What’s the mythical trait that allows people to be exceptional leaders? Don’t worry, it’s not as elusive as a unicorn or a four leaf clover. It’s something we all have to varying degrees, yet few understand it or have put time into developing it. Ever heard someone say, “she’s a great leader, she must have been born that way.” When we see or speak of leaders that have made an impact, that intangible piece we’re referring to actually has a name. In today's world in order for you to ‘unlock’ your leadership potential, or improve your leadership ability for that matter, the single best thing you can focus on developing is your Emotional Intelligence (EI). Emotional Intelligence is being self aware of your emotions, understanding them, and knowing how they affect those around you. This includes being able to see the emotions of others and what impacts they have on the individual and those around them.
EI isn’t the new kid on the block. Daniel Goleman first brought the term to light in the mid 90’s and applied it to business via a Harvard Business Review article in ’98. Since then it’s been talked about and studied like wild fire with plenty of studies concluded and replicated all pointing to the same results. What these studies tell us is those who have a higher than average EI index outperform their counterparts in leadership roles in almost all aspects than those who don’t have EI or very little of it.
I recently watched a video online which gave one of the best definitions and breakdowns of EI I’ve seen in recent memory. James Mankelow, CEO of Mindtools, shares this easy to follow breakdown of what makes up Emotional Intelligence:
DDI recently did their annual Global Leadership Forecast survey where they spoke with 15,000+ executives amongst 2,000+ companies. The 60 page report is chalk full of data, most of which points towards one central theme – there is a lack of confidence amongst existing leaders on who is going to take the torch for the next leg of the race. In fact, the executives that were surveyed in DDI’s report cited that 48% of the workforce doesn’t meet a ‘high-potential’ status, which would be necessary for leadership roles.
If that isn’t enough of a reason to spend time improving your EI take a look at what Deloitte published via their Business Confidence Survey: the majority of executives (52% in current roles and 59% in transition) identified one of the most troubling business issues they are faced with is that their direct reports don’t have the skills to take on elevated leadership roles.
However you want to cut it up there seems to be a gap between leadership opportunity and the ambition of the larger workforce to seize it. Sure you could blame all sorts of other factors for why that is but at the end of the day it seems as though people aren't stepping up like they used too. I like to fancy myself as an optimist, so choose to look at it this way – if we all have the ability to control our destiny (which I believe we do) and there’s now proof behind what can get us there (developing our EI), then it’s a matter of elbow grease and time before we arrive at our destination.
Leadership is an art form, the more you understand yourself and your EI, the better chances you’ll have at climbing the ladder to your golden perch while also helping those around and under you do the same.
About the Author
Travis Smith is the founder and managing director of Square-1 Engineering, a life sciences consulting firm, providing end to end technical project services to companies which design, develop and or manufacture products in Southern California. He successfully served the life sciences marketplace in SoCal for over 15 years specializing in engineering services, consulting, project outsourcing and leadership development. In 2019 he was recognized as a ‘40 Under 40’ honoree by the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce as a top leader in Orange County, CA.