The IMPORTANCE of Emotional Intelligence Training for Leaders RIGHT NOW

I watched a rerun of the 2016 football game between Penn State and Ohio State recently. (Disclaimer: You have your own favorite “turnaround story,” but my kids are on track to graduate from Penn State, so this one’s mine for this moment.) Late in the fourth quarter, as Ohio State was attempting a field goal, Marcus Allen blocked the kick and Grant Haley picked up the ball, running it all the way downfield for a touchdown and bringing the magical win on a White Out night at Beaver Stadium.

That moment was a game changer.

We need another game changer for our world today. There seems to be no more important issues circulating right now in corporate life and echoing around the globe than diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). As we continue to focus on the importance of Emotional Intelligence (EI) for leaders, the question begs to be asked:

“If leaders were truly emotionally intelligent—that is, they understood the many elements of Emotional Intelligence and were committed to personally developing them, in balance—would we have even a fraction of the DEI issues we are facing today?”

No matter how many ways humankind continues to “sort and silo” each other—gender, heritage, socioeconomic status, race, generation, education (this list can go on)—these differentiations would secede as leaders fully develop and deploy the transformative elements of EI.

Importance of Emotional intelligence

EI training is, admittedly, predominantly self-focused. We take an assessment to see not only what our scores are in the five realms of EI—self-perception, self-expression, interpersonal, decision making and stress management—but also to see if our 15 subscales are in balance. Our EI action plans spring from the discovery of how subscales more than 10 points apart are hampering our effectiveness. By developing any one or two subscales with purposeful diligence, we can positively impact several other subscales and, thereby, increase our overall EI health.

True to human nature, we often pick the “lowest score” and plan somehow to work on and improve it, trusting that our manager will be happy we got some insight from the training they paid for and hoping our team might appreciate our effort at self-improvement.

But isn’t the better “endgame” that we would use our newfound self-awareness to become more “others-aware?” Move beyond me trying to “show up” as a better person and leader, and use these elements of EI to help those we influence become the best persons they can be? As the well-known statement of Saint Francis of Assisi asserts, “To understand, [more] than to be understood.”

For example, a family member of mine struggles with impulse control. He hogs 80% of the talk time in any (every!) given conversation. Not a topic arises for which he doesn’t have an opinion and ironclad plan that he freely and confidently shares. Knowing this, he has tried to listen more and feign (yes, that synonym for “fake”) a curiosity for the other person’s perspective—but to no avail. He promises, “I’ll talk less this time,” or, “I know—I’ll do better,” and even, “I won’t say a word!” without results.

What might bring results is taking his focus off himself. Put another way: Putting his focus on others. If he could truly appreciate that the other person has just as much passion for the topic and desire to share what they have been thinking as he does, he might empathize and enjoy watching them share as animatedly as he does. What if the bigger thrill really is the joy of igniting their expression and then observing their personal fulfillment as they share their thoughts and ideas with him? A focus on that might create the internal gauge he desperately needs.

If leaders could gain a profound understanding of the perspectives of others—“walk a mile in another’s shoes”—wouldn’t it improve how they lead others? How they listen? How they deploy resources? How they respond to differences of opinion? How innovative solutions are gathered? How they create timelines and make decisions? How work gets done?

Shouldn’t healthy and balanced Emotional Intelligence produce leaders who have the trust and respect of every team member? Who hold each person in high regard and value each one’s contributions? Who provide personalized development opportunities whenever possible? Who celebrate the excellence and accomplishments of each person? Who recognize that every voice is important with something powerful to offer?

Is it possible that in a year marked by unprecedented complexity and uncharted change, we were already holding the key to unlock our better future? Did we nearly miss that the focus on EQ and EI (largely cultivated by Bar-On, Mayer, Salovey, Caruso, Gardner and Goleman in the 1980s), could be the perfect runway for us to use for greater diversity, equity and inclusion? A solid foundation on which to build for such a time as this?

Dr. Paul Hersey’s research concluded that leadership is influence. If you are a leader, you have influence over the people in your world. And, if you have influence over anyone at all, you are leading. Returning to my original question, “If leaders were truly emotionally intelligent …” consider:

  • You are a leader! How well do you know and understand your Emotional Intelligence?
  • Are you diligently working to develop it—just as you do as other critical muscles like your arms, legs and brain—to influence well?
  • What practical step could you take this week to open the way for greater diversity, equity and inclusion in your team?

For organizations struggling to do their best to respond to the disparities now glaring at us from the spotlight, Emotional Intelligence training and development seems to be an absolute game changer.