In my work with leaders I’m often asked, “What can I do to take my leadership to the next level?” 9 times out of 10, the response has something to do with the realm of emotional intelligence (EI). But what is emotional intelligence, exactly?
The working definition that I like to use was developed by Daniel Goleman, a psychologist and leading thinker in the field:
“The capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, and for managing emotions well in ourselves, and in our relationships.”
To break this down a little more, emotional intelligence is our ability to pay attention to our feelings and the feelings of others so that we can make thoughtful choices about how to live, act and be in the world. Studies show that as you rise up the levels of leadership, competency in emotional intelligence accounts for 85 – 90% of your success. That’s a big number!
One of the core actions that you can start right now is what I call the emotional pulse. This practice is so straightforward that I do it with my children. Checking your emotional pulse regularly helps to increase yourself-awareness of your feelings as they happen. You become better able to understand both your feelings and the way that they affect you, which is the foundation for developing all other emotional intelligence competencies.
It takes less than a minute, and you can do it multiple times a day. Here’s how:
Step 1) Find a comfortable position. You can be standing or sitting. You may want to close your eyes if you can, but it’s not necessary.
Step 2) Take three deep breaths. Three breaths minimum, and definitely more if you have time. I like to breathe in for a count of four, hold my breath for a count of four, then let my breath out for a count of four. Then repeat.
Step 3) Ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now?” Wait and see what surfaces.
Step 4) Name your feelings and connect to the why.
Fill in the blanks to this sentence: I feel ___________ because ___________.
This last step is critical. For example, I may feel happy, because I had my coffee this morning. Or I feel anxious, because I have a deadline coming up. Or I feel numb, because my colleague was rude to me. Caveat here - we don’t always know why we are feeling something, we just feel it. That’s ok and normal. This practice helps us get better at identifying the connections.
That’s all there is to it. You can check your emotional pulse multiple times a day. It’s fascinating to pay attention to the landscape of emotions that we encounter over 24 hours, and to be more intentional about identifying the why behind our feelings.
As we train ourselves to increase this awareness, over time we become more skillful at identifying emotions in all kinds of situations, particularly the challenging ones. That enables us to have more ability to respond skillfully to whatever situation we find ourselves in.
Leadership is all about navigating challenging situations, whether it’s a difficult conversation that you need to have with your boss or mobilizing your team behind a new direction. Developing your emotional self-awareness will help you make that leap as effectively as possible.
For more suggestions about how to develop your emotional intelligence, click here.
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