Emotional intelligence can be learned

Most of us don’t even think that soft and gushy interpersonal skills are something you need to study at all, let alone something you’d study and practice with a coach. But that’s precisely what should be going on. —Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, David Maxfield, Ron McMillan, & Al Switzler (Photo: Dennis Sparks)

Leaders for Results requires a high level of emotional intelligence, a capacity that leaders with intention and practice can continuously improve throughout their careers.

In Primal Leadership: Learning to Lead With Emotional Intelligence Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Annie McKee explain that leaders can develop their capacities in the four domains of Emotional Intelligence by engaging in “five discoveries”: (1) uncovering an ideal vision of yourself, (2) discovering who you really are, (3) developing an agenda for improving your abilities, (4) practicing new leadership skills, and (5) developing supportive and trusting relationships that make change possible.

To better understand the ideal self during the “first discovery” the authors suggest free writing about your life if achieved 15 years in the future—the type of activities in which you would engage in a typical day or week, your environment, and the kinds of people you’d be around.

To find your “real self” Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee recommend taking an inventory of your talents and passions. They also recommend seeking out both positive and negative feedback by processes such as “360-degree evaluation.”

The “third discovery” culminates a learning agenda with goals and action plans. The most powerful goals, the authors say, build on one’s strengths. Learning plans with clear, specific goals and concrete, practical steps yield the most improvement, they point out. The “fourth discovery” reconfigures the brain through persistent practice of desired behaviors. “[T]o master a leadership skill, you need to change the brain’s default option by breaking old habits and learning new ones, which requires an extended period of practice to create the new neural pathway and then strengthen it,” Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee write. The key to learning new habits lies in practice to the point of mastery.”

The “fifth discovery” cultivates the power of “. . . special relationships, those whose sole purpose is to help you along your path. . . .” Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee recommend the use of mentors and coaches who can exert considerable influence in shaping a leader’s abilities, particularly when the mentor or coach is one with whom you share your aspirations and learning agenda.

An example: A leader realizes his angry outbursts diminish trust and the overall quality of his professional relationships. Rather than continuing to justify his emotions (“I’m just like my dad so what am I going to do?”) he is determined to feel calm, clear thinking, and positive in the midst of conflict or other interpersonal challenges. To that end he enlists the support of a colleague who displays those qualities, and they agree to anticipate and rehearse alternative responses in conversations or meetings that may test the leader’s resolve. In addition, they brainstorm strategies the leader can use to prepare for such meetings. He agrees that during emotional situations he will consciously take a few deep, slow breaths before responding, and that afterwards will review with his colleague what he learned that might be useful in the next situation.

Strengthen your leadership practice by . . .

• describing a time when you deliberately developed a new habit that improved your daily emotional state and/or the quality of your relationships with others.

• selecting an emotional intelligence competency you would like to strengthen and creating an action plan to make it a habit. Make certain your plan has a clear, specific goal; opportunities for sufficient practice to make it a habit; and one or more people who will support you in this effort.

2 Responses to “Emotional intelligence can be learned”


  1. 1 Cathy Gassenheimer February 11, 2010 at 10:11 am

    Dennis,
    Thank you for your post on emotional intelligence. Becoming more aware of ourselves — both our strengths and weaknesses — is so important to both our professional and personal lives.

    I am heartened by your blog and by the writing of Daniel Willingham and other cognitive scientists who posit that through practice and hard work we can not only change habits, but deepen both our emotional and intellectual IQ.

  2. 2 G. Michael Abbott February 11, 2010 at 12:12 pm

    I like seeing the examples. Busy people need that to make the descriptions concrete. Thanks.
    Mike


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