Back in the day I was a young, bullish upstart, with an over-inflated opinion of myself. I’d come to work, think I was the bees knees and then watch as others moved past me in their careers. It was always someone else that got the promotion, or the great feedback, or the pay rise. How could that be? I just couldn’t work it out. Why were these people leaving me behind? What was the differentiating factor? It was all just so unfair!
Then as I got more experienced and read more it became clear that these people all had one thing in common. A secret sauce for success. Something that is present in almost all successful people and absent in many people that struggle. That magic ingredient is Emotional Intelligence (EQ).
EQ as a term was popularized in the mid-90s by journalist Daniel Goleman and is loosely defined as the ability of an individual to recognize, manage, and adapt their feelings to situations, and use those feelings to achieve success. Something that as a young gun I thought I had full control of, but was sadly mistaken.
When the whole EQ subject clicked into place, my career started to rocket. Everything changed. I delivered, I got on with people, I influenced and achieved. I managed conflicts and improved relationships. I gained more friends. Results were transformed. I enjoyed my work again.
EQ is a complex subject so I won’t attempt to explain it all here, but in a nutshell there are a handful of key components that I’ve found most valuable.
1. Awareness of self, others & situation
The first step in controlling emotions and EQ is to be able to recognise the current situation. How is your behaviour coming across to that person right now? How will that email comment be interpreted? If I do this, what might the outcome be? We all know the people that cause a scene by shooting off that angry email without thinking – that’s a sign of low EQ. The high EQ response is considered, thoughtful, calm and measured and ALWAYS achieves better results.
Next is to be able to recognize the mental state of others. A common example is being able to spot when someone may have lost control of a situation and looks ready to shoot that angry email or make a silly comment. The high EQ person would spot that, and then gently intervene to prevent an escalation. That’s classic awareness of others / situation.
2. Empathy and humility
A common characteristic of effective leaders, empathy isn’t just being able to listen. It’s about placing yourself in their shoes and not just responding with your own experiences or opinions.
For example, a team member may be having a hard time at home with illnesses and wants to speak to you.
Colleague: “I’m really struggling. My child is ill and it’s causing me a lot of stress. I’m finding it hard to sleep.”
Low EQ response: “Ah that’s bad. My son had a bad illness last year as well. I had to take time off and it was really stressful for my family. I’m still not recovered, maybe I need a holiday”
High EQ response: “Ah that’s bad. I’m really sorry to hear that. It must be really difficult for your family. Have you thought of taking some time off or seeking help from HR? There may be things we can do to help. “
A world of difference in the responses. And it’s not just verbal, body language can play a large part. Having a level of empathy is key to achieving results from your teams.
And then there’s humility and equanimity. Don’t get over excited when things go well, and don’t get too down when they go badly. Stay calm and in control. Hard to do, especially when it all hits the fan, but a key characteristic of people with high EI.
3. Social skills
High EQ leaders work tirelessly on their communications skills, conflict resolution and being able to give and receive constructive feedback. They regularly praise others for their achievements over taking credit themselves. They genuinely enjoy seeing their colleagues achieving great results
The high EQ leader is motivated to succeed, believes in their own abilities, and is constantly striving to learn more and improve. They set goals, monitor and manage performance and demand consistent excellence from themselves and their colleagues.
The best high EQ leaders set such a high example with quality of work and interpersonal relationships that they inspire and affect change without even trying. You’ll regularly find the best way to increase standards in a team is to lead by example.
Obviously there’s more to it than this, but those are the components I’ve had the most success with. Of course I’m not perfect and have to continuously work on my own EQ, but if I was asked to name the main factor that allowed me to progress professionally, it would be Emotional Intelligence.