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Why I Believe EQ Is Crucial For Leadership

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Emotional intelligence is what allows leaders to get everybody marching in lockstep, feeling they are part of a larger whole.

A former co-worker was kind enough to post something on my LinkedIn page about my leadership style, saying in part that when I served as CMO at a previous stop I assembled marketing strategies “as some set a feast—a place for everything and everyone in their best place.”

I’m certainly appreciative of my colleague’s words, and I love the analogy. Because the truth is, that is what I’ve always tried to do—connect with each and every member of the team and put them in a position where they can flourish—which, of course, will only benefit the organization in the long run.

This gets into a larger discussion about a leader’s emotional intelligence. It’s sometimes abbreviated to EQ, short for emotional intelligence quotient. Simply put, it is important for leaders to have functional expertise; that goes without saying. But it is no less important for them to know how to effectively deal with people. They must be self-aware, self-motivated, empathetic and socially skilled. They also must be self-regulating (i.e., firmly in control of their emotions at all times).

So I try to make sure that I’m attuned to those around me. There was one occasion, for example, where I was immersed in a review session with a member of my team, and I became aware of his writing skill. He was truly passionate about it, but his duties did not allow him to pursue that passion or use it for the team’s benefit. As a result, I made the executive decision to switch things up and slot him into a copywriting role. It made a huge difference in the quality of the broader team’s writing.

Certainly not every instance involving emotional intelligence is as dramatic as that. Sometimes it’s just a matter of asking someone how their day is going, whether they need another day at home to care for their sick child or another minute or two to get to an appointment. But the point is that there needs to be some esprit de corps. Everybody needs to feel like they’re marching in lockstep, that they’re part of a larger whole, that the entire team is pulling in the same direction.

The concept of EQ is not new. It dates back to Daniel Goleman’s 1995 book, “Emotional Intelligence,” in which he summarizes the findings of psychologists John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey. Their conclusion was that individuals’ emotional abilities are just as varied as their intellectual skills, and that the actions of high-EQ people are informed by their ability to monitor those emotions, as well as those of others.

Others have noted parallels between EQ and not only the way one performs one’s  job, but also the amount of satisfaction one derives from it. That has led many corporations to seek out candidates who display those qualities, and managers to continually hone those skills. That means encouraging outside-the-box thinking and welcoming others’ opinions.

Experts long ago concluded that emotional intelligence can be nurtured through such means as servicing relationships, practicing self-care, learning to express one’s emotions properly and tamping down negativity. Mindset matters, as reflected in this quote from Michael Jordan during his Hall of Fame basketball career:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Such resilience is obviously crucial for a leader, and can be communicated to others. So too can any number of other things, good and bad. The point is, a leader establishes the tone, and can choose exactly what that is. Self-awareness is, as a result, crucial. So too is empathy, being respectful of others’ opinions and actively listening. It all matters, and is reflective of emotional intelligence.

There’s another noteworthy example from the world of pro basketball. During the 2021 NBA Finals, the TV cameras showed Phoenix Suns coach Monty Williams addressing his team after it lost Game Four to the Milwaukee Bucks, leaving the series tied at two games apiece.

“Everything you want,” he told his players, “is on the other side of hard.”

Understand that Williams knows this all too well. In 2016, his wife Ingrid died in a car accident at age 44. While delivering her eulogy, he said in part, “This is hard for my family, but this will work out. And my wife would punch me if I were to sit up here and whine about what’s going on…You just can’t quit. You can’t give in.”

That is obviously emotional intelligence in the extreme—a man laid low by the worst possible circumstances, yet rising above, and as a leader creating a vision for others: reaching out and uniting his team, giving them purpose and resolve. That’s what EQ can do. That’s what it always does.


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