Leading with Emotion

Human connection is all about emotion. Emotion sparks connection and interaction, which provide context for creating differentiated products, services, and experiences.

Think of a brand. Chances are, the brand you are thinking of comes to mind because it triggered an emotional response. Whether anger because the brand treated you poorly, or pride because the brand made you feel good, those emotions are the trigger for the brand that sprang to mind for you.

Emotional intelligence is a pervasive topic these days. There’s a variety and volume of news articles (like this one in Inc. Magazine, and this one from the Harvard Business Review, this one from the Baltimore Sun, and another from Orlando News 6) published recently that each speak to some aspect of emotional intelligence. Is this a passing trend, or is there more to it? Turns out, emotional intelligence is more than just “feelings” – it is a proven foundation for leadership strength and competency.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence, or EI, is most often defined this way:

“A set of emotional and social skills that influence the way we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain social relationships, cope with challenges, and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way.”

Multi-Health Systems Inc.

This definition gets to the core of why EI is of such great interest in today’s world, and certainly within the business community, which includes your credit union. So how does a brand become the kind of entity that inspires positive emotional response, whether amongst employees or customers/members? This happens when the organization is composed of emotionally intelligent people — people who form relationships and make decisions from a solid base of emotional skill and strength.

To better understand how emotionally intelligent people undergird an organization’s brand strength, it helps to explore emotional intelligence beyond the simple definition of emotional intelligence included above. Specific skills fall within the emotional intelligence construct.

The EQ-i 2.0 Emotional Intelligence Model

At Glatt Consulting, we utilize the EQ-i 2.0 emotional intelligence model created by Multi-Health Systems, Inc. The model defines five scales for emotional intelligence, with each scale made up of subscales. These subscales are the skills, and as you scan them you’ll begin to see how the strength of individuals in these areas can translate to a strong brand, and how weaknesses in these areas can contribute to a weaker brand.

Self Perception

The first of the five scales is Self-Perception. Self-perception addresses the inner self and includes such important areas as feelings of inner strength and confidence, persistence in the pursuit of personally relevant and meaningful goals, and understanding of what, when, why, and how different emotions impact thoughts and actions. The subscales (or skills) associated with self-perception include:

  • Self-Regard, which means respecting oneself while understanding and accepting one’s strengths and weaknesses. Self-Regard is often associated with feelings of inner strength and self-confidence.
  • Self-Actualization, which is the willingness to persistently try to improve oneself and engage in the pursuit of personally relevant and meaningful objectives that lead to a rich and enjoyable life.
  • Emotional Self-Awareness, which means recognizing and understanding one’s own emotions. This includes the ability to differentiate between subtleties in one’s own emotions while understanding the cause of these emotions and the impact they have on the thoughts and actions of oneself and others.

Consider a management team where the individuals are lacking in one or more of the self-perception subscales. A scenario that comes to my mind are teams that perpetually set robust goals for themselves yet can never actually execute. Chances are, the team members themselves are lacking in self-actualization, finding it difficult to personally improve in ways necessary to support or move forward on corporate goal achievement.

Self-Expression

The second of the five EI scales is Self–Expression. The Self-expression scale is an extension of self-perception, but where self-perception deals with inner self awareness and engagement, self-expression addresses the outward expression (or the action component) of one’s internal perception. In other words, it’s about an individual’s ability to remain self-directed and openly expressive of thoughts and feelings while communicating these feelings to others in constructive and socially acceptable ways. The subscales (or skills) associated with self-perception include:

  • Emotional Expression, which is the ability to openly express feelings verbally and non-verbally.
  • Assertiveness, which is the ability to communicate feelings, beliefs and thoughts openly, and defend personal rights and values in a socially acceptable, non-offensive, and non-destructive manner.
  • Independence, which is the ability to be self-directed and free from emotional dependency on others, and to make decisions, plan, and complete daily tasks autonomously.

Again, consider the management team where individuals lack skills, in this case related to self-expression. I’ve come across team members whose go-to style of communicating thoughts and beliefs is to yell at and berate those with differing opinions (or even those just asking questions for purposes of comprehension). Assertive, yes, but highly offensive and destructive – and ultimately leads to a team with costly turnover rates and/or a reluctance to engage in any meaningful conversation about direction and strategy.

