Emotional Intelligence: A Path to Growth

After 40 years of scientific research, psychologists have proven that the differentiating factor in leadership performance is Emotional Intelligence (EQ). Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, was the first to make the best-seller list. Since that time, hundreds of books and studies have confirmed that IQ and technical skills are very important, but merely a threshold — a high IQ is not enough.

It makes sense. We have all witnessed some very intelligent people who walk blindly through work tasks and interactions with others, stumbling along a path of reason without sensitivity.

On a personal level, high EQ is linked to self confidence, healthy relationships, and greater resilience in dealing with the ups and downs of life. So, how do you grow in EQ?

Growing Your EQ with Self-awareness

Behavioral psychologists identify Self-awareness as the foundation for all EQ growth. Self-awareness is having a deep understanding of your emotions, how they affect you, what impact they have on others, and how they can fuel or inhibit your performance. It’s also about having a reality check on the state of your character — acknowledging your strengths, balanced with recognition of the weaknesses and flaws that limit your potential for real success.

Self-awareness is built in many ways, such as feedback from others, personality assessments, counseling, coaching, meditation, reflection, prayer, journaling, time in nature, and my personal favorite — setting boundaries on the use of your technology devices, TV, and social media!

Why are those boundaries important? Private space gives you access to your feelings and thoughts which leads to the ability to reflect, solve problems, relax and recover. Our brain needs that to function well. If you are in a state of constant external stimulation, you reduce your natural ability to process what has happened and regain perspective. I believe this is why so many people today struggle with anxiety and sleeplessness. When you have access to your inside stuff, it naturally gives you greater connection with others. As one client said recently in a meeting, “Phones on the dinner table reduce intimacy.” And that client asked us all to take our phones off the table for their business meeting too! The research proves it to be true.

Growing Your EQ with Spirituality

Is there a spiritual link to your EQ growth? I believe there is. Those who have faith in a higher power and make consistent time to build their relationship with God experience more of a calming presence in their life. I have been in both places during my lifetime — a non-believer and a believer. I can attest to the experience of having more peace and confidence because of my relationship with God. I love this scripture, as it reminds me I don’t control everything and God is with me, facilitating a constant training program! He loves me as I am, yet he loves me too much to leave me where I am. When I ask in this way, He never fails to guide me.

Search me, God, and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.
—Psalm 139:23–24

The path of EQ growth fueled by something — or rather, someone — greater than yourself is far less stressful than trying to do it on your own. You can grow in your EQ without a spiritual base, but I have found the joy and power of having a relationship with God allows me more freedom to take risks, less anxiety for the future, more acceptance of my own flaws, and maybe best of all — forgiveness and tolerance for others. Having a strong spiritual context for my life gives me an attitude of grace. After all, we are all flawed, imperfect, meaning to do well, growing at times, but constantly messing up!  God loves us anyway and we can do the same for others!

Here is a story of how one leader made positive changes by focusing on his Self-awareness with the help of his relationship with God.

How One Leader Changed

Kevin (not his real name) struggled with his confidence level in a new job at a big company. One particular peer exhibited all the qualities he wished he had — a strong speaking voice, an excellent vocabulary, and the ability to easily woo others to his point of view. Whenever he was in a meeting with this colleague, this man’s obvious swagger triggered Kevin’s feelings of jealousy, low self-worth, and fear of failure. I asked Kevin to keep a record using an “EQ Log” of his thoughts and feelings so he could observe himself more closely — each day he recorded his strongest emotion, a short description of the incident, how he responded and the outcome. After 30 days, Kevin saw a clear pattern of second-guessing himself, negative self-talk, and uncalled for self-condemnation. He could also see the connection of his self-doubt and how it it reduced his ability to influence others.

This is the beauty of investing time to write and reflect. You start to see yourself and your patterns in a new way as if you were watching another person. Using this strategy, we can more easily diagnose someone else’s issues and tell them how to change! By building your Self-awareness you become your own inner coach. Psychologists call this the “observing ego,” which is a hallmark of people with high EQ.

Another way Kevin built his Self-awareness was by establishing a new ritual of quiet, uninterruptible time first thing each morning. He started with 15 minutes and then found it so helpful that he expanded it to 30 minutes. He read a spiritual devotional and kept a journal of his thoughts, emotions, wins and challenges. It centered him and gave him a broader perspective each morning to get down on paper what was going on.

By incorporating a dialog with God, he felt loved, valued, and encouraged. He came to recognize that his former strategy to get ahead — working harder and longer hours to prove his worth, was futile and, in fact, not even necessary! His ultimate growth came about as he recognized and embraced his own unique gifts and talents, which increasingly generated results that impacted the company culture and bottom-line.

Being an Effective Leader

Highly effective, high EQ leaders are constantly seeking feedback and engaging in their own growth. They are humble, like Level 5 Leaders in Jim Collins’ book Good to Great, and they surround themselves with others who will tell them the truth.

In closing, here’s a challenge for you! Ask 2 or 3 others to give you feedback on your EQ and pick out a few areas to grow. You could ask, “What am I doing well and what could I improve?” Or as Henry Cloud once challenged leaders in a workshop I attended,  ask those around you, “What’s it like to live on the other side of me?”

If you would like feedback on specific EQ traits, a quick read is Emotional Intelligence 2.0. There is even a self-assessment you can take so you can compare it to the feedback you receive from others. Or if you are ready for coaching, email me about taking an EQ 360.

The way of fools seems right to them,
but the wise listen to advice.

—Proverbs 12:15

Additional Emotional Intelligence Resources

Elaine Morris
Executive coach and positive intelligence expert

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Elaine Morris is a master-level emotional intelligence and executive coach who brings more than 30 years of experience to upper level executives and their teams.

Elaine Morris