What’s preventing your success in the results you want to achieve as you chase high performance?

The response varies. Sometimes there is a job-specific competency gap that limits success. Sometimes there’s an inability to stay disciplined and keep commitments that disrupts progress. And sometimes there’s a challenging interpersonal relationship that prevents desired results. And everywhere in between.

Behavior, sometimes referred to Emotional Intelligence, has the ability to prevent or unlock high performance. I’ve experienced this in my own life, so much so that I hold Emotional Intelligence as a differentiator between high performing and underperforming managers.

First I must define a few words I use in this article as we explore my perspective on high performing management. We don’t need to be aligned on these definitions, but defining these words upfront will enable clarity because I experience regular confusion around how these words are defined.

High Performance. High Performance is success in desired results above established norms over the long term.

Leadership. Leadership is influence.

Management. Management is the process of dealing, directing, or controlling things or people in order to accomplish tasks, objectives, or a mission.

Emotional Intelligence. Emotional Intelligence is 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.” (Definition from The EQ Edge – Emotional Intelligence and your Success, written by Howard E. Book and Steven J. Stein)

As an OKA certified issuer and debriefer of the Emotional Quotient Inventory EQ-i 2.0®, OKA identifies fifteen specific elements used to characterize Emotional Intelligence according to the EQ-i 2.0® model. The fifteen elements are:

Self-Regard.

  • The ability and the tendency for you— in full light of both your positive and negative qualities—to both like and have confidence in yourself.

Self-Actualization.

  • The ability and tendency to want to grow, stretch and strive–to see your potential, set meaningful goals and work toward your betterment and fulfillment.

Emotional Self Awareness.

  • The degree to which you are in touch with your feelings and emotions, are able to distinguish one emotion from another, and understand why that emotion has resulted.

Emotional Expression.

  • The degree to which you share, communicate and remain transparent with your feelings and emotions.

Assertiveness.

  • The ability to put your needs, thoughts and opinions out into the world—even when doing so invites opposition or conflict or causes you to take a stand.

Independence.

  • The ability and tendency to be self-directed in your thinking, feeling, and actions—to go it alone when needed.

Interpersonal Relationships.

  • The ability and tendency to give and receive trust and compassion and to establish and maintain mutually satisfying personal relationships.

Empathy.

  • The ability and willingness to take notice of and be sensitive to other people’s needs and feelings.

Social Responsibility.

  • The ability and tendency to cooperate and contribute to the welfare of a larger social system, to have and act in accordance with a social consciousness and to show concern for the group or the greater community.

Problem Solving.

  • The ability and tendency both to solve problems that involve emotions and to use emotions as an effective problem-solving tool.

Reality Testing.

  • The ability and tendency for you to assess the here-and-now reality of any given moment or situation—what is actually going on—and compare that objectively to your fantasy of what is going on, thus avoiding being overcome by fantasies, daydreams and biases.

Impulse Control.

  • The ability to resist or delay a drive or temptation to do or say something or to decide too quickly or rashly.

Flexibility.

  • The ability and tendency to adjust your emotions, thoughts, and behavior to changing situations and conditions, to adapt—to take in new data and change your mind or approach.

Stress Tolerance.

  • The ability to function well in the midst of challenging and stressful situations—to shoulder stress without getting overwhelmed.

Optimism.

  • The ability and tendency to look at the brighter side of life and to maintain a positive attitude even in the face of adversity. Optimism gives you hope and enables you to see the future as a positive, inviting place.

Of these fifteen elements, I’ve highlighted the three elements Emotional Expression, Empathy, and Impulse Control as critically important for managers in order to (1) differentiate themselves from other managers, (2) to exercise effective leadership, and (3) to perform at incredibly high levels in the workplace.

Emotional Expression, or the degree to which you share, communicate and remain transparent with your feelings and emotions, is an important component to building trust. And when a manager is trusted, there is an increased ability to deal with difficult conversations and direct others in order to accomplish tasks, objectives, or a mission.

Sometimes managers are uncomfortable with the sharing, disclosure, and openness that enables emotional expression. And when this happens, managers should reflect upon whether or not their predisposition to privacy is being helpful or hurtful to their ability to build trust among their team. A struggle to grow in competence with Emotional Expression is typically in the manager’s reluctance to pivot their behavior. But when a change in behavior is made, the possibility to unlock hidden potential may occur which may enable the achievement of a different result – increased trust. One way to step firmly into Emotional Expression is to simply ask your direct reports, in a one-on-one conversation, whether or not they would appreciate an increase in the sharing, communication and transparency with feelings and emotions at work.

