Leadership and The Feels

When coaching or training turns to the topic of emotional intelligence, we are sure to encounter resistance. It’s baffling that twenty-plus years after Daniel Goleman introduced the masses to the concept of emotional intelligence and the myriad studies and breakthroughs in neuroscience that have filled the years between then and now, we still have to convince leaders to pay attention to the “soft” skills of leadership.

In a recent post, Travis Bradbury points out that we still have much work to do to break through the resistance around emotional intelligence as a critical leadership capacity. In Ultra Leadership, I suggest that “feeling fully” (emotional intelligence) is a foundational leadership skill and that our lack of emotional intelligence makes us more emotionally reactive, less in tune with others, and more prone to careless thinking and ineffective communication – two other foundational skills of leadership.

I think Travis’ article points to a real contributor to the resistance we meet when trying to convince leaders of the merits of growing the emotional intelligence to feel fully. More times than not senior leaders check what EI they have at the door once they enter the environment of top-level executives.

A Balanced Approach

At the highest level in many organizations, the focus is on metrics and short-term KPIs. This focus leads to a lack of balance in how senior leaders approach their roles. A balanced approach focuses on driving business results and engaging others and developing their capacity to contribute to creating the desired results. The senior leadership environment is, in many instances, focused more on driving results than developing capacity.

The environment they work in influences what senior leaders do and how they do it. The need to be seen as a driver with highly developed “hard” business skills leaves little appetite for risking being seen as not driving or too “soft.” When it comes to demonstrating emotional intelligence and feeling fully many tend to play it safe. That is the problem. Simon Sinek says, “To play it safe means you’ll always end up with mediocrity.”

Insufficient emotional intelligence manifests as feeling partially and impacts a leader’s capacity to think carefully and communicate effectively. As a result, business suffers, teams suffer, and individuals suffer. We become stuck in a pattern of usual and ordinary or as Sinek says, “mediocrity.”

We need leaders at all levels in our organizations to be willing to go beyond usual and ordinary, to feel fully, think carefully and communicate effectively.

3 Ways to Break Out of Usual, Ordinary, and Mediocre

…whether you’re a front-line manager or CEO.

Stay Conscious

to each moment and each person. Strive to be more present to your here and now. If you’re in a virtual meeting, close all the other windows or apps that might pull your attention away from the conversation. If you’re in a conversation with another person, put down your phone where you can’t reach it. If you’re working on a task, set a time limit to keep yourself fully engaged and focused.

Being conscious takes a lot of energy; that’s why we don’t do it. Rethink your resilience practice. How do you energize yourself for sustained consciousness aka mindfulness?

Build Connections

through Curiosity. Business happens through relationships. Relationships happen through conversation. Every conversation cannot be about driving the business. Make a concerted effort to be more curious about the people with whom you spend a great deal of time and with whom you share responsibility to deliver on those shared goals. Think about the how as much as you think about the what.

Be Concerned

about your Shared Experience. “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work when we say it to our kids; why would we think it works with employees? Senior leaders need to be role models of corporate values and of agreed leadership competencies, including emotional intelligence. Be intentional about how you show up and about the experience you design for yourself and for your direct reports and stakeholders. What you say or don’t say, do or don’t do, allow or don’t allow communicates what or who merits your concern and what or who doesn’t. Your capacity for concern impacts how your team members engage – or not.

Parting Shot

Remember, to drive results over time you need those around you to engage and contribute willingly, enthusiastically, and repeatedly. To secure that kind of engagement takes a conscious, connected, and concerned leader with the emotional intelligence to feel fully, think carefully, and communicate effectively. There’s nothing usual, ordinary, or mediocre about that.