If you’re a leader, you need to improve your emotional intelligence to be successful
Emotional intelligence matters. Higher emotional intelligence (also referred to as EI or EQ) can lead to better performance, better pay and greater overall success, it can improve your relationships, and even help prevent you from being manipulated.
But many of us tend to think we have high emotional intelligence.
That was definitely true for me. I especially thought I had high emotional intelligence from a leadership perspective, having spent many years supervising and managing manufacturing teams.
To find out for sure, I talked with Steven Stein, founder and CEO of Multi-Health Systems (MHS) in Toronto, a company that helps improve leadership skills and emotional intelligence for Fortune 500 companies, the military, government and professional sports teams.
First, I took the EQ-i 2.0, a 15-minute psychometric assessment that measures emotional intelligence and how it impacts people and the workplace. It’s a scientifically validated test that helps identify strengths and weaknesses in leadership abilities.
The test was simple and easy to take. There were a series of statements and I clicked the appropriate “sometimes,” “always” or “never” prompts. Then came the harder part — seeing my results.
I received a 27-page report detailing my specific results, showing me how I compared to other leaders, providing insights into each aspect of emotional intelligence, and describing ways I could work on improving areas where I’m particularly weak (or strong).
Stein picked out three areas where I ranked relatively high and three areas needing improvement.
Here are my top strengths:
Independence: I tend to make my own decisions, go my own way, and do my own thing. I sometimes take advice from others, but largely I make my own decisions. That makes sense since I don’t lead teams. When I did, I like to think I often sought input and feedback.
But still: I could benefit from more input and more advice. I don’t have all the answers. So while independence came out as a strength, it’s also a weakness. I want — and need — to actively get advice from people I respect.
Impulse control: Relatively few leaders have impulse control as one of their top three strengths, according to Stein. For example, entrepreneurs tend to be more impulsive. On the other hand, corporate leaders tend to do well on impulse control because loose cannons typically don’t rise through a hierarchy.
This result made a lot of sense. I’m pretty good at following routines. I’m good at not doing things that are not a part of my program. But I might occasionally be better served by leaping before I look, if only because blind leaps can often be fun leaps.
Flexibility: Even though I like to create routines, it turns out I am fairly good at adjusting to change. I can go with a new flow. Flexibility is a critical strength for leaders; seeing the future is one thing, but adapting to that future is where many fall short.
I agree with this one, too. When things change, I go through that “Aw, crap” moment and grieve for what once was, but I’m pretty good at adapting to new realities.
I tend to think, “OK, how do I make the best of (this)?”
Now, here are my biggest weaknesses:
Social responsibility: I rarely think about environmental and social issues. Like, almost never.
“What we’re finding for leaders of the future,” says Stein, “is this is a key area. Social responsibility will differentiate the high-performing leaders of tomorrow.”
I thought a lot about this one. When I led people, I cared a lot about their well-being (sometimes too much). Had I still been in that role, I would have answered a number of questions differently.
But I’m not, so I thought about “social responsibility” in broader terms. I don’t worry about global warming, global pandemics or saving whales. I do little things, like recycling and picking up stray litter and trying to control the things I can directly control, but I don’t advocate for causes.
So, yeah, that’s not a good look for me.
Assertiveness: I tend not to speak up and voice my opinions.
Partly, that’s because I no longer work within a hierarchy; I am not in a position to push back or step forward. When I did, I was more assertive — not always with the people who worked for me, but definitely with the people I reported to. In fact, my degree of “upwards” assertiveness once got me fired.
Clearly, though, assertiveness is important for leaders, and I do agree I was less assertive in certain situations, and more assertive in others than I should have been.
Self-regard: According to my results, I doubt my abilities and am not always confident. Confidence is an extremely important quality for leaders — if you’re not confident in a direction or strategy, how can your team be? Plus, confidence is scientifically linked to success. But confidence is a funny thing. For me, and maybe for you, confidence is situational.
Another reason I fell short in the self-regard category is I’m my own biggest critic. I don’t compare myself to other people, which is a good thing, but I do compare myself to a really high bar, which can be a bad thing.
If I accomplish something, I allow myself some satisfaction, but then I look for ways to do better next time.
That does tend to keep me moving forward... but it also makes me score low in self-regard. And oddly enough, I’m OK with that. I’d rather be humble than cocky. I’d rather strive for improvement than rest on laurels.
Taking an emotional intelligence test is interesting, but what matters more is what you do with those results.
“Any assessment is incomplete without feedback and coaching,” says Stein. Books and lectures can help you understand emotional intelligence, but to make improvements — to learn about yourself — means doing. So Stein gave me a homework assignment for social responsibility.
“Stop and take a look at a situation around you that might be in need,” he said. “What can you do to make a difference in a cause you care about? That will also help you understand other people a little better too — and might help you increase your confidence as well.”
So I did. I went to a local zoning meeting and showed support for my neighbours’ concerns about a potential variance. I even spoke during the meeting (assertiveness) and I felt good about it (confidence). While the proposed variance wouldn’t have affected me much, it felt good to not only understand where other people were coming from, but to try to help them. Small thing? Absolutely, and that’s OK.
Emotional intelligence isn’t something you either have or don’t have. You can shape and mold your emotional intelligence. You can improve your emotional intelligence. And if you’re a leader, you need to improve your emotional intelligence. You won’t just be a better, more successful leader — you’ll also be a little happier.
Jeff Hayden is the owner of BlackBird Media in Harrisonburg, Va., and author of The Motivation Myth, to be released in January. For more information, visit Twitter @jeff_haden.