What do these four scenarios have in common?
1) "Another day, another blow-up by the boss. At least it's not directed at me," thought the CNC machinist as he tried to re-focus on the task interrupted by the loud voice on the other side of the shop.
2) While projecting quarterly sales for her team, the leader of a financial services group thought, "It's better to aim low and make our projection than to aim too high and look like failures."
3) Seeing the trade association's newsletter's headline, the product development team leader sighed. Again, his company's competitor launched this year's new model first. The rest of the afternoon, he brooded on the list of his team's recent failures.
4) In a software company, a project manager was brilliant at his job until the company was bought by another firm. When the new company leadership abruptly shifted their focus to a different market, the project manager couldn't adjust to the new priorities and his productivity declined.
Self-management is the common thread in these scenarios. Each illustrates a situation where the leader is lacking one of the emotional intelligence competencies of self-management:
- Emotional Balance
- Achievement Orientation
- Positive Outlook
Self-management, one of the four domains of my emotional intelligence model, focuses on how an individual handles their emotions.
Let's take a brief look at each of these competencies, why they matter, and questions to ask yourself about your skills with each. To learn more in depth about all 12 emotional intelligence competencies, I recommend my new video series, Crucial Competence: Building Emotional and Social Leadership.
Emotional Balance or Emotional Self-Management is being able to keep disruptive emotions and impulses in check, to maintain your effectiveness under stressful, or even hostile, conditions. With emotional balance, you find ways to manage your emotions.
The CNC machinist's boss who "blew up" showed a lack of this skill. Does it matter if a boss blows up at an employee? Research shows that employees remember most vividly negative encounters they've had with a boss. They remember it much better than the positive encounters.
They also said that after that encounter, they felt demoralized and didn't want to have anything more to do with that boss.
Ask Yourself: How do I handle stress? Does my upset leak out and impact the people around me? What would my coworkers say if asked about how well I manage my emotions?
Achievement Orientation means we strive to meet or exceed a standard of excellence. We look for ways to do things better, set challenging goals, take calculated risks.
The financial services team leader would score low on achievement orientation. Her "aim low" strategy meant she and her team didn't stretch to produce even more. With the achievement competence, you have high standards for yourself and for others. You continually learn how to improve performance by working with your team. The drive to achieve predicts effectiveness in managers.
Outstanding executives set goals, know the steps to attain them, and keep track of how they're doing. Achievement orientation predicts success in jobs like sales, where there's a clear numerical goal and continuous feedback so you can measure how you're doing and change accordingly.
Ask Yourself: What level of goals do you set for yourself? Easy-to-hit targets, ambitious objectives, or unrealistic fantasies? How do your goals impact your motivation and your performance?
Positive outlook is the ability to see the positive in people, situations, and events. It means persistence in pursuing goals, despite setbacks and obstacles. You can see the opportunity in situations where others would see a devastating setback. You see others positively and expect the best from them. You believe that changes in the future will be for the better.
The product development team leader lacked skill in this area, only being able to see the competitor's accomplishment as another failure. Research shows that positive outlook tends to lead to very positive emotions. Countless studies show that positive emotions, in turn, lead to better performance, greater loyalty, higher motivation, and to outstanding customer service.
Ask Yourself: How do you handle "failures"? Do you keep trying new strategies to achieve your goal? When you hear of a change, do you assume it will be for the better or worse?
Adaptability is flexibility in handling change, juggling multiple demands, adapting to new situations with new ideas or innovative approaches. It means you can stay focused on your goals, but easily adjust how you get there. You can meet new challenges and you're nimble in adjusting to sudden change. You're comfortable with the uncertainty that leadership can bring.
The software company project manager's inability to adapt to changes in focus reflects a lack of strength in the adaptability competency. And, his work suffered because of it.
Research shows us that adaptability matters: In follow-ups of MBA students, 5 to 19 years after they graduated, a strength in adaptability predicted their life satisfaction, their career satisfaction, and, in fact, their career success. In a study of financial services sales executives, the more adaptable, the greater their effectiveness is shown by revenue and sales growth.
Ask Yourself: How do you handle change? What is your response when situations change at work? How attached are you to a particular way of working toward your goal? Do you try different strategies?
I encourage you to focus in on one competency in the list above that you'd like to strengthen. You might ask a friend or trusted colleague to give you feedback about your proficiency with that competency. One way to do that is to ask that person to read the brief description in this article and then discuss the questions for that competency.
To learn more, Crucial Competence provides in-depth insight into each of these competencies and all the others in my 12-competency model. The Executive Edge offers practical guidance for developing the distinguishing competencies that make a leader outstanding.