6 Steps to Building Emotional Intelligence: Learn from Lincoln

Emotional IntelligenceWhen we consider what set Abraham Lincoln apart from so many other leaders, emotional intelligence is often noted. His behavior indicates that he was aware of his feelings and managed them well. I believe he understood that managing the feelings he expressed would impact the outcome he received. He had a broad range of emotions and used them as the situation required, not indiscriminately as he felt. His ability to “curate” his feelings to drive outcomes was – and still is – a rare skill that has become even more critical to leaders in today’s complex world.

Daniel Goleman wrote in the Harvard Business Review article, What Makes a Leader, ‘I have found, however, that the most effective leaders are alike in one crucial way: They all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but mainly as “threshold capabilities;” that is, they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions. But my research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.’
Interestingly, we primarily teach leaders how to work. We don’t focus on who they are as people, but rather, on what they do. The average organization is full of “leaders” who are highly skilled in their functional roles but lack emotional intelligence.

As the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 describes, ‘Middle managers stand out, with the highest EQ scores in the workforce. But up beyond middle management, there is a steep downward trend in EQ scores. For the titles of director and above, scores descend faster than a snowboarder on a black diamond. CEOs, on average, have the lowest EQ scores in the workplace… Among executives, those with the highest EQ skills are the best performers. We’ve found that EQ skills are more important to job performance than any other leadership skill. The same holds true for every job title: those with the highest EQ scores within any position outperform their peers.’

So what is Emotional Intelligence?

Using the Emotional Intelligence 2.0 framework, emotional intelligence is comprised of four competencies; two are about relating and managing self, and two involve relating to others.

Emotional Intelligence

Personal and Social Competence
Leaders must manage themselves first. Since emotions are contagious, it is important to ensure that you, as a leader, are aware of your emotions and control them so the message you convey to others is one that motivates them to move forward irrespective of how you are feeling. Lincoln was a great example: when he became frustrated and, some even say, depressed with the progress of the emancipation proclamation, he expressed emotions that motivated his team to get the votes they needed.

The ability to manage emotions is particularly important to leaders as they navigate difficult projects. The leader has often been involved since inception, has worked to advance it every step of the way, and may be the first to become exhausted by the sheer amount of energy and emotion involved in creating forward momentum – setting the vision, getting people committed, allocating resources, and dealing with the inevitable issues that arise. Somewhere along the way, the leader will feel overwhelmed and exhausted. It is these times, particularly, where leaders must be clear about how they are feeling, why they feel that way, whether it needs to change, and whether there is value to sharing it. This insight enables them to ensure that what they ultimately convey is what constituents need – not simply what they feel.

It is important to balance authenticity with sharing feelings that will cause unnecessary stress in others. In Lincoln’s case, he would have been less effective if he shared his concerns. Rather he shared that he was a highly powerful man who made things happen. It is likely that he deeply questioned this statement in his more reflective moments. As you read this – you may be thinking I am talking about manipulating others – I am not. I am talking about walking the line between being authentic and managing relationships so I allow everyone to be as successful as possible at meeting the overall goal. If as a leader I share my deepest fears, I will disempower some people who need to believe their leader knows what to do and how to get there. For others, it will be important to share more authentically. The art is in knowing how much to share with each person or group.

Building emotional intelligence requires ongoing practice in each of the four areas of the graphic above, starting with self-awareness. To begin the practice of self-awareness, use the following process:
1. Develop a list of feelings – Emotional Intelligence 2.0 has a useful sample on p. 15.
2. Identify what you are feeling once a day during the work week; log it in a journal or spreadsheet that is easy to access.
3. At the end of the first month, identify trends you noticed and discuss with a trusted friend or colleague.
4. Get feedback from that person. Is s/he noticing the behavior that you logged?
5. Think about how you can use what you have learned about your feelings to manage them in a way that will contribute to your professional success. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 provides several self-awareness strategies (starting on p. 61) that are quite helpful as you begin this practice.
6. After you have developed the habit of self-awareness, move to the practice of self-management, followed by the social competence areas.

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