Interpersonal

The third of the five EI scales is Interpersonal. The Interpersonal scale includes one’s ability to develop and maintain relationships based on trust and compassion, recognize and articulate an understanding of another’s perspective, and act responsibly while showing concern for others (with others including a team or a greater community/organization). The subscales (or skills) associated with interpersonal include:

  • Interpersonal Relationships, which is the ability to develop and maintain mutually satisfying relationships that are characterized by trust and compassion.
  • Empathy, which is recognizing, understanding, and appreciating how other people feel, being able to articulate one’s understanding of another’s perspective, and behaving in a way that respects others’ feelings. (Note: often people think “emotional intelligence” is simply the ability to be empathetic. As you now see, empathy is only one of many EI-related skills.)
  • Social Responsibility, which is willingly contributing to society, to one’s social groups, and/or generally to the welfare of others, acting responsibly, having a “social consciousness,” and showing concern for the greater community.

And what of the management team with weak skills here? Let’s focus only on interpersonal skills. When teams lack interpersonal relationship skills, then team members cannot effectively build trust with one another, and that lack of trust means information is not shared freely, real opinions are held back, and ultimately decisions are made that, in the end, no one may stand behind. Organizational inertia is a probable outcome.

Decision Making

The fourth of the five EI scales is Decision Making. The Decision Making scale addresses the ways in which one uses “emotional” information, how well one understands the impact emotions have on decision making, and the ability to resist or delay impulses and remain objective in order to avoid rash behaviors and ineffective attempts at problem solving. The subscales (or skills) associated with decision making include:

  • Problem Solving, which is the ability to find solutions to problems in situations where emotions are involved. It includes the ability to understand how emotions impact decision making.
  • Reality Testing, which is the capacity to remain objective by seeing things as they really are, and the ability to recognize when emotions or personal bias can cause one to be less objective.
  • Impulse Control, which is the ability to resist or delay an impulse, drive or temptation to act in order to avoid rash behaviors and decision making.

How about management teams with weak reality testing skills? I’ve seen this manifest itself in one of two ways: either the team has lulled itself into believing its performance is good despite the obvious signs that it isn’t (poor organizational performance and health), or a team takes excessive risks because their foundational assumptions are irrational and not based on present or future reality. In either case, the organization itself is at risk, with outcomes that can range from a slow and steady decline to outright management failure (usually culminating in conservatorship).

Stress Management

The fifth and final EI scale is Stress Management. The Stress Management scale addresses how well one can cope with emotions associated with change and/or unfamiliar or unpredictable circumstances while remaining hopeful about the future and resilient in the face of setbacks and obstacles. The subscales (or skills) associated with stress management include:

  • Flexibility, which is adapting emotions, thoughts and behaviors to unfamiliar, unpredictable, and dynamic circumstances or ideas.
  • Stress Tolerance, which is coping with stressful or difficult situations and believing that one can manage or influence situations in a positive manner.
  • Optimism, which is remaining hopeful and resilient with a positive future outlook despite occasional setbacks.

So what of the management team with weakness in optimism? I’ve seen this in teams myself, in particular during and after the Great Recession, and more recently in this time of COVID. A lack of optimism made some credit unions change their business models because, as some would have themselves believe, a credit union could no longer be profitable making loans. For some this meant becoming effectively an investment club – to the detriment of profit and growth, and ultimately their existence (these types of credit unions become merger “partners”).

EQ-i 2.0 Strength in All Areas

Now that you have a more full picture of what emotional intelligence is, there are a few important things to know about the EQ-i 2.0 Emotional Intelligence model.

First, each facet (scale/subscale) relies on and influences the others. For example, you cannot have true skill in self-expression if you are not also skilled at self-perception. Second, each facet works together to create healthy emotional intelligence. None is more or less important than another. Third, the model depiction is circular in nature, meaning there is no start or end point. You don’t begin with self-perception and end with stress management. Finally, you should strive for strong skills in every subscale comprising emotional intelligence.

With regard to that last point, allow me to share a tennis analogy that my EI certification trainer used in helping me to better understand this concept (yes, we’re certified!).

