In my early 20s, I had little to no emotional intelligence (EQ). It was not something I deemed as a success factor. Truthfully, I had been conditioned to avoid it due to beliefs that emotions demonstrated weakness. Decades later I know this is not true and have built a successful career and business that leverages the power of emotional intelligence to build strong relationships.
For many, EQ is a skill that needs to be cultivated. For me, it took a mentor who showed me that you can be a strategic and successful leader while leading with heart. He used his emotional intelligence to develop social awareness and empathy toward his team, with respect to both their personal issues and workplace concerns. He allowed us to show up as we were every day and was supportive of us as people, not just resources. He led a team for three decades that would give 100% of their ability in return with this superpower.
My mentor encapsulated the importance of relationship building and leaning into EQ to foster and develop relationships. His self-awareness and self-management were exemplary as well; despite corporate challenges and challenges of the tech economy, it was rare to see or feel him lose control of his emotions in a negative way. He was the epitome of self-regulation and "right time, right place."
As a young and eager career professional, I witnessed first-hand how EQ and technical intelligence complemented each other and correlated to success. Now as a coach, I use EQ every day. Below are some examples.
Recently I was asked to visit on-site for a collaborative session. The morning of, my client canceled, citing child illness. I had made plans for my own childcare and had cleared my calendar with my other clients to accommodate the in-person request. I didn’t get upset; I understood that the individual was in a bind. I leaned into my social awareness of the constraints that come along with being a mother, which helped me be understanding.
The Cold-Hearted Economy
Many of my clients are startups in the tech sector, one of the areas most impacted by the economic downturn. It is not uncommon for me to lay out project deliverables and have my deadlines missed or ignored. My view into the current climate in tech has helped me change my thinking from "these clients are unprofessional" to recognizing that many individuals are doing the jobs of two or more people.
I see the insurmountable pressures of acquisitions, funding rounds and venture capital daily, and I have had to lean heavily into adaptability and resilience—adapting to new situations, handling stress and bouncing back from setbacks more effectively, and making rational decisions in high-pressure situations. We get the job done by becoming aligned with and being respectful of each other's work.
One client told me she was grossly underpaid in comparison to the market, and she was preparing to fight for a new role for which she was the best candidate. We spoke about how she could approach the next few months and how to strengthen certain areas to ensure success. We also spoke about how she felt like she was paying the "Motherhood Penalty," how what should have been a logical promotion hadn't been and how often her children came up in conversation.
I understood where she was coming from and gave her a great deal of reinforcement to support her, and she thanked me for being a safe space. EQ has made me a stronger communicator and more intentional in creating these connections and having deep conversations. This was not my native way of being; I had to learn how to ask questions and listen to responses, not just hear someone speaking.
I have witnessed leaders who invoke fear, sadness, inequity and straightforward criticism without offering guidance and support. My role requires me to speak to team members on a continuous basis, and often they feel defeated when their leaders lack self-awareness and social awareness.
When you set the intention to actively listen with genuine interest, your perception of what is happening will change. Is your employee being insubordinate because they don't take direction well or are mitigating factors that they aren't comfortable bringing forward at play?
A wealth of knowledge is lost in the conversations that we don't have, in the canceled one-on-one meetings, the regular performance reviews, the rushed and deprioritized meetings. Invest in people and yield the return.
This is the formula that I started putting in place after my first year running my firm as strictly a numbers/hours game. It didn't feel good and was transactional and disconnected. I began to use my time to listen and get to deeper layers with my employees; as a result, I was able to learn key pieces of information that I would not have been privy to when focusing solely on tasks, processes and the script. Personalization is a gateway to employee and client/customer retention.
The more we normalize and demonstrate EQ's power in leadership and throughout organizations, the more we normalize leaning into the reality that our emotions come with us to work every day. When we are free to show up and express our concerns, then we can have fruitful and critical conversations. Without platforms for free communication, careers and progress can get stifled and resentment and hostility are born in place of innovation and productivity.
Developing emotional intelligence has been essential for my success as it has enhanced my communication skills, leadership abilities, adaptability, conflict resolution, relationship building and self-awareness. It allows me to create positive work environments, foster productive relationships and navigate career challenges more effectively.
Shaming someone into action creates acting. Inspiring someone into action creates change.
Originally shared on Forbes.com