I’ve been thinking about Emotional Intelligence (EI) this week both with my personal reading and after a professional development session. And after some refection I have come to the conclusion that my past opinions and impressions about EI have been wrong. Very wrong. The good news is that unlike my long held perceptions, EI isn’t binary. It’s not something that you do or do not have and nor should it be measured on a scale of low to high. True EI is very situational and rather than being ‘on’ or ‘off’ it is something that we can nurture and leverage (in ourselves and others). My new bottom line is that in addition to EI being an important tool to strong servant leadership, it is one we all can get better at. 

If you haven’t read it yet, I strongly recommend the book Mindset by Carol S Dweck. She has long been admired in the education community and I am reading her book as prep for Forum #3 with Mike Anderson on May 29. (Sign up here). Dweck has done a lot of research and thinking into ‘fixed mindsets’ (believing that abilities are static and cannot change) and ‘growth mindsets’ (believing that abilities can be nurtured and developed). In education, Dwecks’ work was embraced as a way to help students to understand that just because something was hard to learn, it didn’t mean they were ‘dumb.’ Dweck reminds young and not-so-young learners that acquiring a new skill (like math) takes time, effort and external encouragement that acknowledges efforts rather than outcomes. Dweck is expanding my thinking, especially for those of us with growth mindsets, how we can create more inviting spaces for colleagues with fixed mindsets to try new things. As a servant leader, understanding the mindset of those we want to support can make it easier to understand needs and encourage others (and ourselves) out of their comfort zone. 

My other learning about EI this week was from a training session I took with Wiley Publishing learning about their just released Agile EQ DiSC program. 

(We interrupt this blog post for a blatant commercial message. I am a big fan of the DiSC profile system and have been a certified DiSC facilitator for years. DiSC is a personal assessment tool that is grounded in science (unlike some other well known assessment tools) and is a powerful tool to increase self-awareness. DiSC is a common language for teams to understand how we communicate, think about risk, work through challenges and celebrate success. I am really clear in our Pearl Street DiSC sessions that in each individual profile there is no right or wrong, good or bad, only different and different is good. DiSC is not the only instrument good leaders have at their disposal to self reflect and better understand how their actions/thinking impacts those around them. And it is a simple, research-based tool that allows us to have a stronger understanding of our own motivations and EI. Wiley just released a new DiSC profile focused on developing awareness around EI called Agile EQ and this is the training session I sat in this week. If you like to learn more about a DiSC session for your team drop me a note. Commercial interlude over.)

My big takeaway from this training session is that we all have a natural EI state and depending upon the situation draw on it differently. In unique circumstances our natural EI skills will serve us well or not so well. The growth opportunity is to learn to stretch our EI awareness so we can better understand and relate to those with different EI mindsets. So rather than “I do (or do not) have EI”, we need to encourage ourselves, and those we are working with, to embrace the natural EI skills we do have and use them as a starting point to connect with others. 

What hasn’t changed in my thinking around EI is that servant leadership is personal, for ourselves and those we are working with. EI is an amazingly powerful tool to help us remember that it’s not about me. The more understanding I can be of different emotional states, the easier it will be for me to serve both the mission and team.

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