Leading with Heart and Mind: Unveiling Three Key Pillars of Emotional Intelligence

Everyone wants to increase Emotional Intelligence....but what does that mean?

Leading with Heart and Mind: Unveiling Three Key Pillars of Emotional Intelligence
OKA’s Whitten Rutledge
May 7, 2024
Emotional Intelligence

“Emotional intelligence” has become a bit of a buzzword across all kinds of professional industries. Everyone wants to increase Emotional Intelligence in their organization, their team, their leaders, or in themselves—but what does that mean? What is Emotional Intelligence (EQ for short), and how does it create better leadership? 

As a partner with Severn Leadership Group, we here at Otto Kroeger and Associates (OKA) define and approach Emotional Intelligence using the EQ-i2.0, the most popular and psychometrically validated EQ assessment in the world. This assessment produces a report that defines and measures 15 distinct elements or behaviors in terms of their frequency of use.  Every EQ element is an action; how often are you taking—or not taking—this action? In this sense, the EQ-i is much like a weather thermometer. It is merely taking a measurement. There is no such thing as an inherently “good” or “bad” temperature outside. Of course, if it’s cold outside you may decide to put on a coat but there is no judgment whether that is a good or bad thing to do. This is essentially how EQ functions. Each EQ behavior is a tool to be used in its own time and place, and the EQ-i attempts to give us a framework to think more intentionally about when to use certain EQ behaviors—and how much to lean on them. 

This is where EQ perfectly intersects with leadership. There are dozens of legitimate ways to think about what makes an effective leader, but I believe in this truth: effective leaders put others in a position to succeed. They work to understand the people around them, to nurture and grow them, and to push them. The more robust your leadership toolkit is, and the more wisdom you have in applying the correct behavior to the current situation, the more effectively you will lead.  

Each of the 15 EQ elements aids in leadership in its own way, but 3 elements have particularly strong connections to leadership: Emotional Self-Awareness, Interpersonal Relationships, and Problem Solving. These specific elements are core components of leadership, and serve as great starting points for leaders looking to grow their EQ abilities. 

Emotional Self-Awareness

If we don’t understand ourselves, how can we ever hope to make sense of the rest of the world? Emotional Self-Awareness includes the recognizing and understanding of our own emotions. It is the ability to differentiate between subtleties in our own emotions while understanding what is causing them. Low Emotional Self-Awareness results in being unknowingly influenced by emotions we don’t realize are at work. We don’t think about or understand what we are experiencing, and we are not curious about why we react the way we do. In short, with low Emotional Self-Awareness, we don’t place the magnifying glass on ourselves. 

A leader who is ignorant of their own emotions, who is never able to understand the impact that others have on them, who is constantly misunderstanding or surprised by others, is not being an effective leader. Effective leadership requires the ability to recognize and control one’s emotions, rather than be controlled by them, and you cannot control what you do not see or understand. Emotional Self-Awareness requires regular reflection, being in touch with ourselves, and understanding how our emotions drive us to action. Great leaders understand their own strengths and weaknesses and surround themselves with people who balance their weaknesses. These insights demand Emotional Self-Awareness. 

Emotional Self-Awareness is a great tool because it can be practiced anywhere, at any time, and by anybody. What am I experiencing right now—and what events may have caused these feelings?  Journaling or discussing with a close friend or colleague can quickly illuminate how you feel. Expanding your emotional vocabulary—the difference between angry and happy is a good start, but there is so much more room for nuance. “I’m feeling bad,” may be true, but consider the difference between feeling irritated vs. feeling embarrassed, or even contempt. Being able to label a feeling and conceptualize it gives you control over it; this emotion is a small part of you, but it does not have the power to make decisions.. Developing Emotional Self-Awareness is a wonderful place for aspiring leaders to begin an EQ development journey. 

Interpersonal Relationships

Whether the following statement is exciting or exhausting, it is true—none of us is ever alone. Humans are fundamentally social beings, but more importantly, the way organizations are developed and structured, collaboration, and working with and through others are the only ways we ever get things done. The only way we can have our expectations and needs met is to communicate them and work together with other people to meet their needs too. The Beatles reminded us sixty years ago that we got by with “a little help from our friends!” 

Interpersonal Relationships refer to our tendency to develop and maintain mutually satisfying relationships that include trust and compassion. High Interpersonal Relationships look like caring about the well-being of people around us and wanting to actively help bring about that well-being. There is comfort in genuine connection with others—as well as the knowledge that comfort, respect, and trust live within that relationship.

