Mindfulness - Leadership Tool to Emotional Intelligence
Published at The Smart Manager Magazine
Emotional-intelligence skills support collaboration, more open communication, more transparency and less posturing, less ego, and more people working for the greater good and for the purpose of the organization succeeding.*
Mindfulness forms an integral part of emotional intelligence which has become a key leadership trait for navigating in today’s tumultuous business landscape.
Risk, uncertainties, and disruption on one hand and stress, anxiety, and worry about the future on the other, are giving sleepless nights to business leaders who are operating in today’s era of transformation. Hence, it is critical for them to manage their emotions while they tread this challenging path.
Research by Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, suggests that mere 33% of job success is attained due to IQ and technical skills while EQ contributes as high as 66% to a professional’s high performance. At the leadership level, it is not surprising to know that 15% of a leader’s success can be attributed to IQ and technical skills while 85% is based on EQ.
Being smart (IQ) is critical for taking the right business decisions and making a compelling argument to get others on board with a direction, while keeping people on the move and executing on that direction is mostly dependent on EQ.
Constant exposure to stress, anxiety, and worry can make leaders impulsive, argumentative, arrogant, risk averse, or avoidant. These and many other related derailers can emotionally hijack leaders, leading to wrong decisions, strained relationships, and a poor reputation in the organization.
The cause of emotional reactions has neurological evidence. The neocortex and cortex are the rational portions of the human brain, responsible for a higher level of thinking, planning, decision-making, and problem solving. The limbic portion, the emotional center, is the storehouse of all the experiences since birth. It allows to carry experiences forward to speed reactions to situations.
For example, if you have been in an accident, the sound of screeching brakes is stored in the limbic portion. When you hear it again, the brain instantly sends out a distress signal, leading you to slam on your brakes or tightly grip the steering wheel. This part of the brain is always sending messages throughout the body. It can cause physical reactions such as stomach tightness, neck pain, flushed skin, sweating, a quivering voice, etc.
Data flows freely between the limbic and neocortex/ cortex portions. As the limbic portion works faster than the neocortex/cortex, it can take over rational thoughts. While this helps identify danger and trigger flight in hazardous situations (to the physical being), it can also trigger similar reactions in other discomforting situations further leading to emotional hijacking.
Emotional intelligence is a partnership between the limbic and neocortex/cortex portions of the brain. It guides you so that you can fully execute your intentions rather than have them hijacked. Mindfulness helps in strengthening this partnership.
It is a state of active and open attention to the present. When one is mindful, one observes thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them. Instead of letting life pass by, mindfulness helps one live in the moment and be more perceptive to experience. This aids in effective listening, building clarity of thought, effective decision making, and strengthening relationships.
How to become more emotionally intelligent
Leaders can begin strengthening this partnership by focusing inward and creating a deliberate practice of being aware of the emotions they are experiencing. For every emotion, there is a physiological response. You feel angry and your heart quickens. Getting familiar with these physiological indicators will help leaders gauge emotions arising in a specific moment. Mindfulness increases awareness of these physiological signals.
Research shows that people spend almost 47% of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are doing. Often you will notice that the body is in the present but the mind is not. It is either regretting the past or getting worried about the ambiguous future. It is difficult to be aware of the present and tap the resources. Having recognized its importance, many organizations are already investing in training employees on mindfulness.
Chade-Meng Tan has called this ‘high-resolution perception’. Sharpened attention builds high-resolution perception into the cognitive and emotive processes. This enables better observation of the thought stream and processing of emotion with clarity, and the ability to do so objectively from a third-person perspective. Thinking about the past and future has important uses like learning and planning but comes at an emotional cost and can contribute to stress and feelings of being overwhelmed.
Here are some techniques to transform from ‘mindfull’ to ‘mindful’:
Avoid multitasking. Research has proven that the human brain does not have the power to do multiple tasks; its capacity is reduced by 37% if a person engages in more than one task at a time. So, when you realize you are multitasking, stop yourself and focus on one task at a time.
Hot buttons or triggers can disturb the equilibrium of the mind and flood the brain with emotions which can diminish effectiveness. Be aware of the environment, personalities, events, words, phrases, or situations that lead to a negative emotional state. Be mindful of triggers. Internal chatter, also known as self-talk can take you away from the present.
Tune into self-talk that turns into either positive or negative voices which can disturb your mindfulness—listen to the repetitive patterns that influence your behavior. Adelle Lynn talks about positive and negative voices such as self-doubt, optimism, perfectionism, panic/drama, revenge, creativity, pleaser, victim, etc., in her book The EQ difference.
Create new mental habits
Appoint a self-coach who will provide guidance and wisdom, as and when required; constantly monitor your actions, help you stay in the present, and alert you when the body is in the present but the mind is not. To shift your attention to the present, focus on the sensations on any part of your body. Do so until your mind releases the chain of thoughts you are caught in.
Reflect. Reflect. Reflect. Keep a journal to help recognize emotions in various situations. As you add to your journal and reflect on these emotions during meetings or interactions, you can improve your understanding of yourself.