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Emotional Intelligence. (Not What You Think!)

Think of some leadership successes and failures you’ve experienced. Which ones were solely attributed to your technical proficiency, your store of knowledge, your outgoing or reserved demeanor. Some, perhaps.

If you’re like most leaders, you may think of times when your compassionate behavior held a team together or your stoic conduct emanated throughout the team during a crisis. You may also think of some times where your gruff outburst put a team on eggshells or when a momentary lack of interpersonal empathy eroded their esprit décor.

Our personality informs who we are, our intellect informs how we think, but our emotional intelligence informs so much more. It influences how we behave, what we pursue, who we attract, who we repel.

Our personality is enduring. Our intellectual ability is relatively static. But our emotional intelligence can be improved.

Emotional intelligence is our ability to perceive and regulate ourselves, while understanding and influencing those around us.

It is not about deluding ourselves or pretending to be someone we’re not. It’s not about psychoanalyzing and manipulating others. It is founded on genuine perception and authentic intent.

There are some very raw and ancient physiological phenomena to which we’re routinely subjected. Fear, anger, sadness, joy. The stimuli can come from the outside (you get a promotion or your kid gets bullied), but the response is processed and kicked out to our cerebral cortex (the wrinkly exterior of our brain) from our limbic system that collectively resides deep within the diencephalon (or “between brain”) and interior portions of the temporal lobes (behind the ears). Stimuli comes in. The thalamus relays it. The amygdala and hippocampus process it. The hypothalamus activates our sympathetic nervous system and endocrine system.

This is before you even have a chance to think!

While chemical neurotransmitters are drifting across synapses and stress hormones are being secreted into our blood steam, our psychological processor is revving up. Implicitly, a lifetime of files, stored in our memory banks via long-term potentiation, are being sifted through as our brain seeks to fit the stressor into an existing folder, called a schema. A schema is great for processing the incoming information quickly, but not always accurately.

When you read the word “bird”, your bird schema is activated, and you’re picturing some type of bird. I bet it’s not a penguin or an ostrich. Those schema files aren’t nearly as thick or retrievable as the robin, crow, cardinal, blue jay, or sparrow files.

Similarly, when an emotional stressor comes in, your brain rifles through the schema files. They’re labeled “deadline”, “lost client”, “project setback”, and so on. The data in those files will strongly influence how you initially process the new stressor, good or bad.

Between the chemistry of your physiological response and the schema files in your long-term memory, your neuroanatomy and psychology are already out the door before you begin to form a response. This is where your emotional intelligence can kick in.

Through education, training, and effort, sub-composites that comprise your EI, such as self-awareness, emotional projection, and stress management can be improved. You can check out some of the offerings at OT2 Consulting to see how we can help you can transition from reflexive reaction to resonant response, improving your ability to better inspire and and more effectively influence your organization.


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