Leaders: Use Your Brain

Research in neuroscience continues to help explain physiologically what we have known practically for years: social and emotional intelligence – beyond intellectual intelligence – plays a huge part in leadership effectiveness and organizational success.

The following five statements relate to leading and managing with emotional intelligence.

See if you know whether they are true or false.

  1. Emotions are contagious. True. Just try being with Debbie Downer, Doug and Wendy Whiner, Raging Ricardo, or Happy Holly without catching their emotions. And if they are in a leadership role or the emotion is ‘negative,’ multiply their infectious ability exponentially.
  2. When I am in task and analyze mode, I suppress the ability to notice other people and innovate. True. Yes, there’s a time and place for task mode and critical thinking. But they tap a different system of the brain than what is required for innovation and social intelligence. The skill is in accessing both parts of the brain – going back and forth – versus getting locked into one mode. According to Dr. Richard Boyatzis and colleagues, positive emotions and interactions with “resonant” leaders … activated attention [in the brain] in ways that allow a person to be open to new ideas and new emotions, and to be able to scan the business and social environment, something which every successful executive must be able to do.
  3. In giving recognition and feedback, I should give three-five positive comments for every “negative” comment. True. When I first heard this years ago, I thought it sounded like coddling. But this “catch them doing good” approach is truly motivating for most people and helps strengthen the relationship and their openness to hear the tough messages when needed, also.
  4. I can leave my work stress at work, and I can leave my home stress at home. False. Research on brain activity has borne out what most of us have experienced: “When an executive feels and appears uneasy about something that happened with their husband or wife, others at work will experience that unease, even if they did not witness the situation or hear about it directly. This brain-to-brain transmission occurs primarily below consciousness.”  Boyatzis 2012.
  5. A compelling positive vision is generally more effective for sustained behavior change than a burning platform. True. And either approach works more effectively in the context of a positive relationship. Research with MBA students has shown that an emphasis on visioning is more effective in moving people towards achieving it than merely checking in on progress and tasks. Similarly, in the healthcare setting, it’s been found that treatment adherence for serious illness is higher for patients when they have a positive, resonant relationship with their physician.

Leading with emotional intelligence may often seem like common sense, but it’s still not common practice. Here are a couple of suggestions for bridging that gap:

  • Be aware of your emotional state – and others’ emotional states – and the contagious power it has on others. Realizing, for example, that you or someone else is overly anxious or frustrated may help you pause and shift to a mode that is more productive relationally.
  • Spend more time helping your team focus on an inspirational future and outcome versus only focusing on correcting their behavior.

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 Joe Baker is a Partner with PeopleResults. In his role as a leadership consultant and executive coach, he helps senior leaders and their teams turn common sense emotional intelligence into common practice. You can reach him at jbaker@people-results.com or on Twitter @JoeBakerJr.