I’ve been working in marketing for nearly 20 years and have been a manager of people for 15 of those. During that time, I’ve done my best to keep tabs on current trends in leadership and management. I freely admit that I’m a sucker for every e-book, webinar and white paper that addresses the topics. The range of usefulness of these resources has varied of course (Yes, I know it’s just a way to get me to fill out a form so a salesperson can contact me. I’m in marketing, remember?). A topic that seems to come up more and more frequently is emotional intelligence, also known as EI or EQ (for Emotional Intelligence Quotient).
In 1995, science journalist Daniel Goleman wrote a bestseller called Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ. In it he identified five factors of emotional intelligence:
- Self awareness: an understanding of strengths and weaknesses, and how actions affect others
- Self regulation: control of emotions and reactions in situations
- Internal motivation: a drive to succeed that comes from within
- Empathy: the ability to understand the emotions of others by putting yourself in their shoes
- Social skills: the ability to connect with others and manage relationships
My gut reaction to EQ was a GenX eye roll. Please, the cynic in me thought. Why can’t we all just be professionals and do our jobs? Do we have to sing kumbaya too? But it also made me reflect on my own career and leaders I have encountered who had the ability to inspire people to do their best work. They weren’t necessarily hypercompetent, nor did they lead by fear or intimidation, but people wanted to come through for these leaders, no matter what. It occurred to me that the leaders were indeed strong in each of these five areas. They had high EQ.
For some Generation X managers, EQ is probably not something they think too much about, yet they may very well understand its powerful role in leadership. For example, they may know that employees who feel valued are nearly three times more motivated to do their best work. They may take the time to understand specific motivators for their individual team members in order to improve performance. Understanding this requires a measure of emotional intelligence. The good news for GenX managers is: 1) EQ can be developed and improved, and 2) they probably have a better head start than they realize.
Developing and Improving EQ
There are techniques for boosting each of the five areas that comprise emotional intelligence. Most of them begin with some thorough introspection. To develop self-awareness, try to become an out-of-body observer of yourself. What are you doing well? What are you struggling with? How are others reacting to you? Getting answers to those questions can put you on a path to improving self regulation as you become more thoughtful about your actions in different situations. Some deep introspection around what some experts call your “deep why” can also help uncover what truly motivates you.
To strengthen empathy and social skills, put the focus on others. Think about what you can do to put them at ease. Show an interest in people as unique individuals. Be mindful that your team members are whole people and are not solely defined by the work that they do.
EQ and Age
The jury is out on whether EQ improves with age. There are some studies that show a correlation. One study from 1999 even pinpointed that EQ shows a drastic increase during the thirties and seems to peak around age 50. (Feeling that EQ surge, GenX?) It certainly seems that with age comes experience. You have more time dealing with others, as well as more opportunities to practice EQ boosting techniques, each of which should influence EQ improvement. But other studies dispute this claim, stating instead that there are aspects of EQ that will only improve through thoughtful practice and training.
One of my favorite examples of the importance of EQ as a leadership quality comes from my own life. Several years ago, my father retired from a long and successful career that included stints at Xerox and later GE. At his retirement party, I can’t tell you how many of his colleagues shared with me their admiration for his caring nature. “He cared so much about people,” one person said to me. “We’d do anything for him.”
The average person will spend over 90,000 hours at work. That’s about one-third of a lifetime. It’s important that employees spend that time feeling valued not just for their productivity and expertise, but also as people.
Readers: what do you think about the importance of EQ and leadership? Have you seen examples of EQ in action? Share your experiences in the comments.