Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to understand your emotions and use this ability to manage your behaviors and relationships. Leaders with higher EQ are better equipped for making wise decisions under pressure and rapid change. EQ is a lens that great leaders use to strengthen awareness and influence others – for positive personal and organizational benefits.
A client recently used his EQ lens to address a looming operational challenge – the CEO. I wonder how many of us have faced something similar –and how strengthening EQ could be useful?
Some background first.
We know that our brain prefers to minimize risks and maximize rewards, and draws on our stored memories and experiences to do this. Helping us survive, the brain’s protective bias unconsciously patrols the environment for perceived threats to our needs. Two almond shaped amygdala serve as our patrol devices, and are located in the frontal portion of our temporal lobe. When a threat is detected, they release a bio-chemical cocktail through the body, putting us in a hypervigilant state equipped to address the perceived impending danger. Growing EQ requires becoming aware of the amygdala’s effect and learning to scale our responses to real vs. perceived threats.
Leaders with lower EQ can unknowingly create ripple effects for the organization, promoting a quasi- triggered state around them so that others are moving between crises and removed from the more strategic, complex thinking required. In globally intelligent, matrixed, high tech – low touch organizations, it’s easy to see the ripple effects of amygdala at work: siloes, multi-layer decision making, consensus stagnation, avoidance and complacency. While these may appear elegant solutions for managing risk – they’re often dressed-up versions of our ancestral flight or fight responses on a grander scale. Complicating these organizational challenges is that lower EQ leaders often lack control valves, muting the ability to give or receive critical feedback when it’s needed most – under pressure and the stakes are high.
An example of fine tuning the EQ lens showed up when a client’s strategic initiative was on hold – his. The company was challenged with recurring issues of low retention and engagement. He admitted lacking the confidence necessary to present his well-grounded, critically timed people initiative to the CEO. He felt it was too risky to be the voice that brought something contrary to the CEO’s singular EBIDTA philosophy. My client’s brain had masterfully observed the last person that tried this: and they lost senior level support and eventually left the company. His amygdala was protecting something in five need categories summarized in David Rock’s SCARF model: Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. The amygdala had paralyzed forward action.
Using an EQ lens, our coaching goal was to discern if this was a real or false alarm: and if false, address what he needed to gain forward momentum.
My client wanted to summon personal courage to serve the company’s needs and override fears amplified by his amygdala. Of the 12 or so defined EQ capabilities, we focused on capacity building for two: Self-Regard: the ability to maintain identity and purpose and convey confidence, conviction and decisiveness and Empathy: the capacity to understand and share another’s condition through their perspective.
The client focused on what was truly at work on his behalf: his core values (service, people, profitability), the ability of his team to implement the initiative and conviction that this was his to do. Using an empathetic lens on the situation, he was able to shift perspective away from his fears, and strengthen his appreciation for how the senior team may be feeling. He crafted an approach that offered the best opportunity to explore and acknowledge their needs, and created a blueprint for launching the initiative with their support. Our coaching discussion included these questions – and more.
- What role do you want to play in addressing this specific challenge?
- What makes this yours to do – and why now?
- What happens if you don’t do this? What would that mean for you? For the company?
- If you were the CEO / the senior team, what would be your concerns? What might be real about these? What might they need to hear to feel that you’ve considered these?
- Is there anything recurring for this team that’s not been addressed and unspoken to look at further?
- To move forward, what needs to happen first?
- If at any point this feels too dicey – what options or resources are there for your support?
In his book, Principles, Ray Dalio states: “the biggest difference between people who guide their own personal evolution and achieve their goals and those that don’t, is that those that make progress reflect on what causes their amygdala hijacks”.
Through an EQ lens, this client courageously authored a plan that overrode the amygdala’s self-preserving effect on his behaviors. He’s scheduled to meet with the CEO and his discussions with stakeholders are in process. He’s managing a preference to play the amenable support role – and bravely stepping up for something bigger. While perfect outcomes aren’t guaranteed, he’s integrated the beliefs, skills and found the confidence needed to be part of a timely solution.
Strengthening EQ helps move us from self-centric to others-centric leadership. This is the true work of leaders … at any level.
As a coach – I’ve found that strengthening EQ helps us become stronger, wiser and humbler as humans; and this is good for those around us in and outside of work.
How well do you use your EQ lens? Connect with me to discover more: krmoore.com/connect
References and Resources:
- Dalio, R. Principles. (2017) Simon & Schuster. New York, NY.
- Rock, D. and Ringleb, A.H. (2013) Handbook of Neuroleadership. NeuroLeadership Institute