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Awakening the Leader Within Through
Emotional Intelligence

by Harvey Deutschendorf


"85 to 95% of the difference between a "good leader" and an "excellent leader" is due to emotional intelligence" -- Daniel Goleman (author of Emotional Intelligence, Working with Emotional Intelligence and Primal Leaderhip: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence)

As our human services organization of 2000 staff looked ahead they saw a major problem looming on the horizon. Like many companies and organizations today, a large percentage of their managerial staff was due to retire in the next 5 to 10 years. Something needed to be done about this upcoming leadership crisis.

We quickly began working on a succession plan. To achieve this, a focus group came up with the idea of developing a leadership program. A recommendation of the focus group was to have emotional intelligence drive the program. We looked for ways that we could reach out to all of the leadership participants and speak about emotional intelligence in a way that was meaningful, interesting and relevant to their work.

Because of my training in the area, and known passion for emotional intelligence, I was asked to begin a coaching program for the leadership program participants. As a result Coach's Corner was created, a section of our bi-weekly newsletter COMMUNI-K, devoted to:

  • Emotional Intelligent Moments - Sharing stories of emotional intelligence as examples from which we can learn;

  • Ask the Coach - The coach will respond to workplace questions from an emotional intelligence perspective;

  • Tips on how to increase emotional intelligence;

  • Quotes, articles and book reviews;

  • Testimonials on how emotional intelligence worked for us or others.

Our first 3 issues included three Emotionally Intelligent Moments and one Ask the Coach.

Emotionally Intelligent Moment 1

Recently I was standing in the cashier's lineup at the provincial courthouse, waiting to pay for a speeding ticket. Ahead of me, in front of one of the cashiers, was a short, elderly gentleman. He was laughing and continued to laugh as he rolled off a wad of bills to give to the cashier. I was taken aback by this and watched in amazement. As he finished paying his fine, and took his receipt he said to the cashier, "Now I'm free". This I found quite fascinating and was anxious to get the cashier's take on it.

Being the next in the lineup and ended up at the same cashier's wicket, I remarked that I had never seen anyone who was happy about paying a fine. We both got a chuckle out of it and I witnessed something coming from the cashier that further confounded me, a smile! In all of the times of standing in that dismal lineup, I couldn't ever remember seeing one smile.

As we carried on chatting her mood continued to lighten. I joked, when she asked me to sign my credit card stub, that there was no place for a tip on it. Upon leaving, she thanked me for "making her day". The gentleman before me certainly deserved a thank you for making mine, but he was long gone. Most likely he was completely unaware of what a positive effect he had on at least two strangers that day.

Walking away from the transaction in an upbeat positive mood after having paid a fine was not typical for me. There were two lessons learned from this. Firstly, the stranger had demonstrated that we all chose how we react to any given situation. Learning to deal effectively with adversity and to carry on despite setbacks are crucial leadership skills. The second lesson was that we should never underestimate the impact that our behaviors have on others. Because leaders are in a position where they can affect the mood of so many people under them, staying positive is essential to good leadership.

Emotionally Intelligent Moment 2

A couple of summers ago, while in a local park, I met Angela, a friend of mine, and her three grandsons. The youngest, Jason, who was five, began to cry. Between sobs he went on to complain to his grandma about his older brother perpetrating some real or imagined injustice upon him. She said to him, "Jason, I know that you need to cry because you feel hurt, but if you don't stop in five minutes you're going to have to go sit in the car." After getting in a few more sobs, he muttered "okay", and shortly after stopped crying. It was amazing how well this worked.

Someone once told me that trying to negotiate or reason with a five year old was similar with trying to reason with a terrorist. Neither one was likely to have much chance of success. But there I was, witnessing something I didn't think was possible. What Joyce had managed to do with her grandson was:

  • Validate his feelings and his right to have them (feelings are not right or wrong, they just are…and everyone is entitled to their feelings);

  • Allow him to vent his feelings (a necessary first step before moving on);

  • Make it clear that there was a time limit to venting feelings and it would not be in his best interest to continue on after that time (you're entitled to express your feelings…but not to wallow in them);

  • Made it clear that there would be repercussions for continuing to vent after a certain time.

Validating others feelings is a powerful leadership tool. When we validate someone's feelings we are not agreeing with them, simply allowing them the right to feel the way they do. Effective leaders are sensitive to the feelings of those around them and recognize that the first step to dealing with issues is recognition of feelings.

Emotionally Intelligent Moment 3

Janice's father, physically frail and suffering from memory loss, had been in a care giving facility for a number of years. She tried getting out to visit him as often as possible, and since they lived in the same city, she managed to see him fairly often.

On one particular visit there was another patient, an elderly lady, visiting her father in his room. As she normally did when first seeing him, Janice kissed him on the cheek. The elderly lady said sadly, "It's been a long time since I had one of those". At first Janice wondered what she was talking about, but quickly realized what she meant. At that point she proceeded to go over and kiss the lady on the cheek. The elderly woman's face broke into a broad smile.

We should never underestimate how simple affectionate gestures towards people can have such a powerful impact on them. Effective leadership is about really listening and tuning in to what your staff are really saying. Good leaders notice those around them, and look for opportunities to give those they are in charge of a boost when they seem down. Even when it doesn't appear necessary, they look for the chance to show staff they are appreciated. It doesn't have to involve physical contact. Friendly, well-intentioned gestures could easily be misconstrued in today's workplace; therefore they should be used with care. Ask if you can get someone a coffee, offer him or her a small treat or let him or her know of a situation that happened recently that reminded you of him or her.

Simply paying attention to those you are working with will elevate you in their eyes. Staff perform better knowing that they matter, and effective leaders make it a habit to regularly let their staff know that they are valued.

Question for the Coach:

I supervise a staff member, who goes along with decisions when they are made, but afterwards goes around criticizing and undermining the decision to coworkers. What can I do about this?

Coach's Reply: This sounds like passive aggressive behavior. At some point in this person's past they may have shared their feelings and thoughts, and ended up being punished in some way for being open. Because of this experience they have come to the conclusion that to be direct about how they feel in certain circumstances would not be welcomed. Unable to openly express their opinions or feelings, they decided to go underground. This likely didn't happen on a conscious level. From an emotional intelligence perspective, here are some thoughts about what you as a supervisor could try.

Don't get caught up in the issue(s) that your coworker objects to. The issue may only be a trigger that sets him/her off by subconsciously reminding them of a previous negative experience. What the coworker may really need is to be heard. Look for opportunities to spend some time with him/her and share how you feel about something. Make sure you end off on a positive note, as you don't want to get caught up in his/her cycle of negativity.

Model The Way for this person: Bring up an issue that you had some negative feelings around that you were later able to turn into a positive experience. By acknowledging feelings, and a person's right to them, you are not agreeing with them, simply allowing them their right to those feelings. Simply listen to them and let them know that you are aware of their feelings. Maybe that is all that they need?


The Author

Harvey Deutschendorf

Harvey Deutschendorf is the author of The Other Kind Of Smart, Simple Ways to Boost Your Emotional Intelligence for Greater Personal Effectiveness and Success, published by American Management Association of New York May 2009.  Harvey resides in Edmonton, Alberta.

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Many more articles in Emotional Intelligence in The CEO Refresher Archives
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Copyright 2004 by Harvey Deutschendorf. All rights reserved.

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