Driving Emotional Intelligence Forward

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Driving is like emotional intelligence. Imagine you are driving along at speed. The road is empty, straight and you are focused. Press the accelerator and go faster. 120kph on a nice smooth road. Everything is stable; everything is fine. You are calm and in control. You are a GREAT driver.

Now change the external variables; put bends in the road, oncoming traffic, icy conditions, 2 kids screaming in the back, other aggressive drivers cutting you up, a foggy window perhaps ……

How do you feel now? Are you still a great driver? Are you still speeding down the road?

If you say 'no, not in these conditions' then, hang on, what changed? YOU didn't change. Other things did but surely, you're still a great driver. Oh, you meant you were great in perfect conditions.

If you say 'yes, I'm still great driver' then, hang on, give me a few minutes to get off the road because you are a liability. You are ignoring the external conditions and you're going to cause an accident.

Good driving is the ability to operate your car well and safely while processing and anticipating changes in the environment. Emotion intelligence (EQ) is the ability to reflect on our own feelings in real-time and manage them, while being conscious of the feelings of others and managing our relationships. Both driving, and EQ, are something we struggled with in the beginning and then began to do unconsciously as we grew older. A toddler throws tantrums until they learn to regulate their emotions to 'norm' levels and a learner driver tentatively changes gears until it becomes an unconscious programme. But what does this mean for you?

First, let's look at what emotions are.

Our brain is composed of billions of neurons and using our senses the body constantly scans the environment for stimuli, moves that information through our nervous system to the brain which processes it and initiates biochemical algorithms in response i.e. emotions. A 2017 study from UC Berkley demonstrated that we all feel 27 distinct emotions ranging from lust to shame and awkwardness to adoration. Wouldn't it be great to get rid of some of the negative emotions; fear of failure, anger at others, debilitating sadness seem very unwelcome so wouldn't we be better off without them?

Well, no. Each emotion has a purpose. They either provoke an action response or communicate to others that we have a need. We are animals and fear can keep us safe by speeding up our responses prompting the action to run away; just like an animal in the wild. We are tribal, and sadness slows us down mentally and physically, helping to communicate our need for healing to the rest of our tribe. Simply put, emotions help humans survive.

Survival isn't as big a priority for most of us in the developed world; at least not the life and death survival our ancestors needed to consider. However, we still need our emotions to motivate us and help us define our purpose and. As automation takes repetitive tasks away, the importance of a person's EQ is being recognised more widely now as a key differentiator in business. EQ adds value in leadership with studies showing a 32% increase in leadership satisfaction in companies implementing EQ practices [1].  EQ adds value to your financial bottom line too. When restaurant managers were measured for EQ, studies showed a 34% greater profit growth in those managers with high EQ [2].  Conversely, the absence of EQ has dire negative consequences for business too. Research from the Centre for Creative Leadership shows that 75% of careers are impacted negatively because of a lack of EQ such as interpersonal issues, poor leadership and inability to adapt to change.

We are lucky to live in an age where pioneering companies are making in-roads into true Artificial Neural Networks (AI) and this has helped us relate our own cognitive function with the same lens. As we programme robots with binary code to 'think' a certain way, we begin to understand the bioneural network of our brains that use biochemical codes to operate. Doesn't it make sense to use what we know to our advantage and create amazing working environments where we can truly connect with each other. Take a moment to think of the best boss or leader you've ever worked for - what made them so awesome? The RocheMartin Emotional Capital instrument defines EQ under 10 headings called competencies:

  1. Self-knowing - being aware of your emotions and what you are feeling.

2. Self-confidence - knowing who you are and actually liking yourself.

3. Self-reliance - having confidence in your own judgement and being personally accountable.

4. Self-actualisation - the ability to plan ahead and visualise the end goal and who you will become in the future.

5. Straightforwardness - how clearly you express yourself while respecting other opinions

6. Relationship skills - gaining and maintaining connection on a professional basis through quality relationships where both parties feeling valued.

7. Empathy - the capacity to be aware of, understand, and appreciate the feelings and thoughts of others.

8. Self-control - taming the toddler and recognising when your reactions are emotionally charged.

9. Adaptability - the ability to adapt your thinking, feelings and actions in response to changing situations and conditions.

10. Optimism - resilience in adversity and seeing opportunities.

Recognise your favourite leader's traits in the above list? I would put money down that the traits that you admired in them were directly connected to understanding themselves, reacting to situations well and understanding their team. Yes that's right, they have high EQ.

And so, you can see that promoting EQ development is just good business sense. Putting a programme in place to drive a high EQ culture across an organisation will have an impact - slowly at first perhaps but soon the language of emotional intelligence will become part of the culture for all staff. And once you know something, you can't unknow it. It changes you and you grow. In this way all staff can become GREAT drivers of their own emotional intelligence.

If you want to read more about Emotional Intelligence then I recommend Daniel Goleman's book 'Emotional Intelligence; Why it can matter more than IQ' - this is the book that started it all back in 1995 and is well worth a read.

Thank you for reading



[1] The 2012 Workplaces Issues Report - Joshua Freedman, 2012, EQ Business, Six Seconds

[2] The Business Case for Emotional Intelligence - Joshua Freedman & Paul Stillman, 2016, EQ Business, Six Seconds

Stephen Naughton