How Does Your Leadership Feel?

How do you know if you are a good boss or a bad boss? How do you assess if you are balanced in your technical intelligence (the what of your job) and your emotional intelligence (the how of your job)?

Emotional intelligence or EQ, is the cognitive ability to perceive emotions accurately within yourself and others. It is the skill to evaluate and express emotions effectively, understand emotional complexities during stressful situations and then regulate, and sometimes manipulate emotion to encourage intellectual development in yourself and in others.

Less academic, it is the ability to control and deploy emotions for personal gain and fulfillment – emotions being the foundation to human behavior.

Why is emotional intelligence important in leadership?

It is not surprising that academia has been curious about the importance of these soft skills for some time. Leaders with high emotional and social abilities were compared to leaders with strong technical skills only and concluded that the high EQ leaders outperformed their technically savvy peers (Goleman, 1995; Hay Group, 2000; Leban & Zulauf, 2004).

Emotional intelligence has been linked to effective teamwork and employee well-being (Davis, Jenkins, & Mabbett, 2010), effective conflict management and project completion rates (Clark, 2010). High emotional intelligence has been linked to lower absenteeism rates (Vioda-Gadot & Meisler, 2010). Leaders with higher emotional intelligence skills are also reported to have increased levels of organizational performance (Akerjordet & Severinsson, 2008; Mishra, Mohapatra, & Vikalpa, 2010; Wong & Law, 2002). And in my own study, a manager’s emotional intelligence correlated to their workgroup engagement score as measured by the Gallup Q12 (Adams, 2013).

While academicians correlate EQ with organizational results, sadly, many organizations do not systematically select leaders for social competence or have the means to develop these skills once employees are selected into leadership roles (Corporate Leadership Council, 2004; Conrad, 2009; Rigoglioso, 2006).

Let’s get more practical and less scholarly.

Your emotions are contagious to other people you manage.

I hope we can agree that it is a DRAG to work for a bad boss. You have had them and I’ve had them and the socially unintelligent are no fun to work around let alone report into. Have you ever experienced the “kiss up, kick down” leader? They are AMAZING at navigating upper leadership conversations but when it comes to their own teams, they leave human wreckage on their career ladders. It is always a mystery to those on the bottom rungs why these leaders continue to advance within the system. I had a colleague that described this phenomenon as a “sunny-side up” leader referring to cooking an egg and being one way with the “tops” and another way with the “bottoms.”

Or what about the laissez–faire leader who no one seems to know where they are or what they do at work? Super-nice people, everyone loves them and describes them with the Southern United States phrase, “bless their hearts” to passively insult their desertion. These hands-off leaders will show up for the pot lucks, but when a change is announced or when conflict arises, they are “MIA”. Gallup conducted a study that reported working for the laissez–faire leader is more damaging to team engagement than working for the negative commando who criticizes everyone’s work – apparently, some attention is better than no attention.

How do you know if you are one of these leaders?

Ask your direct reports: “How do you feel when I go on vacation?”

Or if you are a workaholic and do not take vacations, which could impact your emotional well-being, cascading to your team’s emotional well-being:

Ask: “How do you feel every Sunday at 7pm?”

If they answer they want to throw-up the night before coming to work, you probably have some work to do around how you are making people feel at work.

Recently, Google researched 180 teams within their own organization in their quest to build higher performing teams and two factors emerged in the data: equal distribution of conversational turn-taking among team members and above average social sensitivity. Their data concluded that psychological safety within the team had the most impact on high performance than any other workplace norm.

Ask your direct reports: “How do you feel when your Outlook chimes right before our team meeting?”

Then ask yourself: Am I creating emotional safety for my team? Does everyone feel safe to contribute equally – and do I care about how others feel in my presence?

There is hope for the emotionally unintelligent. Unlike IQ (Intellectual Quotient), EQ can be developed. Your thinking brain can be rewired with your emotional brain with intentional practice, behavioral coaching and asking for feedback from other people who are impacted by your thoughts, feelings and actions.

As researchers suggest, a leaders’ emotional and social capabilities influence organizational effectiveness. The trick for those of us in leadership positions, is to stay open to the possibility that physiological safety starts with us – which could be difficult to improve if we are too afraid to inquire how others feel around us. Be brave – those around you will appreciate you cared enough to ask.

As touchy-feely, and squishy as it sounds, leadership starts from the inside. Like a virus, emotions are spread amongst a team with the leader’s EQ impacting the entire nervous system. Deploying positive emotions for the benefit of others is how your leadership practice can feel so good.

Tracey Adams

Tracey has been teaching emotional intelligence within corporations and academia for over thirteen years. The evolution of her own personal work has sharpened her purpose of guiding other powerful women on the journey of self-discovery, personal power, and well being.

Partnering with the Well-Being experts at Gallup – this curriculum is transformational both in content and design. Her doctorate research (also in partnership with Gallup) explored the correlations of emotional intelligence and leader effectiveness. Tracey can be found in Portland, Oregon where she is raising two amazing teenagers, and facilitates emotional intelligence retreats for women and corporate teams.