According to Nial O’Reilly who runs Ignite Coaching, we now live in a V.U.C.A. world (volatile, uncertain, challenging and ambiguous). Emotional intelligence helps us to navigate this changing terrain. The work day has lost definition. You check emails lying in bed when you wake up, over breakfast and during the commute. At night you send off brilliant missives, just before falling asleep. In between you try to get something productive done and reacquaint yourself with the kids. In all of the above ‘busyness’, the problems are seldom strategy or technology related, they are invariably interpersonal. Turns out that the soft stuff is the hard stuff. So, can you really learn the ‘soft stuff’ or are you born with this?
Sopranos Country: Cathy Buffini and I were working in Bridgeport, New Jersey. In the middle of storm chaos and traffic disruption, we were cozy and warm, holed up in a beautiful corporate headquarters that resembled a university campus.
The Job: Executive Development program with a group of high-potential engineers.
The Topics: Emotional Intelligence and Personal Branding. We laughed about being on ‘E’s’ all week (the programme was both exhausting and exhilarating).
Emotional Intelligence: When Daniel Goleman published his book on Emotional Intelligence in 1995, the topic caused endless debate. Is EQ simply being ‘tuned into yourself and other people’ (as good leaders have always been) or something more than this? Is emotional intelligence just ‘old wine in a new bottle’ or something really new, an elixir that can make a difference in careers and relationships?
Two Components: In simple terms emotional intelligence has 2 components. Firstly, it allows you to ‘tune in’ to yourself. To bring this alive, consider the following. On your way into work you’re feeling anxious. Trying to figure out why, you ask: what’s going on for me? Emotional intelligence kicks in as follows (play along with me here and imagine the following conversation going on inside your head): ‘I’m feeling quite a lot of anxiety. Why? It’s probably because I have to finish the X report by the end of March. OK, I already know that. So what’s the anxiety about? Is it because I can’t come up with the right answers? No, I’m pretty confident that I can figure out the riddle. The anxiety seems to be related to the fact that I’ve too many irons in the fire right now. I’m not giving this project the attention it deserves. Perhaps I can ‘drop something’ and make a bit more space in the diary? That’s not easy. Maybe if I work this coming weekend and delegate the ‘Y project’ to Jim that would free up some time. OK, OK, that’s a start. I feel a bit better now. At least I have a better understanding of this. Maybe even a way forward’.
Anxiety Lowers Performance: The general rule for organizations and individuals is that anxiety lowers productivity. Being anxious slows a person down (the worry consumes some of your available headspace). Tuning into yourself, understanding what’s happening internally, allows you to understand or ‘park’, anxiety – and you can make progress in the meantime. Essentially this is how Yoga and Meditation work, allowing you to establish an inner calm (sidebar: I’ve given up on the Yoga myself; very hard to source a big mat).
External Tuning: The 2nd element of emotional intelligence is the ability to tune into others. What’s going on for other people and how do you know? Sometimes, they’ll tell you (if you have the ability to create a ‘safe space’ where feelings can be expressed). Sometimes, you have to read the group – folded arms or pushing slightly back from the conference table (creating physical distance), silence (creating mental distance) and so on. If you’re following this argument, leaders who are emotionally intelligent can both tune into themselves and tune into others. It’s like being a radio that’s set to receive 2 separate stations (RTE and Newstalk). You can tune into both (at the same time) and still function. It sounds difficult but gets much easier over time. Like driving a car, with practice you eventually manage all the functions automatically.
Not Philosophy: Sometimes it can be helpful to describe something in the ‘negative’ i.e. what it’s not. I don’t believe that emotional intelligence is a managerial philosophy. A couple of people on the program made the point that if you become ‘tuned into’ what other people think, by implication, doesn’t that push you to do what they want you to do? The answer is ‘no, it doesn’t’. You are a manager, paid to lead i.e. get things done, produce results, build a better tomorrow. For sure, being emotionally intelligent allows you to lead in a way that’s more likely to be successful. But, philosophically, you are not launching an Irish Kibbutz where everyone has an equal say. You’re still the boss. It’s just that sometimes you lead from the back, rather than from the front. Manipulative? I don’t think so. You are managing in a way which lowers your own and others stress levels. There’s nothing manipulative about that idea.
Applying the Concept: So, now that we know all about emotional intelligence, lets take the car out on the road. Many of us spend a lot of our time in meetings – so this is an excellent place to start. Think of meetings as having 3 separate components:
Task: What is it that we are trying to achieve here? What‘s the end goal? The task is often (not always) the clearest part of a meeting.
Process: How will we accomplish this task? Work on it together? Divide it into ‘chunks’? Brainstorm various options, then ‘vote’ and so on. The Question: How will we use our time effectively? The Trick: stop groups diving straight into the task, before deciding how the process will work (our old friend ‘anxiety’ pushes people into ‘doing stuff’ too quickly).
Feelings: What am I ‘feeling’ during this meeting? What’s this data telling me? What are others feeling (stated openly or I ‘sense this’) and what’s this telling me? How can I use this information to make the process smoother and achieve a better task outcome?
Being emotionally intelligent is something to aim towards. Like the North Star, it’s a guide that you never quite reach. I should know. I couldn’t tell you how many times that I’ve been emotionally stupid. I’ve missed a million ‘cues’ in myself and others. This stuff is learned and doesn’t come naturally to me. Of course I could give you tons of examples when I’ve messed up. This is a blog; that would require a book. Central point: I’m trying to get better at this. You should too. It’s definitely worth the effort.
PS Lighter Moment: Taxi Ride: I had a particularly cranky Taxi journey in Dublin last week (the taxi guys hate it that I only live about 8 miles from the airport). So here’s a little passive-aggressive payback from me (thanks to Kevin Griffin for the actual joke).
A woman and her twelve-year-old son were riding in a taxi in Detroit. It was raining and all the prostitutes were standing under awnings.
“Mom,” said the boy, “what are all those women doing?”
“They’re waiting for their husbands to get off work,” she replied.
The taxi driver turns around and says, “Geez lady, why don’t you tell him the Truth? They’re hookers, boy! They have sex with men for money.”
The little boy’s eyes get wide and he says, “Is that true Mom?”
His mother, glaring hard at the driver, answers in the affirmative.
After a few minutes, the kid asks, “Mom, if those women have babies, what happens to them?”
“Most of them become taxi drivers,” she said.
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