In his book, The Presidential Difference: Leadership Style from FDR to George W. Bush, Princeton University Professor Emeritus of Political Science Fred Greenstein writes about the six leadership qualities that bear on presidential performance: effectiveness as a public communicator, organizational capacity, political skill, vision, cognitive style, and finally, emotional intelligence. He ultimately concludes: “Beware the presidential contender who lacks emotional intelligence. In its absence all else may turn to ashes.”
In his groundbreaking 1995 book Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman’s research suggests an IQ beyond 115-120 is superfluous to leadership, yet the ability to masterfully manage both our own emotions and those of others is almost invariably critical to sustained business success. Emotional intelligence, or EQ (emotional quotient) allows us to calm ourselves and others, skillfully express our emotions, and navigate others’ emotions in a way that builds trust.
The 2016 presidential election season has presented excellent opportunities to see EQ—or often, the lack of it—at work. During the debates, the candidates are effectively interviewing before a panel of millions for THE BIGGEST JOB IN THE ENTIRE WORLD, touting their competencies and claiming superior political proficiency. Yet, we’ve repeatedly witnessed name-calling, interrupting (with two and sometimes even three candidates talking at once), shouting, and a general lack of self-awareness.
For example, multiple clients have remarked that, while they admire Donald Trump’s business success, his sporadic, seeming immaturity makes them uncomfortable. Prior to dropping out, Marco Rubio and Chris Christie at times would become emotionally triggered in the debates, joining Trump in a game of mud slinging. Bernie Sanders repeatedly interrupts during debates. Pundits cite (among other things) Hillary Clinton’s seeming inability to connect emotionally with the masses. Saturday Night Live even recently parodied this apparent flaw, having “Hillary” sing Bonnie Raitt’s “I Can’t Make You Love Me”!
The necessity of EQ is not exclusive to the highest office in the land; leaders in every organization and community need to be aware of and manage their own and others’ emotions, too. Neuroscience has taught us that when we explicitly name our emotions (even silently), we can often impede the fight/flight/freeze response triggered in our so-called “reptile brain” by perceived threats (a client calls this going to “crazy town”). We sense our stress, our bloodstream being flooded by adrenaline and cortisol, and the accompanying increased respiration and pulse as we prepare for “fight or flight”. This crucial self-awareness can be used to develop simple tools to keep emotions in check.
To further illustrate the significance of emotional intelligence (or lack thereof), here’s a blast from my past: I repeatedly butted heads with a particular former corporate colleague. Once, we were to issue a joint report; I provided my part to him for review. He subsequently scribbled a comment I judged to be passive-aggressive on his copy and left it in my office chair. When I discovered his remark, I marched into his office, slammed the door behind me, and commenced yelling at him, concluding with: “You don’t know who the [expletive] you’re dealing with!”
Yes, I threatened him. Profanely. It was a horribly immature way to manage my anger and disappointment at not receiving the consensus and collaboration I’d hoped for. In fact, my behavior was subsequently more harmful to me than the absence of my colleague’s support.
If this situation sounds dreadfully familiar to you, know that EQ is something you can cultivate. I did, and countless other people have, too. It starts with pausing to reflect on escalating emotions before reacting to them. It can be tough to do in real time, but practicing this technique is well worth the effort. We work with executives to help them become more skilled at managing emotions, leading to improved results and more effective leadership.
For this week: Be more self-aware during your disagreements. Are you (or is someone else) threatened? As a third-party observer of conflict, try to gauge what others might be feeling. Frustration? Disappointment? Confusion? Fear? Anger? EQ expands our vocabulary so emotions can be articulated with more specificity beyond merely “glad/sad/mad.”
Once we become more nuanced in identifying the emotions being triggered in both ourselves AND others, we can also begin to discern more skillful ways to respond. For example, research has shown that just three deep breaths can initiate the calming of the “fight or flight” response by diffusing the stress chemicals in our bloodstream, inviting sanity to return.
Another important rule of thumb: at the first sign of becoming emotionally triggered (or noticing someone else doing so), GET OUT. Ask for a lunch break, a bathroom break, or call “time-out” to allow all involved to chill out. Suggest, “let’s sleep on this and resume our conversation in the morning.” Remember, productive conversations are extremely rare when one or more parties are triggered. We simply don’t think clearly under those circumstances, and our reptile brain is more interested in fighting or fleeing the perceived threat, whether it’s a saber-toothed tiger at the door of the cave, or a disagreeing colleague or frustrated significant other.
And remember, as we noted in our previous post, “They can kill you, but they can’t eat you!”
Source: New feed