Where it begins: emotional intelligence for leadership.

EI flowchart

When I started out in one of my first positions in an organization as a Psychologist, it wasn’t long before the chief exec asked me for a favor.  “I have two people on my management team who I’m concerned about.  They joined my team about a year ago – and their enthusiasm for the job seems to have changed.  Dr. Helvig – I’m not sure what it is, but I was wondering if you could just spend some time with them figuring out what’s going on?”  Of course I agreed.  Without going into detail, both team members were having some personal issues that complicated their involvement on the job.  After some discussion – meeting with each of them individually a few times – things improved significantly both on and off the job.  The exec who called me in pulled me aside sometime later and thanked me.  She said, “You know how you just get that feeling when something’s not quite right?  I just didn’t know what to say to them, and it didn’t even feel like it was my place.  It was so much easier to leave it up to you!”

Kudos aside, what I heard the chief exec saying was that in management it can be very difficult to help people navigate their work and personal lives.  However, the two go hand in hand.  Whether you’re the boss or a colleague, you likely need your staff and peers to be on top of their game for things to run smoothly.  In the case above, personal and emotional issues were impacting leaders’  behavior – and when 2 out of 6 leaders at the top of an organization are not on their “A” game there can be some damaging turbulence in the environment.

Now, you’re probably wondering what worked with those 2 leaders who had fallen off track?  A few of my posts in the coming months will provide more insight, but the short answer is that we developed their skill set in the area of Emotional Intelligence.  Yes, you read that correctly.  Leading business thinkers have spent decades examining factors that impact leadership:   Overall IQ (intelligence quotient), cognitive processing, cognitive flexibility & adaptability, ability to navigate new and/or complex situations, managing ambiguity, personality traits, etc.  And while we know that pieces of all of these factors affect leadership and the ability to lead, emotional intelligence has emerged in recent years as an essential aspect of effective leadership.  Not to be a spoiler, but emotional intelligence (unlike other traits that are more static) can be be learned and significantly improved with willingness and commitment to skill development.

Let’s talk more about emotional intelligence and leadership.  It can be the one thing that boosts you (or someone on your leadership team) from being an average leader to becoming an outstanding executive!

Whether you are a board of directors hiring a new chief exec – or a chief exec hiring new leadership – know your candidate’s skill set in the area of emotional intelligence.  It’s essential.  Remember how costly a poorly-fit new hire can be (see earlier posts)?


Until next time,

Dr. Todd