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Be Contagious!

Be Contagious!

No this isn't an article about flu season...telling people to be contagious is just weird. The word itself may cause alarm for some. But I do want to challenge conventional wisdom and tell you to be contagious. Specifically, I want you to be a genuine positive person in all aspects of your life.

It has been studied and well documented that a person's attitude has a strong affect, both positive and negative, in the workplace. What am I talking about? I'm talking about emotional intelligence. It's the stuff that isn't measured on an IQ test. It's something that is often overlooked when searching for the next leader. It's actually surprising how it's neglected; this isn't anything we haven't heard before. It's always a "oh yeah" moment for many after reading about this topic.

What is emotional intelligence? The definition is: the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one's emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. Daniel Goleman wrote in "What Makes a Leader" the five components that make up emotional intelligence. Self-awareness, Self-regulation, Motivation, Empathy, and Social skill.

Here's an excerpt from Goleman's work with the five components making up emotional intelligence:

You're probably thinking to yourself, "no crap." Well, you're right. Like I said before, this isn't anything new. Goleman, Boyatzis, and McKee wrote in "Primal Leadership" that a leader's own mood had the most influence on their company's bottom-line performance. Emotional intelligence travels through an organization like electricity over wires. To be more specific, the leader’s mood is quite literally contagious, spreading quickly and inexorably throughout the business.

Is this something that can be learned? Can a negative leader learn to be genuinely positive? Yes and yes. But it's not a light switch that goes on and poof, you're emotionally intelligent. Like anything else, you need to condition yourself to become positive, kind, empathetic, motivated, socially adept, etc. Like breaking any bad habit or learning a new skill, it takes repetition, consistency, effort, and motivation until it becomes automatic.

Here's the tricky part. You can't fake this. It will be very obvious when someone is low on emotional intelligence. Just like you can't fake a smile or pretend to care (when you don't), you can't appear to be emotionally intelligent by just wanting to be.

So what can you do to get from where you are as a leader to who you want to be? First, lean on your peers and subordinates. Gather honest feedback about your leadership style. Some may be intimidated to provide such feedback, so 360 feedback surveys that are anonymous work well. Next, write down who you want to be. What do you imagine yourself to be? Visualize it.

How do you get from who you are to who you want to be? Action plan. Close the gap with actions that help you with this transformation. There are many great examples in "Primal Leadership" of professionals closing the gap by doing volunteer work or participating in extra curricular activities. Do things outside your norm to make that change. This will help the transformation process go from effort to inherent.

In summary, yes it's proven that a leader that is high on emotional intelligence, positive results in mood and performance happens. This is not to say that it is the only thing that matters. Of course knowledge, skillset, abilities, experiences...all of those items come into play. But without emotional intelligence, it doesn't matter how smart or experienced you are. Leaders low on emotional intelligence most likely are seeing their team have an allergic reaction to their leadership style.

If I have peaked your attention, I suggest reading more about emotional intelligence. Reading my cliff note version is a start but certainly not enough. There are a lot of good data and examples which will allow you to incorporate this into your life. For those that are low on emotional intelligence, it's not an easy shift. It's going to take a lot of work to become the person you want to be. But it's very possible. Like all things in life, you have to work just as hard as wanting it. So what do you say? What kind of contagious behavior do you want to display? The type that breeds success and inspires others? Or the type that takes down a everything/everyone in its path like a tornado?