mindfulness

Emotional Intelligence Makes You A Stronger Leader In High-Stakes Business

emotional Intelligence and LeadershipDoes high emotional intelligence make you a “soft” leader?

If you are a senior executive operating in high-stakes, fast-paced and competitive environments, you might have encountered this corporate myth.

I suspect this comes from the misconception that “emotional intelligence” is only about empathy, positivity and compassion and that it will somehow take away your critical thinking, toughness, decisiveness or leadership edge.

The reality is that emotional intelligence fuels stronger leadership in high-stakes environments. In my experience, those who have greater emotional intelligence can often better focus strategically, eliminate cognitive biases, make tough decisions, manage conflict and have difficult conversations with ease and effectiveness. From my perspective, emotionally intelligent leaders have the greatest edge, especially in high-stakes environments.

Below are four ways I’ve observed embracing emotional intelligence has helped my clients become stronger and tougher leaders and how it could help you, too:

1. Improved Resilience And Mental Toughness

The ability to show grace under fire, be mentally tough and lead effectively in uncertainty, chaos and crisis is the hallmark of a strong leader.

The primal emotional intelligence skills of self-awareness and self-management are the gateway to becoming mentally tough. To begin working on these skills, pay attention to your stress triggers and emotional blind spots. Create new habits that help you manage your capacity to be calm in a crisis, bounce back quickly from challenging events and signal strength to your people. Building a daily mindfulness practice or taking on a regular contemplative routine like journaling, for example, is very helpful in building resilience.

When executives are wary about starting a mindfulness practice, it is best to start small. Consider scheduling a few minutes daily for a visual breathing exercise, which is a great beginning point. Mindfulness is about intentionally paying attention — without judgment — to the present moment.

When you practice emotional intelligence as a leader, you learn to stop internalizing stress and reacting to incoming noise. With emotional intelligence, you minimize your feelings of frustration, anger and even mental exhaustion in your day-to-day life, and you learn to operate at your best and also let others operate at their best.

2. Sharpened Thinking

Emotional intelligence helps you to pay attention to the patterns, biases and blind spots in the way you think, form opinions and make decisions. By creating new self-awareness habits, you also learn to isolate the role your emotions are playing in your approach to decision making.

Practices such as mindfulness, taking new perspectives and emotional self-management which are a part of the emotional intelligence repertoire, help you enhance your ability to focus on what is most important. You can choose to zoom into a micro-perspective or zoom out and look at the big picture.

These are essential critical thinking skills for any leader who wants to succeed in a high stakes’ environment.

3. Greater Ability To Read External Cues

Many leaders default to leading from their areas of expertise and spend too little time synthesizing the cues from the operating environment.

As a leader in high-stakes environments, if you don’t pay greater attention to others and tune into their mindset, drivers and preferences, you will not be able to read organizational and market signals. Emotional intelligence helps you develop social awareness and become more aware of cues, patterns and influencers of the people around you, whether they are clients, stakeholders, teams, adversaries or your board.

The first key step is to intentionally spend time understanding organization dynamics in your company and engage with empathy with those around you. Both practices give you a big picture and a micro view of external factors. This insight into the external environment helps you make more effective decisions around strategy, talent, organizational transformation and execution.

4. Increased Effectiveness With People

Relationship management is a key facet of emotional intelligence. The focus on managing relationships with others by building upon self-mastery and social awareness helps you hone your relationship management ability. You learn how to influence others, have difficult conversations, manage conflict, develop and coach your talent, inspire your teams and generally become more effective with others.

Leaders in high-stakes environments are expected to be effective and create results quickly. Once they learn to seamlessly forge and navigate relationships, it makes them even stronger in their leadership.

I believe strong leadership in high-stakes environments can only be built on a foundation of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a unique and powerful gateway for both self-mastery, as well as your effectiveness with others. If you operate in a high-stakes environment, you would be remiss to not add it to your toolkit.

Written by Shefali Raina for Forbes Coaches Council  Original here 

Without Emotional Intelligence, Mindfulness Doesn’t Work

Mindfulness Emotional IntelligenceMindfulness has become the corporate fad du jour, a practice widely touted as a fast-track to better leadership. But we suspect that not all the benefits laid at its feet actually belong there. Our research and analysis has revealed a complicated relationship between mindfulness and executive performance—one that is important for leaders to understand as they seek to develop in their careers.

