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Influential Leader: The Crucial Importance of Emotional Intelligence

Layne McDonald. Ph.D.

"Before you are a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about others." - Jack Welch

We have discussed a few examples of bad leadership in this book; unfortunately, these examples are expected. There are many bad leaders, and it is seemingly rare to find someone happy with their management!

Why is this?

A big part of the problem is that many organizations do not consider leadership a quality that needs to be trained or even innate. They do not see leadership as quality – rather just a position!

This perspective is apparent in hiring and promotion activities. An organization might have a team of data analysts, ad managers, sales representatives, and accountants. They have all been working there for years as a successful manager.

Then one day, that manager leaves, and thus a power vacuum is created. Either that or the organization offers the manager some meaningless promotion.

Whatever the case, the company now needs a new manager, and so what they will end up doing is looking at their existing staff and then finding a member whom they think deserves the position – that will be someone who has been working there for a long time, or who has been doing an excellent job? Let us say data analyst Jeff.

But data analyst Jeff is not a leader, and now suddenly, he oversees twenty people. He has neither learned the skills necessary to be a leader nor been blessed with them naturally.

He lacks emotional intelligence.

This also tends to happen when someone is in an unknowing leadership role. For example, let us say you have a team of writers on a magazine, and suddenly a new copy checker is brought in. Their job is to make sure there are no mistakes, and when they find one, they need to hand it back to the team member so they can fix it (not a great set-up, but it works in this situation).

That copy checker is not just fulfilling a role; they call out team members and give them work. In other words, they are leaders – even though it might not at once be clear that this is the nature of their job. Again, this means they are more likely to lack the inherent leadership skills they need to succeed.

What is EQ?

"Anyone anywhere can make a positive difference." - Mark Sanborn.

Emotional intelligence refers to recognizing and finding emotions in ourselves and others. That means being able to spot when someone is unhappy but also understanding why they might be painful. It means preventing making someone angry by empathizing with them and understanding how best to manage their current situation.

Emotional intelligence can make a drastic difference to your success in a leadership role and the happiness and productivity of the team.

Imagine that you have spent all day working on something and are incredibly proud of what you have conducted. You give the work, and then you get the following response:

"Please fix the error on page 3."

Or worse:

"Thank you for this work. A reasonable effort overall, but this does NOT conform to the style guidelines in the last meeting. Were you even listening?

In addition, there are three mistakes right toward the end. Please be careful to pay attention when working as it creates more work for everyone else when you do not."

Oh, and for added good measure, these responses were placed in a public forum where everyone could see the feedback.

So, what is wrong with these responses? You made mistakes and are just being called out on them! Moreover, the manager/colleague has used polite language (please and thank you). They even said, "good effort."

Of course, that is not how you will react to someone critiquing work that you spent time and effort on, however. And that approach will hardly make you want to fix the problem quickly.

A far better approach would be to start by acknowledging the challenging work and saying something positive about the final product. This acknowledgment at once wins the favor of the person receiving the feedback and shows them that you value the effort they have already put in.

You might then follow this up with a compliment or two. This can help balance out the negative feedback, keep morale high, and prove that you respect their work and effort. You can then subtly include the negative feedback–while showing an understanding of what led to the issues – before following it up with something more positive. This is often referred to as the "sandwich" approach to giving feedback. For obvious reasons!

This leaves that person far more likely to make the change without feeling insulted or overlooked by their management. Add to this a knowledge of the person you are speaking to and what helps them to work their best, and you can respond in a way that will be motivating, encouraging, and practical.

There are countless interactions every day that will require this kind of sensitivity.

Consider that top response too. This is seemingly innocuous, but a simple fix could make all the difference (leaving aside for a moment the failure to acknowledge all the challenging work):

"Please, could you fix the error on page 3?"

The only change here is that the "please" has been moved to the front of the sentence. But while that might seem small, it creates a hugely different impression. Placing the "please" upfront shows the reader that you genuinely ask them to do something and are grateful.

But when the sentence starts "fix this," it sounds like an absolute command. The "please" now becomes an afterthought that just so happens to be there.

If you are trying to get someone to do something and that person is not strictly someone you have authority over, this will become even more frustrating for them. Now it looks like you think you can boss them around. It comes across as curt, arrogant, and presumptuous.

Again, it might not seem important, but moving one word to a few places can make an enormous difference.

Now imagine countless interactions with hundreds of people in a single day, and hopefully, you can recognize the crucial role of emotional intelligence.


Ultimately, the best improvements in emotional intelligence will come from life experience and knowing yourself.

Life experience is significant because it teaches you sensitivity and never to assume what is happening in someone's life.

Consider for a minute that someone comes into work looking scruffy and untidy, so you tell them that it is not good enough and that they need to do better if they want to keep collaborating with you. They promptly burst into tears.

Why? It turns out a parent died last night, and the only reason they still came to work was that they were so behind and conscientious.

You can never know what is going on in someone's life, which is why you should always give them the benefit of the doubt. By having richer life experiences, you can experience this reality firsthand and better understand what someone might be going through. Spending time with a broader range and variety of people can also help greatly.

Listen with open ears, do not jump to conclusions, and give people space to explain what is happening to them.

But this life experience and understanding take a long time to cultivate. It would help if you also focused on learning to know your thoughts and feelings better. By understanding what makes you tick, you will be better able to understand and help manage the emotions of others.

One way to do this is by practicing CBT and mindfulness. That means reflecting on your thoughts and motivations and being more consciously aware of where your attention is, what you think about, and how you feel.

Managing your emotions is also an essential aspect of leadership, which is a great bonus, as we will discuss later.

For Parents

This is one of the tips in this book, with the clearest payoffs for parents. Understanding their emotions is vital when trying to help your children learn and grow. You must know the importance of letting them feel "Heard." This is one of the tips in this book, with the clearest payoffs for parents. When a child is upset or angry, a parent can often try to "calm them down" by telling them not to be. This, unfortunately, will not usually help, as it means they do not feel the way they are feeling – which often makes them angrier and more upset! This is one of the tips in this book, with the clearest payoffs for parents. Instead, show first that you understand their emotions: say, "that must have made you angry, right?" or "I understand why you’re upset." This is one of the tips in this book, with the clearest payoffs for parents.

In a Crisis

In a crisis, your job is to keep the mood of everyone in the situation calm. You are now managing the emotions of everyone present to try and ensure the absolute best outcomes.

This means ensuring that you stay calm, instruct clearly, and recognize the role panic and stress can play in the efficiency of tasks.

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