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Thoughts on Emotional Intelligence

Knowing others is intelligence; knowing yourself is true wisdom. Mastering others is strength; mastering yourself is true power. (Lao Tzu)

About 20 years ago, Peter Salovey and John Mayer defined Emotional intelligence (EQ) as the collection of abilities used to identify, understand, control and assess the emotions of the self and others. Since then, both researchers and business leaders have studied this concept and it’s profound impact in the workplace.

Research by the Center for Creative Leadership has found that the primary causes of problems in executive leadership involve deficits in emotional intelligence. One study of executive leaders found that how well leaders handled their own emotions determined how much people around them engaged with them and the level of effort the team put into their work.

Emotional intelligence is that intangible “something” in each of us that affects how we manage our behavior, navigate social complexities, and make decisions that achieve positive results. While hard to define - we all know how easy emotional intelligence is to actually “see.” We have all experienced working for a leader who is neither self-aware nor able to “read the room” and understand how the team is both thinking and reacting to their message.

Our emotional intelligence is the foundation for a host of critical leadership skills. It impacts most everything we say and do each day. Over the past 20 years of research, we are learning that emotional intelligence is the single biggest predictor of performance in the workplace and the strongest driver of leadership and personal excellence.


Emotional intelligence is made up of four key skills - and while there is much research in this area, I’ve simplified the findings down to a few basic qualities. These four skills are structured in two two domains: personal competence and social competence.

The first domain involves our personal competency:

1. Self-Awareness: Do I understand how I am seen? Do I fully realize how others view me?

2. Self-Management: Do I have control of what I say, what I do, and how I behave? Can I keep my thoughts and emotions in check, even if I’m upset or angry?

The second domain involves our social competency:

3. Social Awareness: Do I really see others (the whole person) and their point of view? Do I know how to “read the room” and gauge the level of engagement, stress, etc? Do I choose the right time and place when I choose to share my thoughts?

4. Relationship Management: Do I know how to engage others for in mutually beneficial relationships? Do I try to understand another’s view before pushing my own agenda? Do I actively listen or am I just waiting my turn to talk?

The fusion of these four skills - and the degree to which we master them - determines our level of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence goes far beyond our trying to gauge an employee's mood -- it allows each of us (as leaders) to carefully examine business situations and approach them appropriately. Our EQ largely determines the degree of employee engagement and our ability to work through others to get things done.

Our self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills are key factors in defining our level of emotional intelligence as leaders. If we look around and no one seems to be following - it is likely we have no real emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is an understanding of what it means to be human. By recognizing that everyone has a personal story and by actively listening and showing empathy; we can connect and build relationships based on trust.

When we learn to better identify and manage our own emotions, build our own social awareness and invest in building meaningful relationships with others — our business decisions will become easier, interpersonal relationships will improve, and we become the leader our team wants to rally behind.


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