Emotional Intelligence as coined by Daniel Goldman is defined as recognizing one’s emotions and their effects on others.
Understanding what triggers your emotions determines how others will view you as a leader. Mastering your emotions allows you to become a stronger leader which helps you manage difficult issues in a calm and highly-effective manner. Furthermore Goldman espouses that self-awareness is the first step in building Emotional Intelligence. Having an accurate self assessment is critical in knowing one’s strengths and limitations. Being politically aware is paramount in being able to understand and build relations with people that influence the organizational culture and social networks.
Based on my 30 years of experience, and the experiences shared by many of my female colleagues in leadership, I believe women in leadership in many cases are held to a different standard than our male colleagues when managing emotionally charged issues. When a woman in leadership demonstrates a visionary, results-oriented leadership style in resolving a difficult issue, they are often times viewed as being rigid or autocratic. If female leaders are nurturing they are considered to be too emotional and not able to make difficult decisions. On the other hand, when our male counterparts are viewed as having a visionary and results-oriented leadership style when resolving difficult issues, they are often praised for displaying strong leadership skills and are seen in many cases as role models. I often ask myself, why? Is it because society believes that men should lead and woman should follow? Does society believe that depending on one’s culture, race, or ethnicity you are expected to act a certain way regardless of gender? Does age or experience influence one’s view of women versus men in leadership? This is when I allow my emotional intelligence to effectively guide my actions in dealing with these questions.
As a black female leader in a senior position at a highly selective, private university, I feel when I am dealing with a highly sensitive or challenging issue, I have to be overly attuned to how I am perceived by my staff and colleagues. Therefore, I handle these issues many times by not showing emotion. I am viewed and admired for having a steel resolve when handling difficult issues. Is this a healthy way to handle my emotions? It works for now. However, this is an area that I constantly work to strengthen, as I want to feel more in control of my emotions, but in a healthier and more authentic way.
I have focused on managing my emotions more this year than ever. This year has been great for me professionally, but personally, I have experienced some tragic events including the deaths of several family members, the loss of two close friends and a staff member. I was attending a funeral each month, and sometimes twice a month, while overseeing the daily activities of a $1.7 billion portfolio, large renovations, new construction projects, and reorganizing parts of my organization. This meant I needed to be even more attuned and in control of my emotions, and at all times, even when I felt like showing my true emotions as I was making high-level critical decisions with lasting effects. This tragic level of events allowed me to see parts of my emotions that I thought I had clearly mastered. As a result, I was able to honestly assess what really triggers my emotions and how my emotions impact others. I have also been able to find time and a private place to release my emotions authentically without being judged.
Most of my colleagues are men whom I hold in high regard, and they do not always understand how to support or advise me when I am at my low points. Frankly, many of them do not think I have low points based on how I interact with them. To be honest, I do have low points. However, over time I have learned to embrace my leadership as a woman, and talk about my losses and or difficulties with my team in a way that allows my colleagues and staff to view me as a strong visionary woman in leadership who is also authentic, nurturing, charismatic and results-oriented even when dealing with tough issues. This has been a teachable moment for the woman I mentor as well.
My goal is to always model consistent behavior for my team, even when I may be at a vulnerable state. I have learned that mastering ones emotions does not mean being void of emotion, it simply means being in control of what triggers your emotions and being aware of how your emotions impact others. Being self-aware of your emotions builds trust and respect with team members and colleagues. Finding a safe and private place to release your emotions is extremely healthy.