Why emotional intelligence makes a better CEO
The three most important things to know about EI
(Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Todd’s upcoming book, “Never Kick A Cow Chip On A Hot Day—Real Lessons For Real CEOs And Those Who Want To Be” from Morgan James Publishing.)
Years ago, my vice president of sales, Sam, wanted to make an unusual hire in a sales management position and asked me to interview the candidate to get my feedback. In preparation for meeting the candidate, I asked Sam about his background and he told me that he was a “rocket scientist.” “Okay, so he’s smart. I expected that,” I said, “but what is he doing for a living?” “He’s a rocket scientist! He builds rockets,” Sam said. While it was great that he had an enormous IQ (much bigger than mine), it was clear he did not possess the social or leadership skills necessary for the position.
It’s not good enough to be smart. That may get you into a leadership role, but it is emotional intelligence (often abbreviated “EQ” or “EI”) that will allow you to succeed. As an executive, there are some things that you should know about emotional intelligence.
Here are three of the most important:
- You can measure it.
- You can improve it.
- You are more likely to get fired for lack of EQ than IQ!
If the last point didn’t get your attention, it really might be an IQ issue! Differing models use different language, but for our purposes, let’s stick with the basics from Daniel Goleman’s model and talk about self-awareness, self-management, social-awareness and social skill.
Self-awareness means that you have a solid understanding of what you are good at and the areas where you need to improve. If someone were to ask all of those who engage with you to describe your style, personality, and habits, these should mirror your own description. We are all breathing our own exhaust to some degree, but it is very important that the image you have of yourself is not significantly different than the image others have of you.
Some tools to increase self-awareness include:
- Feedback from trusted sources. This means that they must a) see you in your work setting (preferably social setting as well), and b) be willing to speak the truth.
- 360-degree feedback tools can be very helpful. However, they must be administered appropriately or the data is garbage. Never forget—when you are at the top of the heap, most people want to please you and many are fearful to tell you the truth!
- Learn to watch how people respond to you when you are not in a superior-subordinate relationship (e.g. when you are with peers, friends, or at the shopping mall).
Self-management means that you can take your self-awareness and do something with it. It means that you don’t fly off the handle frequently. It means that you are able to remain calm even when you are fearful. It means that you can delay gratification and can adjust to fluid situations. This can all be enhanced with practice and coaching. Once again, if you have challenges in this area, it is imperative to have someone who can help you through this, someone who will be a truth-talker.
Social awareness means that you are able to understand how others are feeling. It means that you are able to understand social clues like facial expressions, language, and posture. It means that you can anticipate how people will act and feel in many situations. Great sales people (not the show-up-and-throw-up variety!) often have a high level of social awareness. As a CEO, you are often selling your ideas, and the manner in which you communicate them is critical.
Social skill means that you know what to do with your awareness of others. The leader who relies on position authority—“I’m the CEO, damn it!”—rather than the authority that comes from social skill is rarely successful in the long-term. With social skill you can adjust your style to make people want to listen to you. You can inspire and influence others. You know how to make friends. You know how to negotiate. You understand the power of questions rather than making pronouncements. This is the backbone for EQ.
IQ is important, especially if you are a rocket-scientist. But to be a great leader, IQ plays a significantly smaller role than your ability to communicate, implement strategy, and lead a team all the way to the promised land of success.
Real lesson: Have others who know you well (and who will speak the truth!) help identify your level of self-awareness and social-awareness. If you are lacking, create an action plan to improve. Pick up a copy of Daniel Goleman’s book, Emotional Intelligence, if you’d like a better understanding of this mantra.