Having been in a leadership development and/or HR role for the last 20-odd (and some of them have been VERY odd) years, I have always known that it’s not enough just to be the best at something to be a good leader. Conversely, it’s also not enough to have the gift of ‘leadership’ if you don’t also have the ability to understand and mobilize your troops to achieve the right goals. Successful, thriving organizations where people love to work need that elusive blend of high performance, inspirational leaders and innovative cultures. In my experience, the ‘secret sauce’ to pulling this all off is leaders with high emotional intelligence (EQ).
Lest you are groaning and rolling your eyes, thinking I’m getting all touchy feely on you, fear not! EQ doesn’t just mean being ‘nice’ and ‘warm’ like a cozy blanket or basket of kittens. Far from it! Read this article from HBR about emotional intelligence for a more in depth look at EQ. In a nutshell, possessing the ability to manage one’s emotions and responses as well as the ability to identify emotions and responses in others, AND the ability to make good decisions and have appropriate conversations elevates your game to badass business ninja!
If you’re not convinced already about the importance of EQ, you have probably never worked for or with someone lacking it. Pretty much any train wreck of a manager, owner or peer that you can imagine almost certainly has a low EQ. When these folks are in the position to sink the battleship, sink it will sooner or later. When you have a low-EQ leader in place, the symptoms range from having employees refrain from telling you critical information, to quitting to worse.
Here are the most common symptoms of low EQ leadership that I’ve encountered:
Thin Skin: Have you ever known someone who seemed like they were just one huge overexposed nerve? These folks find imagined slights everywhere and take everything as a personal attack. It’s bad enough when this person is a colleague but if they’re your manager it’s intolerable. The thin skinned leader will soon find out that they are being avoided, that their staff intentionally keeps vital information from them, and that their turnover is unnecessarily high. If you are constantly finding yourself fighting battles to defend your honor, or are constantly feeling angry about being undermined, this may be you.
Blaming: Whenever a problem results in spending an inordinate amount of time figuring out who’s to blame, for blame’s sake, you can be sure someone with low EQ is at the helm. Rather than taking setbacks as a learning experience and supporting each other through them, a culture of blame is more likely to hide or minimize mistakes, which If you’re the leader and this is occurring, you need to intentionally change the way your team approaches missteps. can be fatal.
Temper Tantrums: I’ve known many leaders who have trouble controlling negative outbursts. Usually they are so passionate about their businesses, that this, coupled with a fear response endemic in missing a deadline or failing a customer, causes them to experience anger. This is normal, but having a public meltdown is not ‘authentic’, it’s childish and destructive and has no place in your company.
Threatening: Sometimes leaders like to assert control in a situation where they feel powerless by implying or stating that someone will be fired. “If I have to do your job, why do I need you?” or “If this isn’t corrected soon, we’ll have to make some cuts,” are examples of threats. Theoretically fear may motivate people to work harder, but I’ve never seen it. Usually you just get people so stressed out that they can’t perform. And worse, these kind of threats grow old very quickly and a more likely outcome is people will leave for a job that feels safer.
Demeaning: Another timeworn tactic for leaders with low EQ is to demean people for their mistakes or lack of progress. Sometimes this is done publicly or sometimes behind closed doors. There is never a good reason to use your words or actions to make someone feel smaller or less than. As a leader, you already have an uneven balance of power, but using it to hurt someone else has no possible upside.
In conclusion, if you are or aspire to be a leader, one of the best investments you can make is into shoring up your emotional intelligence in addition to building solid systems and processes. This is what truly differentiates life-changing leaders, and will allow you to accomplish your goals and contribute the gifts you were born to contribute!
Carrie Maldonado is the founder of Today’s Leadership Solutions, a Seattle-based consulting firm focused on helping organizations, leaders and job seekers to identify workplace solutions that work. As a certified executive coach, organizational development expert and resume writer, Carrie consults with small to medium sized businesses on OD, human resources and recruiting solutions in addition to providing career coaching to managers and executives in transition. Carrie can be reached for consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org