If your attachment to Emotional Expression is self assessed as lower than you’d prefer, consider introducing these actions to develop greater Emotional Expression competency.

  • Say what you are feeling when you speak with others. For example, when your irritated by a decision or issue, say “I’m irritated about this because…” or “I’m overjoyed with this assignment because…”  Giving words to how were feeling enables others to understand and not have to make their own meaning from behavior that is observed.
  • Be present during conversations. Deliberately use your body language and other non-verbal communication with others. Things like shutting the laptop, keeping your cell phone in your pocket, maintaining eye contact, and leaning in are simple and powerful ways to communicate to others that you’re invested in the conversation and focused.

Of course Emotional Expression can be overdone. So be mindful not to get involved with issues that are not related to you and your team. And consider guarding against oversharing. Again, an effective approach is asking your direct reports what level of Emotional Expression they are most comfortable with at work.  

Empathy is the ability and willingness to take notice of, and be sensitive to, other people’s needs and feelings. This reflects care. And care is a critical component to building trust. Sometimes this is as simple as spending time to get to know direct reports, peers, and supervisors. I’ve worked with a number of executives, managers, and teams in order to develop ways to create or maintain incredible organizational culture. And one of the first exercises I conduct includes asking if they know the first names of one another’s significant other or children. With this information, the shift in delivery of a simple Monday morning question from “How was your weekend?” to “Jane, how was your weekend with John?” or “Jane, how was Joe’s soccer game last weekend?” can be a powerful demonstration of empathy. If your attachment to Empathy is self assessed as lower than you’d prefer, consider introducing these actions to develop greater competency.

  • Be curious about others. A way to do this to ask people how they are feeling and pay attention to their answer by asking another follow up question. Too often we ask a question and never inquire more.
  • Be kind. And practice random acts of kindness. A hand written note of thanksgiving, a complement on a job well done, or phone call on the way home from work to follow up on an earlier conversation where you learned something a colleague was struggling with can be powerful.
  • Seek to understand. This is a foundational concept of the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey and I consider it a timeless piece of advice for managers.

Of course Empathy can be overdone. So be mindful not to get disconnected from objective thought process. Sometimes highly empathetic people become somewhat dishonest or disingenuous because they prefer to hold back the truth for fear of hurting others.

Impulse Control, the ability to resist or delay a drive or temptation to do or say something or to decide too quickly or rashly, is an essential quality of high performing managers. Impulse Control is a critical component to building effective interpersonal relationships with direct reports, peers, supervisors, and external stakeholders. It is also an important element to effective decision making. How often in your career have you worked with others who are skilled in controlling their impulses? Additionally, how defeating and disruptive is it be to be managed by someone who lacks competency with Impulse Control? Consider a deliberate decision to embrace Impulse Control when you observe a poor decision made by one of your direct reports. A natural tendency may be to lash out with an on-the-spot correction. But, most people do not respond well to direct criticism. Instead, consider a pivot toward Impulse Control and schedule the time to mentor your direct report. With too little Impulse Control, managers may be viewed as explosive, overly talkative, angry, and likely to monopolize meetings and conversations. If your attachment to Impulse Control is self assessed as lower than you’d prefer, consider introducing these actions to develop greater competency.

  • Think about the long-term impact your actions will have on the situation.  Is there value to seeking to understand more fully prior to making an instinctual or gut decision.
  • Whiteboard or record in a notebook two alternate courses of action to take when you are making decisions. Just this time spent in deliberate discernment may unlock a better way to handle a situation or make a decision.
  • Determine and commit to waiting a certain amount of time when you make decisions. The phrase “sleep on it” was developed for a reason. You may not be comfortable waiting an entire night to make a decision, but can you dedicate an hour or two for reflection and discernment?

Of course Impulse Control can be overdone. So be mindful if you’re receive feedback from others that you need to be more assertive or that your team needs to see more emotional expression from you in the workplace. These are indicators that you’re too controlled in your responses.

If you’re chasing high performance at work. Consider what may be preventing the success in the desired results that you hold for yourself? When was the last time you took a moment to examine your behavior and the impact your behavior has upon others in the workplace. Could your Emotional Intelligence be the gap that you need to bridge to move from an underperforming to a high performing manager? Competency in the ability to use emotional and social skills to 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 may just be the differentiator in your pursuit of high performance.

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