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To understand emotional intelligence, you first have to ask yourself: Am I willing to celebrate the success of others and be comfortable in their success? That’s the threshold that determines whether emotional intelligence will translate to a meaningful impact on you and, by association, the people around you.
To be clear, there’s not a right or wrong answer to this question. It’s more about confronting your true self. If you aren’t authentic about your own motivations, you’ll have great difficulty connecting authentically with others.
The other thing to understand about emotional intelligence is that it’s not new. It’s not a pandemic-inspired fad to add to your modern-leader toolkit and it’s not a “soft” skill. The most successful leaders have been those who aren’t afraid to validate the concerns of others or even share their own in the interest of true solidarity. They communicate honestly and appropriately and practice active empathy for the needs of those around them. That is, in fact, a hard skill set to master.
Making Room for Emotional Intelligence
My first experience with emotional intelligence was as a young man in my father’s factory, watching with awe as the HR director defused a tense situation without responding to aggression with aggression of his own. Although I was still years away from figuring out how to recognize and respond to other people’s emotional cues, it was an eye-opening event for me.
What followed were my first steps toward making room for emotional intelligence in my life, beginning with a series of questions. What just happened? How did it make me feel? How is it different from the way I would have normally acted or reacted? How do I measure those differences? Am I capable of change?
My next steps were learning more about what was involved in embracing emotional intelligence. Most models focus on identifying, evaluating, regulating and expressing emotion. In practice, this means being more aware. It means looking for cues like vocal inflection and physical gestures. It also means being thoughtful of the words you choose when explaining or describing something. It’s a simple concept with an infinite scope. So even if you think you might be ready, how do you know where to begin?
Making a Case for Emotional Intelligence
Take a moment and think about your family, your friends and your colleagues. If you had the power to change their lives for the better, wouldn’t you? For me, that’s one of the most powerful and compelling motivations for implementing emotional intelligence — providing people with a better experience in their interactions with me.
That gives me peace. In a strange way, this might sound self-serving, but I want to leave a legacy of myself. I want people to think of me as someone who brings value. In my personal life, I want my family and friends to be treated well because of my behavior. In my professional life, as an entrepreneur and executive, each time I ask employees to take a leap of faith, I’ve got to be able to find common ground and connect with them so they know I care about them and where we’re all going to land after we jump.
Emotional intelligence requires you to balance your needs against the needs of others. The most talented group of people can’t accomplish anything together if they don’t have a common understanding of their mission and values. They’re an assemblage that looks good on paper, but they’re not a fully optimized unit. When you take the time to connect with others, you inspire enthusiasm, admiration and mutual respect, and that goes a long way.
Making Emotional Intelligence a Priority
For years, however, we’ve been shooting ourselves in the foot. Workplace dissatisfaction and burnout were on the rise even before the pandemic, but instead of making mental wellness an accepted part of the routine for checking in with teammates, many leaders avoided it. Society attached a stigma to emotion when it comes to decision making and performance, and it’s having the opposite of its intended effect.
As a leader, how can you expect your teammates to align in order to reach a goal if one or more of them is distracted, depressed or unmotivated? It’s no different than if someone was suffering from the pain of an open wound or a broken limb. Mental wellness is a physical thing — it resides and manifests itself in your body. We’re kidding ourselves if we think we’ll inspire productivity in people who are unwell.
Nowhere was that made more apparent than with Naomi Osaka and Simone Biles earlier this year. Their willingness to dismiss significant external pressure and safeguard their own well-being has brought a new light to a discussion that for so long has been out of bounds. Having an outsized talent doesn’t put you outside the limits of the human body. Accepting the need to replenish is what makes you stronger in the long run, and supporting that need makes you a better advocate for the good of others and yourself.
As leaders — advisors, coaches, mentors, executives, and so on — if we truly want others to succeed, it’s our responsibility to aid their well-being. That means fostering a better understanding of those around us so we don’t injure them or our relationship with them. It also means communicating at a level that promotes mutual learning instead of rote prompts and responses.
As a team, you are only as strong as the least strong among you. Imagine what you can achieve when everyone is supported in operating at their full potential.