What’s Your EQ? How Developing Emotional Intelligence Can Help You Be a Better Leader

Posted on September 27, 2021


Today’s Morning Buzz is brought to you by Ann Marie Townshend, City Manager for Lewes, Delaware

What I’m Watching: The Last Tango in Halifax

What I’m Doing: Fall is the best time of the year to ride the beautiful trail network in and around Lewes. I try to do this a couple of times a week.

Let me start by managing your expectations. I do not profess to be an expert in emotional intelligence, but over the years I have worked on developing my own emotional intelligence, and I have observed throughout my career how those who have high emotional intelligence have been stronger leaders, mentors, and managers. Conversely, I have seen managers who have low emotional intelligence who have not commanded the respect of their staff. My hope is that this blog will cause you to be mindful of emotional intelligence and perhaps point to some resources that might help you to assess and possibly develop your emotional intelligence. 

Years ago, before smartphones and other technology to keep me occupied while in flight, I stopped into an airport bookstore to find something to pass time while flying east coast to west coast. While always tempted to grab the latest issue of People, a book drew my attention, so I bought it. The book was Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves. It was a quick read that I was able to finish on the flight, and it included a quiz so I could gauge my own emotional intelligence. The term “emotional intelligence” was new to me, but after reading the book I realized the term summed up many of the qualities I saw in those leaders, managers, and mentors I had come to respect.  In the years since that flight, I have continued to recognize the qualities of emotional intelligence in colleagues, subordinates, and those in leadership positions. I have also worked to develop my own emotional intelligence. 

According to Psychology Today, emotional intelligence “refers to the ability to identify and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.” There is a lot of literature about emotional intelligence, and different sources provide different levels or aspects of emotional intelligence. But the common thread tends to be that emotional intelligence includes being aware of one’s emotions and based on this awareness, managing those emotions. Further, it involves being aware of the emotions of others and using this awareness to help manage those emotions. That is about as technical I will get. The remainder of this blog will focus on my own experiences with emotional intelligence (or lack thereof) in the workplace. 

Bias has become a hot topic specifically as it relates to our unconscious bias based on race, gender, religion, and other factors. I am sure we have all seen or experienced these biases. But the other bias I have seen play out is a different type of bias. We all have that colleague who just grates on our nerves, or perhaps that employee who has just crossed that line and gotten on your bad side. This person makes an error that needs to be addressed, but over which the supervisor has great discretion in how it is addressed. Perhaps it could be a formal counseling, or perhaps a written reprimand. As a supervisor with high emotional intelligence, you are aware of your bias against this person. As you consider your course of action on how to address the error you evaluate your choices, and you make a conscious effort to take the person out of the decision (unless of course there is a track record of poor performance).  You ask, would I issue discipline over this if it were a different employee?  Using emotional intelligence, you make sure that you don’t overreact on that employee who drives you crazy or under react on the employee with whom you enjoy chatting about your favorite sports teams.

Several years ago, I had an instance where two employees got into an altercation in the workplace. Thankfully no punches flew, but there were some shoves and a lot of profanity back and forth. The supervisor told the one employee, “you’re fired!” and didn’t want to take any action regarding the other employee involved. When this came to my attention, I made sure that all involved and all witnesses were interviewed. I reminded the supervisor he did not have the authority to fire anyone. Following the interviews, we determined that both employees were wrong, and that we needed to make it clear that fighting in the workplace would not be tolerated. Both employees were relieved of their employment, even though one of the employees was well-liked. 

In this instance, there were several errors where a higher EQ may have improved the situation. First, the supervisor attempted to fire the employee who he did not prefer and not the employee he liked. Second, the supervisor, in the heat of the moment told one employee he was fired, without any investigation and without regard for his authority to do so. In not being aware of and managing his emotions, this supervisor made poor decisions that were all noticed and noted by a cadre of subordinates and could have led to liability for the City. Morals of the story: 1) never make important decisions in the height of your anger, and 2) when two people exhibit unacceptable behavior in the workplace, you can’t have disparate consequences based on whether it is someone you like or dislike. 

I have experienced numerous occasions when a person in a management or leadership position is visibly angry and demands that something be done immediately. The subordinate staff feel compelled to react quickly to appease the manager, and they could make the wrong decisions. Often in municipal government, rash decisions made based upon emotions and not facts can cause potential liability for the government. Approaching these issues from a place of emotional intelligence can help to diffuse the situation and ensure that cooler heads prevail. When things get heated in this way, I tend to feel a bit anxious, maybe even defensive. Before responding, I own my emotions and try to distance myself from them…. Often easier said than done. I try to respond firmly, assertively, without dismissing the emotions coming at me. “I understand why this upset you, and I promise I will address it, but I need to get all of the information in front of me before reacting.” Am I always successful in the heat of the moment? Absolutely not! Do I improve a bit each time I encounter a situation? I hope so. 

One great thing about emotional intelligence is that if you don’t have it, you can develop it. It may take you some effort, but through developing self awareness and awareness of others, you can begin to manage your emotions. 

There are many resources available to help you assess and develop your emotional intelligence. A quick Google search will reveal many. As you embark on your journey to develop your emotional intelligence, I highly recommend the book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves. One article I found to be particularly helpful is available online at https://www.verywellmind.com/utilizing-emotional-intelligence-in-the-workplace-4164713. Resources may also be available through your EAP provider. 


Source for definition: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/emotional-intelligence

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