Mindfulness is a method of shifting your attention inward to observe your thoughts, feelings, and actions without interpretation or judgment. A mindfulness practice often begins simply by focusing on your breath, noticing when your mind wanders, and then bringing it back to your breath. As you strengthen your ability to concentrate, you can then shift to simply noting your inner experience without getting lost in it at any point in your day. The benefits attributed to this kind of practice range from stronger relationships with others to higher levels of leadership performance.

Take, for example, Sean, a senior leader at a Fortune 100 corporation.  He will tell you that mindfulness played a critical role in transforming his career. He had been experiencing a serious performance plateau that was, he learned, an effect of his micromanaging and intimidating his direct reports. Obsessed with hitting his quarterly targets, he had pushed his people as much as they could stand and his team’s output was at a standstill. He feared being fired, or having to quit because of burnout from anxiety overload.

And mindfulness, Sean says, saved him. After an intensive training in the practice, he was better able to stop himself when his impulse was to jump in and control, and instead adopt a more supportive style, letting subordinates take on more responsibility. As he got better at managing his own anxious impulses, the resulting atmosphere dropped the gauge on stress for everyone. His direct reports trusted him more and did better quality work. Instead of quitting or being fired, he was promoted.

Sean was one of 42 senior leaders from organizations throughout the world who practice mindfulness and whom one of us (Matt Lippincott) studied at the University of Pennsylvania. They too attributed a wide array of benefits to their practice, including:

  • Stronger relationships with superiors, peers, and subordinates
  • Heightened output
  • Better project outcomes
  • Improved crisis management
  • Increased budgets and team headcount
  • Being trusted with sensitive organizational information
  • Positive performance reviews
  • Promotions

One executive even reported that as a result of his mindfulness practice his co-workers stopped turning around and walking in the other direction when they saw him coming!

But mindfulness isn’t magic; what was the mechanism at work in these executives’ transformations? One tipoff: several executives in the study reported getting feedback from colleagues that described improvements in areas like empathy, conflict management, and persuasive communication. These, it turns out, are what one of us (Dan) has described as core emotional intelligence competencies.

This connection with emotional intelligence was underscored in the interviews Matt conducted with the study participants themselves. Rather than describing a direct correlation between their mindfulness practice and increased performance, the leaders talked about increased self-awareness that led them to change certain behaviors. Those behaviors tracked with those Dan describes in the Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI), an established rubric for gauging emotional intelligence. It is through improvement in competencies related to emotional intelligence, in fact, that mindfulness makes executives more effective leaders.

In Sean’s case, his mindfulness practice made him more aware of his own high levels of anxiety, and how that tended to impair his thinking. He realized that he had harshly high standards for himself at work, and held everyone else to these same rigid, perfectionistic expectations — for instance, that people, including himself, should be able to endure extreme workplace demands. By becoming aware of these tendencies, he also saw that while his workaholic ethic had gotten him his position, as a leadership strategy it no longer worked for him. Because it was well-nigh impossible for anyone to meet his unrealistic performance expectations — and he would berate them when they didn’t — there was a quiet rebellion brewing on his team and progress was at a standstill. With this understanding, he was able to identify two competencies where he could improve: self-awareness and self-management.

As a result, he adjusted his expectations to be more realistic, and sought his team’s input in setting their goals. These shifts led him to improve in other emotional competence areas as well. Sean began to listen attentively to his team members rather than just dictating what to do — ratcheting up his empathy. He adopted a more positive view of his direct reports and their abilities to reach targets, seeing them as allies rather than problems, an upgrade of the positivity in his outlook. He built trust by speaking of his own fears and vulnerabilities more openly, and spoke from his heart more, which inspired his team. We’ve seen in past research that improvement in these competency areas — achievement, conflict management, empathy, positive outlook, and inspiration — improve a leader’s effectiveness, and Sean’s case bore that out.

The exercise of mindfulness started Sean down the path of improvement as a leader; it allowed him to see where he needed to improve and allowed him to become self-aware enough to modify his actions. But the improvements themselves were in the realm of emotional intelligence.

We believe that by focusing on mindfulness-as-corporate-fad, leaders run the risk of missing other opportunities to develop their critical emotional skills. Instead, executives would be better served by deliberately assessing and improving their full range of emotional intelligence capabilities. Some of that work may well involve mindfulness training and practice, but it can also include formal EQ assessment and coaching. Other tools and approaches include role-playing, modeling other leaders you admire, and rehearsing in your mind how you might handle emotional situations differently. By understanding that the mechanism behind mindfulness is the improvement of broader emotional intelligence competencies, leaders can more intentionally work on all of the areas that will have the strongest impact on their leadership.

Original article in HBR by Daniel Goleman and Matthew Lippincott here.