1. Cox, Sharon MSN, BSN

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How does your emotional intelligence measure up?

Q While working on my self-evaluation and development plans, I've highlighted the tasks and responsibilities of my role, but I don't want to lose sight of developing the emotional competence needed for leadership. How can I focus on this and not just assume that "on-the-job training" will suffice?

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Although emotional intelligence (EI) is one of the few things that improve with age, you're wise to be intentional about this all important leadership competency. Daniel Goleman, a well-known author on the topic of EI, underscores your insight when he writes, "The criteria for success at work are changing. We're being judged by a new yardstick, not by just how smart we are, or by our training or expertise, but also by how we handle ourselves and each other. This yardstick is increasingly applied in choosing who will be hired, retained, or promoted."1


Emotionally competent leaders reflect their skill in four key ways. First and foremost, they have self-awareness, knowing their strengths and limitations, with a propensity for self-reflection and being thoughtful about their responses. They have clarity about their values and priorities, and a sense of self-confidence. They also demonstrate self-management, as evidenced by "walking the talk" and operating with integrity, maintaining optimism, and demonstrating adaptability within the high standards that they set for themselves.


Complementing these personal skill sets are the other two dimensions of EI: relationship awareness and relationship management. Notice your peers who are skilled at "reading" the room or understanding opposing points of view, who have a natural empathy for others that allows them to "read" people and have a sixth sense for how to best respond, particularly in conflictual situations.


Keeping this big picture in mind, how do you work on developing these essential skills? Your ability to be self-reflective and take ownership for needed changes is pivotal to the process. This work is from the inside out and requires listening to your own instincts, paying attention to feedback, reflecting on your experience, and learning from mistakes. It's also important to note that this developmental process can't be done in isolation. Find a trusted colleague or mentor to offer honest feedback. Observe those around you who are skilled at facets of EI that aren't your strengths. These people can be your coaches as you work your way through the following suggestions:


* Regularly ask for feedback. Frame this as what you can stop, start, or continue doing to be more effective in your role. It's useful to invite feedback from those outside of your normal network.


* Practice naming what you're feeling and seeing patterns in how you respond.


* Use a new behavior in a meeting.


* Celebrate when you break a knee-jerk reaction and choose a response rather than reacting.


* Notice your negative self-talk and practice reframing it because optimism is energizing.


* After a stressful situation has subsided, talk over what you could've done differently.


* Observe your reaction to unwanted change.


* Put yourself in another person's shoes and see through his or her eyes.


* Rehearse doing the opposite of what you would ordinarily do in a situation.


* Hold back a negative response; pause and then respond.


* Work on active listening, noting the emotions under the words you hear.


* Keep a journal of your progress to increase self-awareness.



Choose one of the four dimensions of EI you want to improve, make a plan, partner for accountability, and celebrate your successes. Observe how your behavior impacts others, identify patterns, pause and reflect on a more effective behavior, practice doing things differently, and keep doing what works. As we work in challenging times to develop a more collaborative workplace, we know that it's all about relationships. In turn, relationships depend on our ability to manage emotions, particularly our own, since we set the tone as leaders. Stay intentional in this developmental process and you'll reap the benefits.




1. Goleman D. Working with Emotional Intelligence. New York, NY: Bantam Books; 1998. [Context Link]