Dec 9, 2013 0
Having recently completed a round of executive coaching sessions for a Maryland business, I was struck by how smart, capable and knowledgeable the managers were. To a person, they were at the top of their game in terms of technical knowledge and operational management expertise. Also striking was that the competencies each of these leaders needed to develop were in the realm of what is known as emotional intelligence. Whether it’s a leader of a small business or an executive in a large organization, these people skills are usually the weakest.
The concept of emotional intelligence (also known as EQ, EI, or simply “soft skills”) has found its way into large organizations over the past couple of decades since the notion was first identified by Dan Goleman and others in the 1990’s. Many businesses now include emotional intelligence in their list of management competencies and include it in their training and development programs. EI has been shown to have as much impact on business performance as other management capabilities and is a better predictor of leadership success. Studies ranging from manufacturing plants to hotels have shown a strong positive correlation between EI training and productivity, employee retention, reduced lost-time accidents and customer satisfaction. You may think, “that’s fine for big companies but of what value is this to the small business owner?”
Small businesses don’t have the buffer large companies have. Whether it’s sales, production, or general management if you’ve got one person in that role and they are interpersonally incompetent, you have a serious problem. Small teams are also disproportionately affected by the behavior of each member. A toxic person in a small business can destroy the productivity and camaraderie of the group while an employee with great interpersonal skills can pull the whole team up.
So how can a small business owner make sense of emotional intelligence and apply it in his or her business? While there are fourteen distinct competencies covered by the term emotional intelligence, the basics can be summed up in three primary capacities. These are recognizing our own feelings and those of others; acting with optimism and being able to motivate ourselves; and managing emotions effectively in ourselves and with others. When individuals in your business demonstrate these you have a “high EI” culture of trust, mutual respect, humor, collaboration, constructive disagreement and high performance. The absence of these abilities results in a “low EI” culture of office politics, ego management, conflict avoidance, low trust, high stress and low performance. Where does your business fall on this continuum?
If it’s not where you want it to be, the good news is that EI capacities can be learned. And just like all other aspects of running your business, it starts with you as the leader. Step away from the operational pressures of your business for a few minutes and take a look at your own behavior. Better yet, take an assessment, read a book on EI or, if you’re feeling particularly brave, set up a 360 degree review for yourself. Once you get a handle on your own capabilities, look at what you recognize and reward in others. Good leaders reward people who build good working relationships, not just pursue results at the expense of them. When you place as much importance on the demonstration of emotional intelligence as you do on industry knowledge and technical skill, you’re on your way to building a high-performing, “high EI” culture in your business.