Emotional Intelligence and Leadership


Recently I was talking to someone I know about an incident that happened where they work. One person was trying to tell a co-worker what to do, and according to my friend this had been an on-going and annoying pattern for some time. For whatever reason, this particular day was the proverbially last straw that broke the camel’s back. The co-worker on the receiving end exploded in anger and with verbal expletives. When my friend told me this story, my first thought was to label what happened as workplace bullying, harassment, or even a hostile work environment. My second thought went to a quick blog post I had read earlier in the week by Daniel Goleman. In part, he mentioned how human emotions are highly contagious. Did you know that scientists can now measure the physiological impact of what happens to us when we are exposed to intense emotions?

The impact of exposure to negative emotions can linger for hours, which means our brain and our body feels the stress (some of us more so than others). Researchers at Aalto University and Turku PET Centre have now found that feeling strong emotions makes different individuals' brain activity literally synchronous. The results revealed that especially feeling strong unpleasant emotions synchronized brain's emotion processing networks in the frontal and midline regions.

If you're wondering how vulnerable you are to catching a bad (or a good) case of emotions, check out the The Emotional Contagion Scale, which contains questions developed by Elaine Hatfield and her colleagues to help you gauge how vulnerable you are to EC.

What do you suppose happens when we experience a steady stream of negative emotions at work? Research suggests that we lose effectiveness at:

  • concentration
  • problem solving
  • creativity

Ekes! These are some of the most desired skills CEOs are identifying as critical in today’s rebounding economy.  Leaders must carefully consider the opportunity cost of not managing the emotional field of their team. Enlightened leaders understand enhancing the emotional awareness of the team is a game changer.

There is this great piece of research done by Castro, Gomes, and de Sousa called, Do Intelligent Leaders Make a Difference?  The Effect of a Leader’s Emotional Intelligence on Follower’s Creativity (2012).  This research investigates the connection between emotional intelligence and creativity. The research showed a positive relationship between the leader’s emotional intelligence and his or her follower’s creativity.  “Comprehending and managing emotions is therefore an important tool to accomplish organizational goals, to motivate people and teams, to foster satisfaction and commitment, and to influence the work environment.”

I hope that the incident my friend described is an isolated occurrence. It’s a recent example of emotional strife, spoken of casually by two friends over coffee.  How often do you feel the weight of emotional tension at work?  What’s the impact on you and others, especially in terms of focus and the flow of creativity? What is it costing organizations in terms of lost productivity and innovation?  Let me know if you, like me, believe in the importance of developing a culture where the impact of emotional intelligence is a regular part of the conversation.

Please share any ideas you have to create a more emotionally conscious workplace.

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Deb Siverson

Deb Siverson is passionate about helping organizations drive results through connected and transparent conversations in the workplace. She is the author of the book, "The Cycle of Transformation: igniting organizational change through the leader coach." Deb's expertise includes organizational performance consulting, design and delivery of leadership development programs, customized team development, and individual and systems coaching. Deb holds a BS in Business from Regis University and an MS in Organizational Leadership from University of Colorado-Boulder. She serves on the board of the Colorado Women’s Chamber of Commerce.

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