The connection between Interpersonal Relationships and leadership should almost go without saying. Making people feel understood, respected, and important are among the most important things leaders can do.  An effective leader cares what a direct report is doing this weekend or going through outside of work. A good leader practices gratitude and recognizes the contributions someone is adding. A great leader fosters individual relationships with everyone in the team—and understands how best to help each person. 

Interpersonal Relationships can be daunting to folks who are more inclined towards introversion, but here’s a great secret: everyone has interesting things that make them unique, that you can notice and even embrace—and the kicker is, most people are not trying to hide these parts of themselves. The overwhelming majority of people want to matter. Interpersonal Relationships is the tool that lets us connect and affirm: “Yes! You do matter!” Leaders who want to practice Interpersonal Relationships can do so by taking the time to connect with people about things that are important to them. Who are they at work? What are they good at, and what do they dread doing? What kinds of things make them laugh? 

Problem Solving

Problem Solving is the third EQ element that most strongly interacts with leadership. Within this EQ model, Problem Solving is the tendency to find solutions to problems where emotions are involved while understanding the effect of these emotions. In short, Problem Solving is how willing we are to embrace a healthy level of conflict. Conflict is much like fire; if left unchecked and unmanaged, it can destroy everything, but we need it to stay alive and effective. Healthy relationships require conflict to hold each other accountable, to deliver inconvenient truths, or to face head-on times of crisis. Problem Solving engages and leans into conflict head-on, approaching challenges and problems at-hand even if we are upset or feeling emotionally overwhelmed. 

Problem Solving is one of the calling cards of great leaders. A leader who is disengaged from Problem Solving appears as someone who avoids conflict or acts unpredictably in the face of difficult situations. This undermines a leader’s credibility. If a direct report needs critical feedback and a leader does not deliver it, then the problem grows for everyone. Effective Problem Solving does not mean barging into their office and yelling at them—this approach shows poor EQ on several levels. Rather, effective Problem Solving would support a leader’s decision to move forward with a difficult conversation about an emotionally sensitive topic. Problem Solving engages both the emotional realities and sensitivities of the moment while addressing the objective issue at the same time.  Great leaders take difficult action, inspire others during times of struggle, and even help make the team a part of the solution. 

Problem Solving is crucial to a leader’s trustworthiness and effectiveness, and a leader’s willingness and ability to engage conflict are tested almost daily. Practicing this skillset is not easy, but it is necessary. In fact, having healthy levels of Emotional Self-Awareness and Interpersonal Relationships—the other two EQ elements mentioned above—make Problem Solving significantly easier to access. 

Using Emotional Self-Awareness, Interpersonal Relationships, and Problem-Solving to Lead Well

Amid a problem or a challenging issue, remember to use Emotional Self-Awareness to separate the emotions from the facts at-hand. Are feelings of fear or frustration clouding judgment, or pushing you to say something you’ll regret? Interpersonal Relationships can make it easier to rely on others—a mutually healthy relationship will be able to withstand critical feedback or make it easier to delegate tasks to them. Problem Solving can be practiced by effective planning, research on how other people have handled the same challenges, and encouraging open dialogue about the situation at hand. Navigating conflict can be tricky, and there are lots of ways to do it, but the EQ Element of Problem Solving tells us one thing: the wrong way to address conflict as a leader is to avoid it altogether. 

Emotional Self-Awareness, Interpersonal Relationships, and Problem Solving are just three of the 15 total elements found in the EQ-i2.0 model. There are dozens of combinations of elements, each having its own impact on leadership. Being a leader is difficult—it’s hard when the decision comes down to you, and other people rely on you for stability. These three EQ elements are great ones to practice.

To learn more about SLG’s partner, OKA, go to https://oka-online.com/.

Whitten is the Swiss-Army knife of Otto Kroeger Associates (OKA). As a Project Manager, he schedules and coordinates OKA’s trainings and facilitations, which include workshops on Emotional Intelligence, Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, DRiV, and more. As a consultant and personal enthusiast of OKA’s teachings, he writes blog content and helps design workshop content to suit client’s learning and development needs. He was certified in the EQ-i 2.0 and MBTI as a teenager and is certified in even more of the garden of tools OKA offers. He is a co-author of Generational Navigation, OKA’s latest workbook on Generational diversity, and a co-author and designer of OKA’s latest online EQ learning tool, NavigatEQ.  

Whitten has a BA in Political Science and Creative Writing from Virginia Commonwealth University. He lives with his fiancée in Newport News, Virginia. 

Leading with Heart and Mind: Unveiling Three Key Pillars of Emotional Intelligence

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