At the age of 35, I was hired as the Executive Director of a nonprofit organization. It was the realization of one of my highest professional goals, and it quickly taught me that I needed to strengthen my emotional intelligence to be an effective leader.
I began a journey that started with becoming aware of how I showed up with people. I’m an extrovert and thrive on engaging with the world around me. I’m also energetic and exude a “youthful energy” when I enter a room. As the newly appointed leader, I discovered those traits sometimes meant I came across as intense, immature, and overbearing. I had never been in a position to look at myself as others see me, and it was enlightening.
I stumbled onto a Daniel Goleman article about emotional intelligence. He suggested this innate intelligence was categorized into four domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and social skill. I was immediately hooked and started learning about me.
In coaching leaders, I often start with emotional intelligence. I use my own experience to help leaders see for themselves that this kind of growth is within reach. It demystifies the process of self-mastery and social awareness.
I decided I had to understand myself better. I started by finding tools to help me dissect the person I’d known all my life. My favorite was the Values in Action Survey of Character Strengths. It helped me frame traits in affirming statements and helped me see as strengths some things I had viewed as flaws. I had a new appreciation for self-awareness.
Then I reviewed the elements of self-management to determine where I should focus my efforts to improve. I saw exactly what I needed to tackle: adaptability. My Meyers-Briggs Type is ENTJ, so I’m a big fan of order and routine. I also have a keen focus on the goal, whatever task I’m pursuing. That sounds great until something comes along that disrupts or re-routes me. I’ve improved in this area, and find that the more I’m open to changes, the happier I am with the experience as a whole.
The third domain, social awareness, is where I am most comfortable. When I’m in a position to meet the needs of the people around me, I’m happiest. I noticed that observing what happened around me – how people interacted, who helped influence decision making, and what responses people had to my appreciation of their work – allowed me to navigate workplace relationships more easily. I had an innate talent for active involvement, but observation, followed by integrating what I saw gave me an edge.
The last and, I think, most important domain for leaders is social skill. It’s the realm of nuanced communication that influences and inspires without demanding. It’s the capacity to listen for resolution during conflict to swiftly resolve the issue without escalating it. And it’s nurturing relationships that allow people to flourish while cultivating new ones for the future. Those who have these skills innately are natural leaders. The rest of us have to work at it!
The intelligence of leadership goes far beyond the realms of intellectual or emotional intelligence. But in my practice, emotional intelligence is the place where my clients see the greatest returns on our work together.