Leadership and Emotional Intelligence
When people ask me to describe what I teach, I often respond with very different answers. Some days I might describe myself as a “hope dealer” for youth, or an “emotions coach”. While other days I refer to concepts such as personal development or human behavior to help paint a picture of the scope of my work. I don’t like to give a vanilla answer as I’ve never been a vanilla kind of guy.
Having said this, if I had to choose two words that captured the essence of my Lenses of Leadership program, they would be leadership and EI (emotional intelligence). It’s important to note that these concepts are not taught using an either/or approach, but rather in unison, as it is my belief that you cannot be an effective leader without practicing emotional intelligence. Let me explain.
Let’s start with leadership. It’s quite common, especially among youth, to view leadership as a position of authority. Inherent in this belief is the notion that you must be “in charge” of someone (or a group of people) to be a leader. Therefore, leadership is seen as a “not now, maybe later” role. This couldn’t be further from the truth. John Maxwell, one of the foremost experts in leadership development, uses one word to define leadership and it’s a word that I’ve adopted for my teachings as well. The word is influence. When I teach students about influence, I use the metaphor of a ripple effect. Each of us, regardless of age, race, or gender, creates an invisible ripple effect as a result of what we say (our words) and what we do (our behavior). In other words, our behavior matters.
So, how is emotional intelligence taught in unison with leadership development? Before I answer this question, I want you to think about the single most important influence on the choices you make. Perhaps you are thinking of the circumstances that surround you (i.e. your environment) or the opinions that others have shared with you, which may shape the way you think. While these are valid answers, I truly believe that it’s our emotions that serve as the greatest influence in every choice we make. Therefore, if leadership development is a process of enhancing the effectiveness of your ripple (influence), then there is no better place to begin this process than to look at our emotions. In fact, that is the first step in emotional intelligence; to be aware of your feelings and to recognize various patterns that aren’t serving you well. The second step is learning to manage (or navigate) these emotions so that you can achieve desired outcomes.
In conclusion, I will say this. You show me a great leader and I’ll show you someone who understands the importance of emotional intelligence.