Top 3 Reasons Why Leaders Are Emotionally Unintelligent

Emotional Intelligence.

For more than a decade,  it’s been shown time and again that Emotional Intelligence is a  bigger predictor of success than education and skills.

So why do so many emotionally stupid leaders still walk the earth?

Last week, I was at a conference of a Fortune 50 company in the Energy Industry. Over 1,500 of their employees had traveled from 6 continents to attend.

After a high-energy kickoff involving a band, laser show and dancers (prepared by the conference planning team), the CEO took the stage. The audience was primed with anticipation and excitement. They were ready to be inspired.

No such luck.

The CEO started with an obtuse reference to the USA’s National Football League playoffs (more than half of the attendees were from overseas), and then launched into an extremely dry recap of last year’s financials.

  • No “welcome to the conference”.

  • No “hello”.

  • No “thank you for making the trip”.

The energy in that ballroom escaped faster than Harry Houdini.I doubt the CEO intended to land like a rock.  But he did.  Why was he so tone deaf to his own actions?

The foundation of Emotional Intelligence is self-awareness:  Know thyself.

Sounds easy.

But it’s hard.

It’s hard for three big reasons:

1.  It takes effort to look in the mirror.

There’s a whole world outside of you, pulling for your attention.  Many people have gotten to where they are by focusing on everything “out there”.  Our culture (families, schools, workplaces, etc.) doesn’t spend a lot of time focused on what’s going on “in here”. It’s easy for someone to go through their whole life without flexing a self-reflective muscle.  And like any other muscle, if self-awareness isn’t practiced, it atrophies.

2.  It takes humility to recognize that what’s staring back at you is less than perfect.

We humans are have a cognitive bias called illusory superiority.  We overestimate our own abilities relative to others.  Looking at our own flaws is hard.  Some people find the process of self-examination so uncomfortable (bringing up fear or shame) that they will repress, hide or deny the facts.  But, as ostriches demonstrate so well, putting your head in the sand doesn’t make reality go away.

3.  It takes courage to change.

Knowing something needs to change is one thing.

Doing it is another.

We are creatures of habit.  This is why New Year’s Resolutions don’t work. To make change that works, we have to move our current frame of “This is who I am.”

Leaders who want to become more self-aware need cast off the comfortable blanket of the familiar, and walk into unknown territory.

For example, if I’m used to being a hard driving, results at all costs boss, what would I have to let go of to start to show some compassion to the people I lead?

Show compassion?  Me?!  That might freak me out.

Which change freaks you out?

It’s easy to want other people in your life to become more self-aware, and change first.

But the person that you can really help become more emotionally intelligent is you.

Which do you find hardest:  1. The effort to look in the mirror?

2. The humility to acknowledge “flaws”?3. The courage to change?  What advice do you have for others who want to become more self-aware? Join the conversation by leaving a comment below.

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