BY ROBERT P. MADER
OF CONTRACTOR'S STAFF
CHARLESTON, S.C. — Emotional intelligence is the single greatest driver of effective leadership, said Bill Benjamin, CEO of the Institute for Health and Human Potential, in October during the Mechanical Service Contractors of America's 21st Annual Educational Conference here.
It's not about getting smarter, Benjamin told contractors. Emotions drive behavior and if we can't access our emotions and those of others, then we won't get the kind of performance we want.
"The edge goes to those who can manage their emotions the best," he said.
IQ and technical skills are threshold competencies that one needs to get a job. An individual, however, will not be really successful without emotional intelligence, which Benjamin dubbed "EQ."
EQ counts for twice as much as intelligence quotient and technical skills, he said, when it comes to being a successful manager. A manager has to be self-aware. Once he is aware of his emotions and those of his employees, he can control his emotions and emotionally connect with others.
What's in it for a business? Heading off lost employees and lost customers, he said. Customers' loyalty is driven by relationships with engaged employees who take care of them. Happy employees listen to customers and care.
The way to make employees loyal and happy is through a good relationship with their direct supervisor. People don't leave companies, Benjamin said, they leave their managers. Managers too often focus on tasks and they're bad with people.
The root of the problem lies in our brains and brain chemistry, he said. The amygdala is the source of emotional memory and manages our fight-or-flight response when threatened. The neo-cortex is where our IQ resides and is the site of working memory.
The amygdala responds to a threat 100 times faster than the neo-cortex can think. We feel before we think. Our fight-or-flight instinct reduces working memory and directs us to do whatever we need to do to survive.
Benjamin called it an "amygdala hijack," a sudden, strong emotional response to a real or perceived threat, except now we're at a jobsite or office and not in danger of being killed and eaten.
A manager who lets his emotions get hijacked triggers a similar response from employees. Some fight back, some shut down and "swallow the truth," while others will say anything they think the other person wants to hear just to get the attack to stop.
The good news is that managers can figure out what their typical default behaviors are when they experience an amygdala hijacking and train themselves into new ones. Sometimes the tried and true method of taking a deep breath and counting to 10 works best. Trying to analyze the problem or asking employees questions sometimes serves to redirect negative energy.
Successful managers recognize that employees get hijacked too and learns how to give performance feedback without the worker feeling attacked.
Benjamin concluded with this quotation from Aristotle: "Anybody can become angry — that is easy. But to be angry with the right person and to the right degree and at the right time and for the right purpose and in the right way — that is not within everybody's power and is not easy."