared to the 250 top leaders, none were particularly strong. My highest score (independence) was above average, but it fell at the midpoint of the "leadership bar."
Now for the fun part.
Here are my biggest weaknesses:
1. Social responsibility.
I rarely think about environmental and social issues. Like, almost never.
"What we're finding for leaders of the future," says Dr. Stein, "is this is a key area. Social responsibility will differentiate the high-performing leaders of tomorrow."
Good thing I'm already old.
I thought a lot about this one. When I led people, I cared a lot about their well-being (sometimes too much). I felt a social responsibility to the people I worked with. Had I still been in that role, I would have answered a number of questions differently. But I'm not, so I thought about "social responsibility" in broader terms.
I don't worry about global warming or global pandemics or saving whales. I do little things, like recycling and picking up stray litter and trying to control the things I can directly control, but I don't advocate for causes. I don't watch An Inconvenient Truth. I don't keep up with events in Syria or Iraq or Turkey or even Washington, D.C. I tend not to worry about--or even think about--things I don't feel I can impact or control.
So yeah: That's not a good look for me.
Neither is this.
I tend not to speak up and voice my opinions.
If I can rationalize for a moment, partly that's due to what I now do. I no longer work within a hierarchy; I am not in a position to push back or step forward. When I did, I was more assertive--not always with the people who worked for me (on a scale of soft to hard leaders, I wasn't a marshmallow but I definitely wasn't a stone wall), but definitely with the people I reported to. In fact, my degree of "upwards" assertiveness once got me fired.
In social settings, I'm definitely not assertive. If you and I disagree on politics or global warming or whether Richard Branson is the most important entrepreneur of our generation, that's cool. I don't feel any need to change your opinion. I'm a live and let live kind of guy.
Clearly, though, assertiveness is important for leaders, and I do agree that I was less assertive in certain situations, and more assertive in others, than I should have been.
According to my results, I doubt my abilities and am not always confident. Confidence is an extremely important quality for leaders--if you're not confident in a direction or strategy, how could your team be?
Plus, confidence is scientifically linked to success.
But confidence is a funny thing. For me, and maybe for you, confidence is situational. Stick me in a room with 500 people, ask me to talk about how the power of routine can virtually guarantee success, and I'm extremely confident.
Send me out on a ride with a few professional cyclists and I know, from experience, that I will get shy and insecure and act like a very small fish in a really big pond.
Another reason I fell short in the self-regard category is that I'm my own biggest critic. I don't compare myself to other people, which is a good thing, but I do compare myself to a really high bar, which can be a bad thing. If I accomplish something, I allow myself a second or two of satisfaction and then instinctively look for ways I could do better next time.
That does tend to keep me moving forward...but it also makes me score low in self-regard.
And oddly enough, I'm OK with that. I'd rather be humble than cocky. I'd rather strive for improvement than rest on laurels. And I'm pretty good at recognizing situations where further improvement isn't relevant; while I would like to be as strong a rider as a professional cyclist, what's the point? The work involved won't yield a commensurate payoff--my effort is better spent where there is a worthwhile payoff. And a lack of confidence never stops me from trying new things, hard things, or even stupid things.
So I'm OK with my score on self-regard; while a lack of confidence is sometimes a problem, better that than the opposite.
The Next Steps
Taking an emotional intelligence test is interesting, but what matters more is what you do with those results.
As Dr. Stein says, "Any assessment is incomplete without feedback and coaching." Books and lectures can help you understand emotional intelligence, but to make improvements--to learn about yourself--means doing.
So Dr. Stein gave me a homework assignment for social responsibility. "Stop and take a look at a situation around you that might be in need," he said. "What can you do to make a difference in a cause you care about? That will also help you understand other people a little better, too--and might help you increase your confidence as well."
(Good emotional intelligence homework assignments always bleed over and impact more than one category.)
So I did. I went to a local zoning meeting and showed support for my neighbors' concerns about a potential variance. I even spoke during the meeting. (Assertiveness!) And I felt good about it. (Confidence!) While the proposed variance wouldn't have affected me much, or even at all, it felt good to not only understand where other people were coming from, but to try to help them.
Small thing? Absolutely. And that's OK.
Emotional intelligence isn't something you either have or don't have. You can shape and mold your emotional intelligence. You can improve your emotional intelligence.
If you're a leader--which in some way, we all are--then you need to improve your emotional intelligence.
You won't just be a better, more successful leader. You'll also be a little happier.