The value of managing your emotions: Do you control your feelings or do they control you?

Posted on Written by Mary Elston

Mary ElstonWe carry them with us every day. Whether sweet or sour, everyone we encounter has them, and no, it’s not their favorite drink or snack. It’s our emotions, and although we may not think about it, they’re with us wherever we go, including at work.

Our awareness and management of feelings can hugely impact our victories, our failures, our lives. Like a sugar rush after visiting a candy shop, all of this gushed into my psyche as I was straightening my home office and came across materials from a leadership course I took on emotional intelligence.

Perfect timing for a quick refresher. I started munching on a raisin nut granola bar while leafing through Daniel Goleman’s book, “Leadership: The Power of Emotional Intelligence.”

The short story about leadership and emotional intelligence is it’s about head and heart. The best bosses use both. How does it work, and how do you become great at it? A bigger question added to that is: Do we control our feelings or do we let our feelings control us? Let’s take a look.

It begins with your emotional quotient and emotional intelligence. Your EQ is defined as an individual’s capacity to identify, control and express emotions. EI is your application of EQ, or how well you take your aptitude for identifying feelings and apply it to life, work and your own behavior.

Those with high emotional intelligence know that sentiments can influence people in positive and negative ways. They likewise understand how to manage their own emotions and the feelings of others in high-stress situations. Easy to say, often tough to do when personal passions are bombarding rational thought like the urge for an icy lemonade on a hot summer day.

For supervisors, having emotional intelligence is critical for success because people work best with executives who know how to do their job (head) while invoking respect and trust (heart). By the way, the same holds true for any world-class salesperson. The top elements that prompt clients to buy are warmth, trust and knowledge, with emotion always entered in the equation.

Goleman helps us chew on the above thoughts through his easily ingested competency framework for emotional intelligence. The framework’s four domains allow people to recognize, engage and understand the mental and emotional state of themselves and others.

Self-awareness: Superiors with strong self-awareness are tuned in to their inner selves and recognize how their sentiments impact them and their performance on the job.  They know who they are — good and not so good. They can be candid and authentic and are able to openly discuss their feelings or convictions about their guiding values and vision.

Likewise, they have an accurate self-assessment of their limitations and strengths, know when to ask for help or when they need to develop new talents. Being accurately aware of their skills breeds the ability to play to their strong suits and exude self-confidence.

Self-management: This means maintaining self-control when disruptive emotions and impulses are in play. The trademark of self-management is the leader who stays calm and clear-minded during a high-stress situation.

This domain further involves the ability to be transparent and open to others, living your values and admitting mistakes. How many executives do you know who admit their mistakes? If they do, chances are they possess a decent dose of emotional intelligence. Being adaptable and flexible to fresh situations is also important, as is exhibiting a constant drive for learning, teaching and achieving, as well as upholding a sense of “glass-is-half-full” optimism. If they ever blow their stack,  it’s the exception, not the norm.

Social awareness: Empathetic executives are able to tune in to emotional signals that a person or group projects. They listen attentively and get along well with others from diverse backgrounds. They also have organization awareness, are politically perceptive and recognize crucial social and power networks, plus unspoken values and rules functioning across groups. They promote an upbeat climate by carefully consuming feedback and being accessible when needed.

Do you have a boss who is well connected across departments and can extend his or her influence to solve cross-functional issues? Similar to the caramel inside a Snickers, social awareness helps superiors bring societal segments together.

Relationship management: This area of emotional intelligence runs across a wide spectrum of managing up, down and across relationship factors. It includes being an inspirational boss who provides a compelling, motivating vision and common purpose that makes work exciting. It’s the leader who exerts eloquent encouragement by knowing how to persuade and engage to gain buy-in with key players.

These supervisors provide timely feedback, serve as change agents and challenge the old way of doing things when a better approach is revealed. They know how to manage conflict by acknowledging it, advocating shared goals and continuously promoting a team-oriented atmosphere that endorses mutual respect.

How well are leaders applying the EI framework? Not well. This, according to Inc.com and an article by Travis Bradberry, “Why Leaders Lack Emotional Intelligence” (March 17, 2015). Bradberry advises that generally top performers are, in fact, those with the highest EI scores. But here’s the catch — emotional intelligence scores fall off the cliff for those with director titles and above, with CEOs having the lowest EI scores in the workplace. Why is that? Turns out promotions and hiring are usually based on metrics, not interaction prowess. Typically, the higher the position, the fewer day-to-day interactions with staff, supporting the adage that it truly is lonely at the top.

Even though CEOs have the lowest emotional intelligence scores in the workplace, the best-performing CEOs are those with the highest EI scores! You might get promoted with a low score, but your high-EI scoring competition will shine brighter than you will.

If you’re the seemingly heartless, sour leader who’s missing the mark in emotional intelligence, what should you do? (By the way, we know who you are). Bradberry says you can begin practicing better EI habits immediately.

Start by acknowledging people’s reactions, listening intently and briefly playing back what you heard so they can feel understood. Show you care by recognizing excellent work, sharing praise and appreciation.

Ardently watch and keep track of your own emotions, slow down and remain calm so you can understand how your sentiments influence your behavior, perception of reality and effect on others. Catch plenty of sleep so your self-control, attention span and memory are functioning at peak performance.

Getting EI right also means shutting down your negative self-talk. Separate thoughts and facts by stopping and writing down pessimistic pondering, then rationally stepping back and taking a clearer view to help gain a cheerful outlook. Lastly, stay positive while perpetually preserving an attitude of gratitude.

Work iteratively on these skills, adding one or two a week until you’ve developed a habit of regularly practicing them. And, yes — practice, practice and then practice more.

Once you’ve energized and enhanced your emotional intelligence, you will be on your way to becoming a more enthusiastic, expert and effective executive. This will, in turn, help you gain sweet satisfaction from moving yourself and your organization toward a bigger and brighter future.

Feels great, doesn’t it?

Mary Elston has spent more than 20 years in management in the transportation, consulting and technology industries. She is a member of the National Speakers Association and author of the book, “Master Your Middle Management Universe, How to Succeed with Moga Moga Management Using 3 Easy Steps.” Contact her at mary@masteryoursuccess.com.

This article originally appeared in the April 2017 issue.

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