By Travis Bradberry Ph.D. author of Emotional Intelligence
Dr Travis Bradberry author of Emotional Intelligence 2.0
CEOs Are Just Like You and Me: Except When it Comes to Caring
Over the past century, the heartless, no-nonsense CEO has become something of an icon—and a cliché—in American society. Hollywood would have us believe that the Machiavellian chief exec is still alive and well. Whether it’s the Donald from The Apprentice, Jack Donaghey from 30 Rock, or pretty much the entire cast from Oliver Stone’s sequel to his 1987 hit Wall Street, these eat-the-weak-for-breakfast-types seem to be as powerful as ever.
But that’s just television, right? How about in the real world? Do businesses today still allow these inhumane relics of the Industrial Revolution to survive?
In order to find out, we took a random sample of 38,567 people from our database—modern workers from the frontlines to the C-suite—and analyzed their emotional intelligence profiles. We discovered that the answer is no, organizations today do not promote the emotionally inept...except when they do. Allow me to explain. CEOs are notably more skilled than lower-ranking employees in certain aspects of some emotional intelligence skills. For example, CEOs shine in the skill of relationship management, but only when it comes to directly addressing people in difficult situations. No surprise here. This type of assertive behavior is exactly what we would expect from a strong leader. On the other hand, C-level execs are far less likely to acknowledge other people’s feelings and show other people that they care.
Chief execs lead the pack when it comes to being direct and assertive, but they do so by emotionally distancing themselves from other people. It should be no surprise, then, that CEOs have a lot of room for improvement in the way they handle conflict. In fact, their greatest weakness when it comes to relationship management is their ability to handle conflict effectively. While CEOs might be more direct in dealing with difficult situations than lower-level employees, this doesn’t always translate to success. It might be more comfortable to confront someone when you completely ignore his or her feelings, but it doesn’t mean that you will get better results from this approach. Top execs should excel at handling conflict—the repercussions of their actions have wide implications. When it comes to Emotional Intelligence (EQ), there is no excuse for mediocrity. EQ is a flexible ability, which allows us to improve our skills with awareness and effort. My advice to CEOs—and anyone who wishes to improve his or her ability to handle conflict—is to learn to rely on these three Emotional Intelligence behaviors:
Acknowledge the other person’s feelings. Assertive, action-oriented executives don’t exactly ignore other people’s feelings. What they tend to do instead is to marginalize them or “fix” them so that they don’t get in the way of action. While some have suggested that this is a predominantly male problem, it can more accurately be described as a “power problem.” People who fail to acknowledge other people’s feelings fail to realize that lingering emotions inhibit effective action. So, the next time you notice someone on your team expressing a strong emotion, ask him or her about it. Then listen intently, and play back what you have just heard in summary form.
When you care, show it. This might be the easiest thing you can do...as long as you actually do it. Good leaders always notice when people on their team are doing good work, but they don’t often show it. When you appreciate something that another person does, let him or her know it. Even a quick email or pat on the back goes a long way in this regard.
Watch your emotions like a hawk. The techniques above are extremely effective, but both require an awareness of your own emotions in the moment. You may think you have a world-class poker face, but if you’re like the average executive, your weakest self awareness skills are “understanding how your emotions impact others” and “recognizing the role you have played in creating difficult circumstances.” In other words, you would become a much more effective leader if you obtained a better understanding of what you feel, when you feel it. Practice this by taking notice of your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors right as a situation unfolds. The goal is to slow yourself down and take in all that is in front of you, so that you can understand how your emotions influence your behavior and alter your perception of reality.
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