Emotional Intelligence

Thoughts for Military Leaders

Emotional Intelligence is the hottest leadership catch phrase, but what does it actually mean? At its core, emotional intelligence, or EQ, is a set of characteristics or traits possessed by effective and influential leaders. Emotionally intelligent leaders have a heightened awareness of their strengths and weaknesses and can adjust their leadership approach after reading group dynamics. A recent article defined EQ as consisting of four domains: self awareness, self management, social awareness, and relationship management. This article expands this framework by describing attributes within the context of Army Leadership.

March 20, 2015 – Photo by U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Nathan Lipscomb

Self Awareness – Know Your Strengths and Weaknesses. Chapter 7 of ADRP 6-22 discusses this characteristic in depth, where “self-awareness has the potential to help leaders become better adjusted and more effective.” Leaders should gain an outside perspective of their capabilities and also take part in critical reflection of their action. Self awareness is challenging enough in a static environment, but in the Army we constantly shift between formal and informal leadership positions, varied teams, and diverse settings. An emotionally intelligent leader constantly assesses their strengths and weaknesses, anticipating personal leadership gaps for future employment.

Self Management – Lead by Example. This domain describes an individual’s ability to manage conflict and stress while maintaining a positive and objective outlook. In the military, an alarming number of organizational level staff officers maintain an overwhelmingly negative and pessimistic outlook. These leaders often fail to effectively handle stress and become individuals whose subordinates avoid with bad news. Emotionally intelligent leaders maintain a positive outlook, especially in highly stressful situations. In addition, emotionally intelligent leaders are those who junior officers approach for advice regarding challenges and roadblocks. These leaders maintain a positive outlook with focus on organizational and individual goals.

Social Awareness – Reading the Group Dynamic. This domain describes a leader’s ability to understand their team or audience. In the Army’s social context, we often describe the environment of an organization or team as its climate. An organization with a positive climate appreciates its members, treats them fairly, and builds an inclusive team with shared values. Inversely, a negative climate is one where individual opinions and ideas are not valued, thus members revert to individual motives and ideals. Climate is not binary, or defined as simply positive or negative. Rather, climate is a spectrum of cumulative organizational tendencies and behaviors. A socially aware leader evaluates the group dynamic in any organization by understanding climate and other organizational characteristics. Additionally, leaders possessing effective emotional intelligence intuitively adjust their leadership approach based on the social dynamic. Often, leaders who struggle with emotional intelligence have a gap between social and self awareness. In other words, they are unable to understand how their actions impact their team.

Relationship Management – Bringing out the Best in People and Teams. This domain emphasizes the importance of formal and informal leadership. Regardless of rank or position, every individual in the military has the ability to lead up, positively influencing a team and contributing to mission success. As organizational leaders, we begin to influence group dynamics through direct leadership and coaching subordinates. Effective organizational leaders create a culture of learning in every team, where discourse is encouraged and mistakes are seen as learning opportunities. Organizational leaders also contribute to a staff’s reaction to conflict. Though conflict or friction is often perceived in a negative connotation, effective staff leaders treat friction as an opportunity for innovation and creativity. Finally, organizational leaders contribute to the long-term success of the profession of arms by participating in mentorship relationships with subordinate leaders.

Emotional intelligence is not an end state but rather an assessment of leadership progression, providing a road map for improvement and growth. No two positions are the same, therefore leaders most continue to grow, adapt, and develop their skills to bring out the best in a team.

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