The game of tennis requires multiple skills, in particular the ability to hit the ball on both the forehand and backhand sides. Most casual tennis players have a much stronger forehand than backhand, and as a result will often run around the ball to position for a forehand return rather than one with the weaker backhand. This works – until it doesn’t. Players that lack a backhand skill will run all over the court to position for forehand returns rather than backhand returns, exhausting themselves in the process and ultimately weakening their whole game. Such players will also often be taken advantage of by better players who, when realizing the backhand weakness, will exploit it – and usually win.

Teams do the same thing, meaning they are overly reliant on skill strengths to the exclusion of weaker, but perhaps more appropriate skills. Consider this time of COVID uncertainty and a team strong in optimism and weak in empathy (I see lots of teams like this). Recall that empathy is “recognizing, understanding, and appreciating how other people feel, being able to articulate one’s understanding of another’s perspective, and behaving in a way that respects others’ feelings.”

Employees and members alike have dealt with COVID-inspired emotions including fear of uncertainty, sadness over the death of family, stress over managing child care or the loss of a job, anger over mandates – to name just a few. Empathy is a skill that teams absolutely need to even begin to understand and address both employee and member emotions – which, let’s be clear, are driving employee and member behavior.
Teams weak in empathy might instead choose to leverage their strength in optimism. Not that optimism is a bad emotional strength, but utilizing skill in optimism in a situation that calls for empathy risks making things worse.

So again – what you should strive for is a management team composed of emotionally intelligent and skilled people – meaning a team with strength in each of the subscales. To possess such strength means a team making better, more pragmatic decisions for the organization, working collaboratively, and, ultimately, making life better for the credit union’s owners and stakeholders.

Work Through the Individual

The path to an emotionally intelligent team begins with strengthening the emotional intelligence of individual team members. A team cannot be strong in emotional intelligence, and will not be able to leverage the benefits that accrue from leading with emotional intelligence, if team members themselves are not emotionally intelligent. Fortunately, emotional intelligence skills are just that – skills – and skills can be developed.

This allows for a brief sidebar to say this: emotional intelligence is not IQ, nor is it “personality,” or any other measure where an individual’s level of classification is relatively “fixed.” Emotional intelligence and the elements comprising it can be strengthened.

Before strengthening any skill, you have to know something about the level of skill that exists in the first place. To do so requires an assessment process. At GC we capture a snapshot of current skills using either an individual self-assessment, or a 360 assessment that includes the self assessment and assessment by the individual’s supervisor, peers, direct reports, and family/friends.

Following the completion of the assessment the individual is debriefed so that they understand their relative strengths and areas for development, and then are engaged in discussion about skill development and maintenance. Areas where the individual desires to improve are noted, and specific strategies for skill development are identified and captured in a development plan, which the individual then executes.

As the individual, and presumably others on the team, work to improve individual emotional intelligence skills, the entire team will also see strengthening of the team’s overarching emotional intelligence and leadership competencies.

Just Jumping on the Bandwagon?

As I noted in the earlier portion of this post, EI has gained a lot of attention in recent years, and some suggest that this is an indication of a leadership fad that will soon burn itself out. I don’t think so for a number of reasons. First, emotional connections and the utilization of emotional skill has always been a part of the leadership dynamic at companies throughout history. This, I believe, is indisputable.
Second, the emotional intelligence language we are using today first entered the realm of business dialogue in the 1950s – a 72-year timeframe, which is much too long to indicate EI as a leadership fad.

Finally, many of today’s emotional intelligence models have their roots in research conducted by Reuven Bar-On, an Israeli psychologist, whose work on this subject came to prominence in 1985. But many of these models, including EQ-i 2.0, have continued to further develop and strengthen their statistical relevance using routine data normalization efforts.

Emotional intelligence, even if not occupying so much headline space in business books and publications, remains an important part of organizational leadership.

Developing Emotional Intelligence at Your Credit Union

Thinking about your credit union, do you want to develop an emotionally intelligent leadership cohort that is highly skilled at self-perception, self-expression, interpersonal relationships, decision making and stress management? Can you visualize how such a skillset might benefit the credit union and its members? If so, let’s schedule some time to discuss what it will take to get you there, and to explore whether Glatt Consulting might be a good fit for you and your team.

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Citations and Sources
Photo by Tim Mossholder on Unsplash

Published by Tom Glatt Jr

Owner of Glatt Consulting - Distinctive Strategy Consulting for Credit Union Leaders.

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