Leadership is generally challenging, requiring as it does constant adjustment to a changing and often ambiguous environment. The bar is set considerably higher for those with a lower than average emotional intelligence quotient, (EQ). An impressively high intelligence quotient or IQ can only take you so far – if you can’t bring others along with you on the journey, a lynchpin of leadership, you are unlikely to succeed as a leader – emotional intelligence is the critical difference.
In a recent article by the hugely interesting Dr Travis Bradberry listed Eleven Signs You Lack Emotional Intelligence; to summarise the key elements: –
- You are easily stressed
- You find it difficult to recognise and describe your emotions
- You don’t know your triggers
- You are easily offended
- You don’t get angry
- You find it difficult to assert yourself
- You come to assumptions quickly and defend them vehemently
- You hold grudges
- You hold on to mistakes
- You feel misunderstood
If, like almost 50% of the population, your EQ is lower than average, or indeed, if you score well and simply want to improve your ability to understand and connect with others, the good news is that our emotional intelligence is not fixed – recognising one’s low EQ is the first step in taking action improve it, become a better leader and probably get more out of life generally.
Here are some tips to improving your EQ: –
- Recognise and name your emotions
Instead of suppressing your emotions become aware of the way you are feeling – acknowledge it to yourself and namethe emotion – “I feel angry/frustrated/upset/excited” – by doing this we improve our self-knowledge, are better able to recognise feelings in others and understand better the messages we might be sending out.
- Know your triggers
Observe the things that create an emotional response within you. Once we are aware of our triggers we can anticipate our knee-jerk reaction and be aware that we might be about to react illogically/inappropriately. This gives us extra time to consider what reaction, (if any) serves us best in the current situation.
- Engage fully
Pay full attention to others in your interactions. Stephen Covey came up with the adage “listen to understand” – what marvellous advice! Too often we are waiting to the opportunity jump in with what we have to say, instead of concentrating on what is being said. In this way we fail to appreciate the full content the other person is trying to express. We are most of us guilty at some point of failing to be fully present in an exchange – perhaps checking a text message, thinking of the next thing on our agenda or even thinking we know what is about to be said. By giving our full attention not only do we actually understand more, but we make the other person feelunderstood, which builds trust leading to greater disclosure and therefore better co-operation/team working.
When delivering, think about your message from the perspective of your audience and frame your points in a way that can be understood by them – what is their preferred style – direct/with humour/high level/detailed? If someone likes a high level outline, you are unlikely to reach him/her if you dive straight into the detail – a little like speaking Swahili to an Italian speaker – they simply won’t understand.
- Develop a sense of curiosity and suspend judgment
Curiosity is a playful and joyous thing – it leads us to wisdom. Rather than assuming that you recognise the situation and therefore know the answer, be open-minded and think through what the underlying causes/motivations/triggers might be. This applies to both seemingly positive and negative situations – some we might wish to replicate, while being curious about the negative might help us to prevent such episodes in the future.
By judging too quickly we miss a huge opportunity, as we are foregoing some of the relevant information available to us – we are making up our minds with only half of the story. Equally, if we feel judged we tend to be defensive – the death knell of expansive thinking and creativity. Being quick to judge ourselves is also damaging – be curious about your own motivations (and triggers) and thus receptive to new and innovative ways of doing and thinking.
- Be aware of your biases
Sadly, we all have biases – some conscious, some not; in both cases we are choosing to see only part of the picture and closing down possibilities. Look for your own biases, and also ask for feedback – “was I being fair/did I miss something relevant/how else might I have approached that situation”.As always with feedback, it should be specific and constructive – “you did quite well” is of no use to anyone, “what specifically was good and what aspects could I have been better?” Encourage others to be honest with themselves about their biases – this should be done gently, for example, by asking what evidence brings them to their conclusion. This is not a point scoring exercise – it this is your motivation for asking then please keep your enquiry to yourself.
- Keep a Reflective Learning Journal
Call it what you will – reflective learning journal/diary/notebook/brain dump – but keep a record – commit your inner thoughts and observations to paper (or digitally, if you prefer). The act of writing slows our brains down and helps us to process our thoughts with fewer interruptions from within our own heads. It also allows us to be open and honest with ourselves and provides a record to which we can return.
This record is simply a repository for your thoughts. It is entirely private, (helping you to be open and honest with yourself). It is a ‘book’ dedicated to this purpose alone – it is not the next page in your general notepad – this is an important record; treat it like treasure. It also comes with an appointment to engage with it on a regular basis – at least once a week, (by preference a few minutes each day) reflect on what has happened, how it came about and how you have reacted, concluding with what you learnt.
I acknowledge that there is a lot to take in, this is a journey – do not attempt all six steps at once. Instead start by finding yourself a reflective learning journal – a private place to record your observations, thoughts and plans. Be it physical or electronic, it is for your eyes only, so you can be be entirely open and honest with yourself. Your first entries should name the emotions you have been feeling and if possible the triggers. Move on to point 3 once you have master this.
Next month I will write a little about getting the most from your reflective learning journal, but please don’t wait until then, make a start, experiment and see how you get on – remember, perfection is the enemy of good, take that first step and learn as you go.
About the Author: Fran McArthur is a coach, trainer, action learning facilitator, and no-executive director with more than 30 years of business experience. She typically works with executives, who lead organisations of £1 – 10m turnover and who wish to effect positive change, particularly those making a positive impact on the environment . She collaborates to help them to achieve their goals using her practical, common-sense approach
Your can contact her at
enquiries @yibp.co.uk or 07789 520205