A Check on Emotions

At the 2011 American Society for Training and Development conference in Orlando, Fla., there was standing room only for a presentation on emotional intelligence by government leadership development professionals. When asked why there was so much interest in this topic, many government leaders noted the same reasons it is so hot in corporate America: There is more stress in government offices today, with significant budget cuts, more long-term knowledge workers retiring and more work to be done with fewer resources. Emotional intelligence from leadership helps government professionals cope with these stresses and focus on the mission and getting work done in a calmer, more consistent and reliable environment.

When I begin a session around emotional intelligence, I tell participants to check their emotions at the door. Many think I mean leave your emotions outside — and that’s what many of us in leadership roles have been communicating to our employees: “Don’t bring your emotions to work, leave your problems at home; leave your emotions outside the workplace.” But we all know that’s not how it works. Emotions can’t be turned on and off so easily.

When I say check your emotions at the door, I mean think about your emotions. What are you feeling? If you know how you feel, you can better control your emotions and use them to assist you and support your goals and objectives in the workplace. In other words, understand and use your emotions and the emotions of others in a positive and constructive way. That is emotional intelligence.

It used to be that intellect was the most important precursor to success. If you had a high IQ, it was expected that you would be successful and a good leader. It is now commonly accepted that emotional intelligence — interpersonal and intrapersonal skills — is often 85 percent of the equation for success; intellect is only 15 percent. IQ and technical skills will get you hired, but emotional intelligence (EQ) will help you excel.

The good news is EQ can be learned and developed to help you become a better leader and help your team excel.

As we think through how certain thoughts, actions or triggers set off certain emotional responses, we can better manage those thoughts so we respond rather than react. By not allowing the emotional trigger to take over, we maintain control of the situation and can create a positive interaction instead of an emotional hijacking.

Employees need consistency from their leaders; they need to know a leader will respond reliably to a certain situation so they can bring questions, concerns and problems to their leader and know they will get a fair hearing and consistent response. The best leaders use emotional intelligence to manage their emotions so their responses are consistent, calm, fair and not reactive.

In turn, when we pay attention to emotional triggers from those around us, we can help provide what they need to gain control of their emotions, and we can be careful not to use triggers that will set them off on an emotionally turbulent reaction. By being responsive and alert to their needs, we demonstrate we care about them, earning trust and respect.

Once you have mastered the use of emotional intelligence, the benefits will be clear. You will be a better leader and will have more effective coping skills to create a nurturing, safe and trusted environment for your workforce. That will increase your employees’ comfort level, leading to an increase in openness, positive collaboration and productivity. This is crucial as budget cuts continue and long-term knowledge workers retire. Learning how to use emotional intelligence will help you retain talented employees, get the best from your team and keep all operations running smoothly.

When your employees feel you care about them, and you’re taking their emotional well-being into consideration in standard office behavior, they will be more responsive to you as a leader and be more likely to follow you. Emotional intelligence enables you to influence yourself first and then influence others to enable a more stable, productive work environment.

Harry White is the leadership development course leader for the American Management Association. He can be reached at editor@talentmgt.com.