The concept of emotional intelligence (EI) has caught the attention of managers, academicians and spiritualists alike for a few decades now. Although the major practice of spirituality is based on emotional intelligence, scientific studies of the subject began towards the end of the last century and the results today are amazing. And it is surprising to note that these studies are corroborating the eternal principles and truths that mystics and spiritualists have been advocating for time immemorial.
What distinguishes great leaders from merely good ones? Prof. Daniel Goleman of Harvard University, who is accredited with making the concept so popular in modern times, says that it isn’t just technical skills or IQ that distinguishes great leaders. It’s not that technical skills and IQ are not important at all; they matter but as ‘threshold capabilities’ or entry-level requirements. He and other researchers have identified better indicators in EI that form the bedrock of a great leadership. EI is the capacity to sense and understand one’s feelings and emotions and that of others and leverage them towards a higher purpose or aim in life. Each of us knows cases where highly skilled and intelligent people have either failed miserably or performed less than satisfactorily in life. And we also know stories about people with ordinary intellectual abilities and technical skills who have soared very high in life. And the reason is the latter have a very high degree of EI.
"When I compared star performers with average ones in senior leadership positions, nearly 90 per cent of the difference in their profiles was attributable to emotional intelligence factors rather than cognitive abilities. Other researchers have confirmed that emotional intelligence not only distinguishes outstanding leaders but can also be linked to strong performance," states Dr. Goleman in his popular article What Makes a Leader. He lists five components that make for EI: self awareness, self regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills.
The hallmarks of self awareness are self confidence, realistic self assessment and self deprecating sense of humor. Similarly, the hallmarks of self regulation are trustworthiness and integrity, comfort with ambiguity and openness to change and for motivation are strong drive to achieve, optimism and organization commitment. The important features of empathy are expertise in building and retaining talent, cross-cultural sensitivity and service to clients and customers and that of social skills are effectiveness in leading change, persuasiveness and expertise in building and leading teams.
The next question is: Can EI be learned? There are people who think that EI cannot be learned after age 15. And there are people who think that it can be taught just in a day and they offer quick-fix seminars and training programs. This debate is equivalent to the one on ‘are leaders born or they can be made’. Are leaders born with different levels of EI or they learn it through the ups and downs of life? The answer is both. Scientific studies have concluded that there is a specific genetic component to EI, and studies in psychology and neuroscience suggest that it can be learned. But the focus on learning has to be on the right part of the brain, because EI is born largely in the neurotransmitters of the brain’s limbic system, which governs feelings, impulses, and drives. This limbic system learns best through motivation, extended practice and feedback.
To start with, you need to trust your own feelings and emotions and pay heed to what is going on inside of you. Your attention must change from the outside to the inside enabling you to recognize and understand your moods, emotions and drives, as well as their effect on others. Therein lie the clues to your personality, motivation, career, relationship, spirituality and leadership. There is a whole universe of your likes, dislikes and motivating factors waiting for you to unveil and take advantage of. The next step is the ability to keep a watchful eye on your disruptive impulses and moods and to think before acting. People who want to enhance their EI will have to muster a passion to work for reasons that go beyond money or status and a predisposition to pursue long term goals with high level of energy, enthusiasm and commitment. You have to explore and find out reasons for your existence and the source of your motivation in life.
Once you are comfortable understanding your own moods and emotions, you must slowly start understanding the emotional makeup of other people. How others feel is as important as how you feel, and you must develop skills in treating people according to their emotional reactions. This gives rise to creating and managing high performing teams, which is central to leadership ability. The final part of learning EI is concerned with social skills, i.e. skills in managing relationship and developing networks.
The science of spirituality has a different way to look at EI. It states that love is the queen of all emotions and a loving and compassionate heart will automatically leverage all the emotions in oneself and others. Saints and seers have, for ages, focused on two basic aspects of human living: love and understanding. All spiritual practices emphasize on developing these two qualities in our hearts and minds. It is amazing that thousands of years back spiritual scientists knew about the power of our emotions and gave us a complete understanding of how to develop EI and modern science is reaching to similar conclusions now. It is time we got back to our own roots and explore the hidden mysteries there.
President of Jeevan Vigyan Kendra, the author can be reached at email@example.com.