Are culture and emotional intelligence all that relevant for smaller businesses?

There has been a significant swing in the professional world from management and metrics to culture and emotional intelligence. It makes sense why; we are moving toward a more technology-based environment, where contributions are not always tangible products that can be measured. In a professional world where creativity, innovation and being first to market are the drivers of success, instilling an environment to elicit these results seemingly relies on different strengths than traditional organizational models.

Or does it?

As I’ve mentioned previously, I fall firmly in the ‘hybrid’ category when it comes to leadership and management. My experience has proven to me that companies are more successful when they have defined goals and a way of measuring corporate and individual progress towards these goals…AND…that leaders with high emotional intelligence are able to create cultures that elicit not only high performance, but also loyalty, high morale, and innovation.

When you’re a small but growing company, it is all too easy to put culture and leadership development on the back burner for several reasons. First, you’re small enough that you either ARE the main leader, or your team is small and handpicked and have high visibility as well as direct accountability to you for most if not all of their actions. As a smaller business, you ARE the culture so unless you have a significant internal ‘me-me conflict’ (as we like to say in coachese) you probably really enjoy your company culture.

What you will realize as you begin to grow though, is that if you aren’t intentional about your culture and strengthening yours and your leaders’ emotional intelligence, your culture will quickly unravel. It’s not difficult or complicated to do. For your company culture, I like to start by just bullet pointing all the things you’d like to be true about working for your company. It’s that easy! For example, some things on my list are:

  • We look at every challenge as an opportunity to teach, learn, and grow
  • We tell the truth, with love
  • We don’t throw team members under the bus
  • We own our own mistakes, not others’
  • We are in constant recovery from perfectionism and therefore celebrate progress
  • We laugh at ourselves – often

From this, hopefully you can see that the culture I’m cultivating is a high performing one of accountability, tempered with humor and a strong desire to stay on the productive side of my perfectionism. It’s best to get your culture identified before you get too big. If you already have a team, its great to get them involved in this exercise.

The emotional intelligence of yourself and your leaders is a little tougher to define. I’m mostly in favor of a 360 review here…I say mostly because if these are done incorrectly they’re useless at best and incredibly destructive at worst. During a 360 review, feedback is collected from a person’s direct manager, their peers, and their subordinates in attempt to give them a picture of how they are perceived. Sometimes, feedback is even solicited from clients.

All too often, I’ve seen 360’s used because someone near the top of the food chain is behaving badly and senior leadership is too wimpy to call them out, and their subordinates are too scared of retaliation. Usually the thought process is that if the bad-behaver sees that everyone agrees s/he’s a jerk then they’ll have an epiphany and change their ways. I’ve seen this work zero times. Don’t use 360’s to fix jerks.

If you are interested in conducted a 360 review of emotional intelligence, I’d recommend reading up on the 12 characteristics of emotional intelligence and designing a behavior-based assessment to use. For this to be really helpful, you need two qualities already in place: The first is trust, and the second is positive intent. Positive intent means a sincere desire to find and reward the good, and identify areas of improvement. Trust refers to the team’s belief that you do have positive intent and that their peers do as well.

As another example, years ago I was part of a small, tight-knit management team. We completely trusted each other and believed that we all had each other’s backs and that there was no malice. I’d been having trouble with turnover in my department, so I asked my team for feedback on my leadership. They told me that I sometimes came across as intimidating because of my direct manner of communicating coupled with my relentless perfectionism (see, there’s the p word again).

As a caution – even though I trusted my team, and knew they cared about me, AND I’d asked for the feedback, it still stung! It probably will for you and your team as well if you truly get honest feedback. That’s okay. In my case, after the sting wore off, I was able to use the feedback constructively. This would not have happened if it was thrust in my face, or given in a way that felt threatening or judgmental.

In conclusion, YES, you should be worrying about culture and emotional intelligence even if (or especially) if you’re small and growing. Setting a solid foundation in these areas, in addition to creating effective goals, metrics, and feedback, will have you solidly positioned for success!

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


How lack of Emotional Intelligence will destroy your company (stories from the trenches)

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