Mar 15th 2010
By Steve Osborne, MBA, CSPM, CPBA, TriMetrix-certified
Last month we introduced you to the concept of Emotional Intelligence (EI). We made the connection between CPAs’ Emotional Quotients (EQ) and their success. In that article we defined EI and explained the importance of a high EQ in today’s business environment. We also promised to expand on the concepts of EI and provide some practical strategies for increasing your EQ scores.
But first, let’s step back and look at why emotional intelligence is so important to business success in the decade ahead. It’s been extensively documented that EI skills are critical for successful leadership. In fact, they are more of an indicator of success than technical skills or analytical reasoning skills (IQ).
In the American Institute of CPA’s (AICPA) 2011 Vision Project, “people skills” were identified as one of the most important areas of development for up-and-coming leaders in the profession.
Another study at a large public accounting firm revealed that partners “with significant strengths in self-management contributed 78 percent more incremental profit than partners who did not have these skills." While that was only one of the EQ components enumerated, those partners with strong social skills had added 110 percent more to profit than those with only self-management skills. “Conversely, CPAs with only significant analytical reasoning skills contributed just 50 percent more incremental profit," according to the study.
The study confirms that partners with high social skills trump those with high analytical skills and bring more profit to the firm. Even more relevant is that studies now indicate that leaders and managers with high EQ are better equipped to lead their firms through times of turmoil, and change the exact environment in which most firms and their clients now find themselves. The business leaders who will successfully lead us from the recession to long-term prosperity are those with a high EQ.
Increasing your EQ
Back to the components of EI and increasing your EQ. The good news is that unlike IQ, which cannot be increased in any significant way during a person’s lifetime, EQ can be increased through study and practice.
Your EQ is made up of two basic components: personal competencies and social competencies.
Personal competencies are comprised of self-awareness and self-management (awareness and management of your emotions). Social competencies are comprised of social awareness and relationship management (awareness and management of others’ emotions). In this article we’ll explore the area of self-awareness and share some practical strategies for increasing yours.
This is the definition of self-awareness, according to Emotional Intelligence 2.0, a book by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves: “Self-awareness is your ability to accurately perceive your own emotions in the moment and understand your tendencies across situations. It includes staying on top of your typical reactions to specific events, challenges, and people.”
In other words, are you aware of your emotions, the effect they have on your decision-making process, and are you able to control them in stressful circumstances? Some would say that without good self-awareness, we are not going to be effective managers of our emotions, or those of others. Self-awareness essentially is the building block to success in the other areas of emotional intelligence.
The science has been done. We are, for the most part, emotional beings. When a stimulus enters our body, through any or some of the five senses, it travels to our brain via the spinal cord and enters the part of our brain called the amygdala where emotional responses are generated. From there it goes to the part of the brain where reasoning and analytical thought occurs. So, physically, we are wired to feel emotion immediately and then the reasoning part of the brain takes over. During the time the stimulus travels through the amygdala, chemicals are shot into our blood stream producing a physical response. This is exhibited in the flight or fight behavior of our not-so-distant ancestors.
These chemicals affect our thinking and have an effect on our decision making. To be aware of these physical changes within us allows us to mitigate the spontaneous and detrimental knee-jerk reactions we have to certain situations in our work life.
Under stress, the emotional component of our decision making is increased. The resulting impact on our fellow team members or direct reports can be harmful to our relationships and, consequently, to the success of any projects we are working on.
Strategies for self-awareness
Self-awareness is the ability to be conscious of the immediate emotional response we have to a situation so we are able to use those emotions in a positive way. Let’s look at some strategies we can use to become more self aware.
Most of us were brought up to deny our feelings (especially men). To show emotions was considered a weakness, so our emotions were buried. A consequence is that we are not in touch with our feelings and the effect they have on our behavior. The first step to self-awareness is to recognize that the basic emotions – anger, happiness, sadness, fear, and shame – make up everyday life.
Being able to first recognize how we are feeling in the moment and then suspend our reaction for a short period of time so the reasoning part of the brain can take over will have a significant effect on the quality of decisions you make.
How do we do that during times of stress, deadlines, and peer pressure? Here are some ways according to Emotional Intelligence 2.0:
- Stop treating your feelings as good or bad – “Suspending judgment of emotions allows them to run their course and vanish.”
- Know who or what pushes your buttons – “Knowing why your buttons are what they are opens doors to managing your reactions to your triggers.”
- Stop and ask why you do the things you do – “The better you understand why you do the things you do, the better equipped you’ll be to keep your emotions from running the show.”
- Spot your emotions in books, music, or movies – “Finding your emotions in the expression of artists allows you to learn about yourself and discover feelings that are often hard to communicate.”
- Seek feedback – “Self-awareness is the process of getting to know yourself from the inside out and the outside in.”
- Get to know yourself under stress – “Your self-awareness in times of stress should serve as your third ear to listen to your body’s cries for help. Your body speaks volumes when you push too hard. Take the time to recognize these signals and recharge your emotional battery before your stress causes permanent damage to your system.”
Those are just a few strategies for increasing your self-awareness. Change does not happen overnight. It takes a consistent effort over time. The learning occurs in the moment when emotions are generated and we experience the flush of emotion. Using any or some of the strategies above will help increase your effectiveness as a leader and communicator.
Before you can know if you are making progress in this area, it’s important to know your starting point. There are a number of assessments available for quantifying your EQ score. If you want to see what your EQ is, contact [email protected] for a free assessment. Once you have the starting point you can chart your progress. In today’s complex business world it’s no longer optional – it’s essential – that leaders acquire skills in emotional intelligence.
Our next article in the series will look at self-management and strategies for increasing the ability to manage your emotions, make better decisions, and ultimately move to peak performance.
About the author:
Steve Osborne, MBA, CSPM, CPBA, TriMetrix-certified, has been working with the accounting profession for more than 25 years. He is cofounder of the Mentor Plus Consulting Accounting RoundTable. He has a wealth of experience in human capital management. He is a certified mentor with EQMentor.com and holds various certifications in behavioral and values analysis. He can be contacted at [email protected].
This article is the second of six parts on emotional intelligence.