Didn’t Your Mama Teach You That?

Emotional Intelligence is a shorthand way of talking about how you get along with others. There’s lot more to it, but bottom line, it’s about how you bring the person you are into interaction with the people you deal with in business, your work environment, your social community, and even your family.

I use Emotional Intelligence in my consulting work with leaders. I have talked about it in lectures and teachings. The coaching I provide and the training I do begin and end with an appreciation for the role of Emotional Intelligence. Finally, I use a heaping helping load of Emotional Intelligence in my life, just getting through the work of the day and the tender of the night.

I am thankful to my Mama and my grandmother for teaching me these basics of how you treat other people with respect, as fellow human beings that have inherent worth. That notion of dignity and worth is forged into the Baptismal Covenant I signed onto when I aligned myself as a follower of Christ. And even the country I call “home” asserts from its very beginnings that all people are created equal, endowed with rights, even though we are struggling still to make that real in our common life. I have been able to refine that attitude and those skills in the years beyond the training my family, tribe and country gave me, but it really comes down to how you regard and treat others, just like my Mama told me.

Didn’t your Mama teach you that? Or somebody else with some common sense? The answer I get from many people I work with is “No”, either formally or by their actions as they struggle to get along. They seem baffled by the most simple interactions that some people do simply, natively.

Let me give you a flesh and blood example.

I was doing a consulting gig at a healthcare system in a large Northern city. This system was bleeding financially to the point that their viability for the future was in question. The leadership team had a Chief Operating Officer (COO) that had a bad reputation for treating his staff badly. This reputation had gotten legs, making its way to the group of Catholic nuns who ran the board. The Sisters felt that this man did not understand the mission of the hospitals and needed to have his career redirected, or in common speak, fired.

My colleagues and I found that he was, in fact, the only one on the executive team who kept an eye on accountability and financial responsibility. I find that is true in many families and teams in business: someone had to take on the role of Enforcer. Without him, the doors of the hospital would have been shut long ago. I convinced the nuns to hire me to train him how to behave in a way that would not leave a trail of blood in his wake. But I also took time to inform the Sisters that without people like him, there would be no mission. The hospital would have to shut it’s doors as it could not afford to operate. It would be shut down. Or as I taught the nun who looked like she could have been from central casting in the Blues Brothers, “No Bucks, No Mission!”. I loved it when this Sister borrowed my phrase when she spoke to a hospital leadership group assembled. She had what I call “stroke” or influence. She made the point much better than me. As the Blues Brothers had said it earlier: We’re on a Mission from God! Now, we have to find a way to fund it!

When I began working with this COO, I quickly found that he was a great guy. What was getting in his way was a story that he had been told in his business school, reinforced by many in the business academy of his industry and time. Here it is: the Chief Operating Officer should be the sternest, strictest person on the staff, cutting no slack, demanding that people tow the line, namely, the “bottom line”. Now, this speaks to part of the reality of the job description in terms of a COO driving productivity. But HOW one does that work is variable. This guy thought that it meant that he had to be the “baddest ass” in the hospital, and so he took on a persona of a hard driver without a heart aka The Enforcer.

And so I entered the scene as his coach. While the work was framed in terms of leadership coaching, I was basically working with him in the area of EQ, that is, Emotional Intelligence, which involves how one interacts with one’s peers. Basically, my work with him was about a mindset shift, plus some immediate feedback around the way he led meetings and interacted with peers and direct reports.

My intervention and input provided new options for how he might do his job, widen his repertoire of skills in terms of leadership. The feedback I was able to give to him as I shadowed him in meetings held up a “mirror” so he could catch himself and “see” how he was interacting in the moment. This magical combination woke him up to a new way of being a leader in the organization. The proof of his personal transformation was in the results as he turned around his 360 evaluations with his coworkers experiencing him as a new person who treated them differently.

Truthfully, he had been given an image of a COO as being the a person without a heart. He was natively a good man, so all he had to do was to realize he could treat people with respect and still drive for metrics and accountability.This was such a relief for him to discover that he could be himself and still make his productivity goals. The result was a much happier work place for him and his colleagues. His coworkers were pleased, the Nuns were thrilled, and he was more satisfied with his role in the organization.

When I was leaving the engagement, he seemed anxious as to how he would continue without my support. I explained how he had introjected me into his psyche as a result of his coaching, that I would remain with him in his mind, prompting him even when I was not physically present. Still unsettled, he pushed, “But what about in a board meeting, where I often get into trouble?” My advice was simple and direct, just the way he liked it: whenever you are thinking about saying something in the meeting, simply ask yourself “does this make me look like an asshole?” and if the answer is “yes”, don’t do it! He and I both laughed. When I check in with him quarterly, that is either the opening or closing comment: How you looking?

Truth is, Emotional Intelligence, or EQ, is at least as important as cognitive ability, usually measured as IQ. The good news is that EQ, unlike IQ, can be trained and increased with attention to that dimension of a person. I use an amazing assessment tool to give a baseline of what is the current capacity a person is bringing to the dance. From that starting point, we begin a process of training in which the person attends to his interactions with other persons at work or in relationships. An added 360 component, which adds an assessment by one’s peers, can add a powerful reality check and a measure of progress in one’s EQ development.

Emotional Intelligence has been on the business scene since 1995 when psychologist, Daniel Goleman, wrote a book on how our emotions show up in our business and work. Now an accepted concept in business schools, EQ has been studied and received attention by academics and practitioners who are interested in how this dimension of human capacity can increase effectiveness, and therefore productivity, resulting in a very real impact on the proverbial bottom line.

Emotional intelligence looks specifically at the self perception of the person. It concerns how the person regards oneself, including an awareness of both strengths and weaknesses. EQ refers to how aware one is of one’s emotions, what’s going on internally as one enters the scene of planning and interaction. And , EQ is interested in the orientation one has as to one’s continuing development and improvement.

This sense of self is expressed to the outside world in the form of observable emotions within the context of relationships, both at work and in personal relationships. One’s assertiveness and independence is noted as well as how one shows empathy for the perspective of others, and to groups one is in, such as a team.

Further, emotional intelligence looks at the way in which one make decisions in terms of problem solving and reality testing. Notably, one’s impulse control is in play as decisions are made and actions are executed. How do you do what you do?

Again, the encouraging news is that one’s EQ can be increased with attention to certain dimensions of your self and ways of relating with others. If you are interested in Emotional Intelligence and how it plays into your work or in your relationships, I recommend an accessible text, The EQ Edge, by Steven Stein and Howard Book. If you are wanting to work with someone in the context of coaching, contact me and I be happy to help you increase your awareness of EQ and assist you in your development. It can make a world of difference. How you looking?

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