I recently facilitated one of my monthly CEO Roundtable groups, and a member raised the topic of Emotional Intelligence (EI). My members all run multimillion-dollar businesses, and have high emotional intelligence. (By the way, "Emotional Quotient" and "Emotional Intelligence" are different. EQ measures capacity; EI indicates application of EQ.)

EI was coined by two researchers--Peter Salavoy and John Mayer--and then popularized by Dan Goleman in his 1996 book Emotional Intelligence. They define EI as the ability to:

  • Recognize, understand, and manage our own emotions, and
  • Recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others.

People with high EI know that emotions can drive our behavior and impact people (positively and negatively), and they know how to manage those emotions (their own and others'), especially when they are under pressure.

Emotional intelligence is essential in success because people do business with those they trust.

There are five components of emotional intelligence that allow people to recognize, connect with, and learn from their own and other people's mental states:

  • Self-awareness: Knowledge of our own emotional state and how we are showing up in the world.
  • Self-regulation: The ability to control how we are showing up, and to keep our emotions in check when situations call for control.
  • Motivation (defined as "a passion for work that goes beyond money and status"): What moves us to do our best?
  • Empathy for others: Feeling for others when they are experiencing emotions (positive or negative) as a result of their own life experiences.
  • Social skills: Proficiency in managing relationships and building networks with communication.

It's great to know about Emotional Intelligence, but as we have all learned, execution is everything.

Through my work, I have the privilege of helping CEOs with high emotional intelligence identify and face the challenges that are holding them back from reaching their greatest personal and organizational potential.

The fact that they reach out for help to move to their next level of growth is a telltale sign of their emotional intelligence.

However, in virtually all of my engagements, we invariably come to a crossroads, where my clients must commit to applying what they've learned to move through a painful transition to get them to the other side of the obstacle.

Knowing what to do is not the same thing as doing it.

Every day, leaders must make difficult decisions. They have to determine who to hire, who to fire, who to promote, how to lead through difficulty, where to invest their funds, how to keep employees engaged, how to lead compassionately when employees have personal struggles, how to balance empowerment with accountability, where to invest their networking time, how to keep customers happy, what vendors to trust, and many other decisions.

Creating the internal emotional strength to execute these decisions is the single most important aspect of emotional intelligence.

Six Strategies to Increase Your Capacity for Applying Your Emotional Intelligence

Here are six actions you can take to boost your likelihood for applying your emotional intelligence in difficult situations:

Keep a journal. Create a list of situations or events that "trigger" negative emotions, such as anger or frustration. Write out a strategy to deal with these situations in a positive and effective manner. Review them often so you're prepared to put them into practice.

Practice being calm. The next time you're in a challenging situation, be mindful of your response. Do you relieve your stress by shouting at someone else? Do you clench your teeth? Does your heart rate accelerate? Counting to 10, or closing your eyes and taking a deep breath, will help you control your emotions so that your emotions don't control you. Remind yourself that a negative reaction to a stressful situation will likely make the situation worse, and will affect your relationships with others long after the situation has passed.

Be positive. Emotionally intelligent leaders lead from a place of optimism. They find the silver lining in the storm and view challenges as learning opportunities. As leaders, they are aware that their reactions will set the tone for how others respond to difficulty.

Put yourself in someone else's position. Strengthen your empathy muscle. It's always easy to support your own point of view. Emotionally intelligent leaders always consider how decisions and situations impact others. Empathy tells others that you care about their well-being and success, and that they are not alone in their difficulty. They also communicate their support.

Pay attention to body language. When you listen to someone, do you cross your arms or look around? This tells others how you really feel about a situation, even if you are speaking a different message. Learning to read body language can be a real asset in a leadership role, because you'll be better able to determine how someone truly feels. This gives you the opportunity to respond appropriately.

Practice gratitude. As a leader, you can inspire the loyalty of your team simply by showing appreciation. It tells people you are paying attention, and that you acknowledge that others are essential to your success.

Emotional intelligence is one of the most valuable resources you have as a leader. It enables you to deeply connect with your most important business stakeholders, which inspires loyalty in all business conditions. It also cultivates a culture of trust, so that others feel safe and empowered to give 100 percent to you and the organization.