Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg have both built gargantuan companies, but no one would call either of them high EQ. But their occasionally robot-like demeanor (especially in their younger years) was offset by off-the-charts IQ. Is it possible for a non-genius founder with a low EQ to figure out how to be a great leader?
Sure, answers five-time entrepreneur Morgan Housel on his blog recently. Housel describes himself as not overly gifted in the people skills department himself and lays out a five-step plan for would-be leaders to thrive despite a lower EQ.
If you fall into that category the whole piece is definitely worth a read, but to get you started here are his basic recommendations:
1. Telegraph your low EQ.
There's nothing to be gained in trying to hide your low EQ (your team will almost certainly catch on anyway) and much to be gained in being upfront about your struggles.
If you explain to others that reading emotions is hard for you, "they will work with you to compensate in other ways," Housel writes. "It is also important to remind people that they will be less likely to read your face. So they should not be assuming things from your nonverbal cues...because you are less likely telegraph your feelings consistently."
2. Rely on high-EQ colleagues to act as translators.
Just like you'd use a translator when meeting with someone who speaks a foreign language, "find 1-3 people that can help you translate what others are thinking and explicitly enlist their help. They can tell you when someone does X, they really mean Y," Housel suggests, adding that he uses this technique himself. Of course, choosing smart and trustworthy colleagues to help is key.
3. Be explicit about the context of your questions.
"When leaders (even those who have high-EQs) ask questions to others in their organization, their questions can often be interpreted as directives (even if they are just innocent inquiries). One way you can guard against this is to be explicit about what kind of question you are asking," notes Housel.
If you are flat out telling someone to do something, make that clear. If you're just trying to sell an idea, be clear about this too. Housel lays out the five-hashtag system he uses to distinguish between different types of questions in his post.
4. Be honest and transparent.
People with low EQ often struggle to interpret others' emotions, but other people also often have difficulty reading theirs. The best response to this is greater transparency.
"You can compensate for your low EQ by clearly explaining your thinking to others. This takes out the 'guessing game' for your co-workers. Because people are more likely to misunderstand low-EQ people, you will need to go to greater lengths to show your thinking," writes Housel.
5. Create a personal operating manual.
"An operating manual defines how people should work with you. It should clearly define your personality quirks so that others can get the most out of you," explains Housel, who offers an example from his own manual:
Auren only understands points that are directly made. Auren rarely picks up on indirect points (like non-verbal cues). Auren has mild prosopagnosia--which means he is poor at recognizing faces.
Might this strike someone more adept at the subtleties of human emotion as a little awkward? Sure, but not as awkward as trying to hide your deficiencies and creating confusion and frustration among your team.
The complete post goes into lots more details, as well as offering an unvarnished look into what it's been like for Housel to lead despite his lower EQ. It's well worth a read, but perhaps pair it with inspirational stories and scientific findings that show EQ can be improved.
Take Housel's advice on how to compensate for your weakness, but also know you can strengthen your people skills with deliberate work.