One of the things I see so many leaders grapple with is Emotional Intelligence (EQ). This may sound like old news, yet most issues in teams lead back to a need to build more EQ muscle – to be more aware of self and others, control and manage emotions, and build stronger relationships. 

The need for greater EQ becomes even more apparent as our work contexts intensify in pace, pressure, uncertainty and complexity. When we’re stressed, we’re more likely to be reactive and fall back to old, unhealthy ways of relating with ourselves and others. We often default to being transactional and focus on the numbers rather than the people, becoming smaller, more blinkered versions of ourselves.

If we’ve developed EQ, we are more able to observe what is happening and be able to bring our best selves with a steadier, more strategic approach that balances people and numbers for a sustainable business. 

What is Emotional Intelligence or EQ?

“EQ is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as recognize and influence the emotions of those around you.”

Daniel Goleman, author, psychologist and science journalist

Covid gave us an insightful window on EQ. For so many of us emotions intensified, consciously or unconsciously, and we struggled to stay anchored, self-regulated and connected to ourselves and others. Even with relatively developed EQ, it was hard to show up with our best selves.

Emotional Intelligence – the foundation for higher performance

The return to more ‘normal’ ways of working in 2022 has exposed the need to keep investing in developing leaders, and there is a growing realization that EQ is the foundation for high performance. 

“Emotional Intelligence accounts for nearly 90% of what sets high performers apart with similar technical skills and knowledge. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but…they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions.”

Harvard Business School online, 2019
Research into top performing teams in the US over the past few decades (Druskat &       Goleman, EI & Beyond podcast, Aug 2021) shows that top teams need shared goals AND emotional intelligence to unlock top performance. 

“EQ has been the traditional mainstay of empowered, engaged, and energetic cultures. The combination of self-awareness, self-control, empathy, and social skills is the bedrock of the ability to deepen personal relationships and create an environment where people can comfortably innovate, solve problems together, and feel empowered to serve as champions for their brand on the front lines.

Outstanding interpersonal and leadership skills are a “must have” if organizations are going to keep pace with their competitors and the social cultures they inhabit.”

The EI Advantage, Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, 2019

EQ expands leadership maturity and leads to potent performance

The findings on the power of EQ for performance correlate with global research done on the different stages of adult development, which effectively assess where we are as adults in our development. This can be referred to as leadership maturity (not necessarily relating to age) or mindset or action logic. 

Assessing leadership maturity helps us find our location (like a psychological GPS) and offers us a pathway to a more expanded mindset to lead even more effectively. 

One such map that assesses leadership maturity is the IMf (Identity Maturation Framework) offered through Aephoria in South Africa. This points to leaders at the ‘Performing’ stage (see image below) being able to combine their technical expertise from the earlier ‘Specialising’ stage with EQ, to achieve desired outcomes. (This doesn’t mean you can’t perform at earlier stages; it means you need technical expertise AND EQ to achieve great outcomes.)

The fan graphic by Aephoria shows the ladder of maturity which is based on the premise that if you have a more expanded version or narrative of self i.e. are further up the ladder, you will have greater capacity to be in and with the world ie higher EQ. If you have a smaller version or narrative of self i.e. are at an earlier stage on the ladder your capacity in the world tends to be more limited. 

The principle of development here is one of include and transcend, so you have to move through each stage to access the next, you can’t jump stages, and you can always access earlier stages when you need to. There are benefits to each stage.

Wrapping this up…

  1. EQ is key to great leadership and great performance. 
  2. EQ traits are developable with deliberate practice and coaching as confirmed by 40 years of neuroscience research on brain plasticity i.e. as adults we can develop new ways of being.

Practical steps to grow emotional intelligence and performance

If you’re keen to develop EQ for yourself and / or your leaders, here are some tips to get started:

  1. Assess where your leaders are in terms of their adult development (you can contact me to get links to Aephoria’s IMf).
  2. If your people are mostly at ‘Specialising’, develop their EQ to tip them into ‘Performing’.
  3. Design and implement an EQ programme focused on these four key areas. (I have a tested programme which yields great results like increased trust, psychological safety and empathy … if you want to talk):
    • Self-awareness
    • Self-management
    • Tuning into others (empathy, generosity)
    • Social skills in relationships
  4. Make sure your programme is impactful by combining:
    • Heat experiences (people learn when there is some discomfort), with 
    • Colliding perspectives (we widen how we see things when we hang out with diverse people) and 
    • Elevated sense-making (to make sense of what we’ve been through and to integrate learnings). 

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