From the C-Suite: The Other ‘I’
The concept of emotional intelligence (EI) has been around for some time. Have you ever wondered, “Do I have it?” If you’re considered a strong, likeable leader and looked upon as an authority figure, chances are you’ve evolved to become smart and skilled at navigating the company hallways. But do you shine in this area of a desirable leader?
By definition, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer in their 1990 article “Emotional Intelligence” tell us EI is “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”
As a retail leader, here’s my take on it. First, it’s not just in your DNA. You weren’t born with it. And second, it’s never completed, but rather is a journey of continual improvement. What follows are five behaviors you can put into action now to begin improving your EI.
They Don’t Know What You’re Thinking
I have to admit, I’ve been guilty of showing my emotions and how I really feel, not verbally, but in my body language. I’ve also been privileged to be behind closed doors or in private meetings with many of my CEOs, and I’ve been surprised when they’re frank regarding how they truly feel about a project or the decisions and actions of other team members. In sensitive or territorial situations, I would never have guessed their true position on these matters while in larger meetings. Being included in this inner circle enabled me to to see both sides of how leaders lead and work outside of meetings for practical reasons. This has taught me to intentionally self-monitor my nonverbal cues and body language.
The Surface Should Remain Calm
I’ve been a part of many meetings where C-suite or similar executives “lose it,” yelling, pounding the table or even verbally issuing ultimatums when they feel backed into a corner or pressured by the loss of time or money. I’ve learned and in fact decided long ago that I don’t want to be perceived this way. As the old saying goes, “may calmer heads prevail.” Employees need to believe they’re working for leaders who have themselves and their responsibilities under control — even if they don’t.
Positivity Trumps Negativity
I’m a glass-half-full leader. I truly believe anything is possible and encourage my staff to adopt this approach. But practically speaking, there are many who either have more fatalistic points of view, or who gain some type of fulfillment by creating and breeding negativity or fostering gossip. I’ve learned there are ways to combat these employees without going head-to-head.
I’ve experienced success by approaching this the same way that small children are managed. While the child who follows directions and gets along well with others is rewarded and praised, the misdirected child eventually becomes very frustrated by the lack of attention and then starts to adapt. Sometimes these associates end up deciding to leave the group on their own, feeling they don’t fit in.
Don’t Do Your Best Proofreading After You’ve Hit ‘Send’
One of the most important traits of high EI is the ability to regulate your emotions as well as how you respond to others’ emotions. Filling a written business correspondence with emotion is dangerous. Anything beyond factual or tactical content is best delivered in person, or at least via Skype.
One of the best pieces of business advice I’ve ever received has two core components. First, type the “To” line as the very last thing so that you’re forced to think about who will be included and that you consider this after all of your message has been typed. And second, type any email that has controversial opinion or emotion, save it in your draft folder, re-read it, and then send at a later time. A calm, cool, later review of the email in the light of a new day often softens our approach and helps refine the message.
Ignoring Shiny Objects
There’s no shortage of great ideas. Those with an entrepreneurial spirit thrive on the high of “what’s next.” However, for a business to become great it most often requires a laser focus on its mission and goals. If leadership constantly changes direction or abandons projects frequently for the next interesting initiative, associates will start to question the leader’s true ability to lead and keep the company profitable.
There’s also risk that employees begin to feel their work isn’t valued if it’s easily discarded due to continually shifting priorities, especially if they’re driven by emotion. The EI leader is able to curate through many shiny objects that are presented, consider the impact of their emotional reactions, and demonstrate strength by steady navigation of the company’s course.
The Good News
It’s never too late to develop your own EI. By keenly observing good and bad examples, you can quickly develop your own approach to increase professional success.
Linda Mihalick is the senior director of the Global Digital Retailing Research Center at the University of North Texas.