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How Emotional Intelligence Can Transform Your Business

By Sara Bedal |

You've worked hard to build your business. You had a vision, developed a sales and marketing plan, landed customers and are now turning a profit and hiring employees. You're one smart cookie.

Or are you?

Many entrepreneurs have the intelligence and technical expertise to launch a successful business but not all of them are as nearly as adept at employing qualities such as empathy, adaptability or developing others. It's these "softer" skills that fall under the umbrella of "emotional intelligence," or EI, that can make or break a business owner — particularly when he or she has a staff to lead.

In essence, EI is a set of about 20 personal and social competencies that fall into four categories: Understanding yourself, managing yourself, understanding others and managing others.

"When you start managing others, the more you need emotional intelligence," says executive coach and leadership consultant Reldan Nadler. "You spend less time doing the job and more time setting the vision, communicating, leading new initiatives, building trust, setting goals and managing your time — all competencies of EI."

Unlike IQ (intelligence quotient) or technical know-how, he says, EI is the key factor to being a star performer. He points to studies that show that EI determines up to 85 percent of the factors that contribute to a top performer's success compared to IQ, which determines between four percent and 25 percent. What's more, the top 10 percent of performers produce twice as much revenue for an organization than managers in the 11th through the 89th percentiles, he says.

In his book Leading with Emotional Intelligence, Nadler focuses on only six of the personal and social competencies: emotional self-control, self-confidence, teamwork and collaboration, developing others, communication and empathy. While all competencies are important, he says, "[these] are the key areas executives ask for support with first and foremost," adding that they are also core abilities that aid leaders in successfully introducing EI to their organizations.

Unlike IQ, which is pretty much etched in stone by adulthood, EI can be enhanced by adopting certain skills and behaviours. Says Nadler: "Knowing what to do in nine or 10 competencies and then doing them regularly will put you into the top 10 percent."

But beware of "derailers" which can throw you off track. "One major derailer can undermine or trump many star behaviours," says Nadler.

He underscores 18 attitudes and behaviours that can curtail performance or advancement at work including: driving others too hard, perfectionism, failure to adapt to cultural differences, risk aversion, lack of impulse control and the "smartest person in the room syndrome." In his book, he cites former U.S. president Bill Clinton as an example of a derailed leader. While Clinton "was and is extremely socially competent," he says, the personal competencies of self-awareness, accurate self-assessment and self-control derailed him.

For leaders who want to put EI to work in their businesses, Nadler has seven tips to help you and your employees shine:

  1. Agree on each employee's top five responsibilities. If you ask an employee what their five key responsibilities are and then ask their boss, research shows that they usually have only one-and-a-half items in common. It's important that you reach consensus on this.
  2. Clarify expectations. The clearer a leader can be, the fewer "error messages" employees will receive and the more productive they'll be.
  3. Identify strengths. If you don't know what your employees' strengths are — what aspects of their jobs energize them — find out. Then provide them with opportunities that allow them to capitalize on their strengths.
  4. Build a team. When you're hiring staff, it's vital that you build camaraderie quickly and discuss how you're going to work together.
  5. Limit your "value-added." It's not uncommon for leaders to want to contribute to every great idea. Don't overdo it or you'll zap employees' engagement.
  6. Make time for one-on-one coaching. "Most leaders underestimate their influence and research shows that direct reports usually want more time with their leaders," says Nadler. Individual coaching sessions allow leaders to better understand their staff — their motivations, strengths and how they want to be recognized or rewarded.
  7. Identify your "hot" buttons. Knowing what triggers your emotions — both good and bad — helps you manage them and avoid outbursts that can disturb employees.

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