Denny Smith
Leadership and Development Trainer

Quite simply, “emotional intelligence” is the ability to keep yourself under control, even when you don’t want to.” For those who desire a more academic approach it may be defined as “The capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically,” or “Skill in perceiving, understanding and managing emotions or feelings.” Regardless of definition, it is a key ingredient of successful leadership and the greatest determiner of a happy and peaceful demeanor, both on and off the job.

The Carnegie Institute conducted a study in the 60s that lasted five years at a cost of one million dollars, which in those days was a pretty big chunk of change. They determined that 85% of a person’s success was dependent on your attitude and your ability to deal with people. Whether that should be 85/15 or 60/40 or whatever may be up for debate, but I think most of us subscribe to the fact that our attitudes and people skills are an important part of our existence. Much depends on your level of “emotional intelligence;” your ability to control your emotions rather than to let them control you. This is a learnable skill but as Socrates reminds, all learning is self-learning. Mastery of self-control is totally a do it for yourself project, but an endeavor well worth pursuing.

Under Middle Age/Over Middle Age
Before we begin our discussion, I have some advice based on whether you are under or over middle age. (You decide what that means.) If you are under middle age, don’t wait until you’re in your sixties to learn this stuff — do it now. If you are over middle age, know that it is never too late to learn. I am of the vintage where I don’t buy green bananas, and I have had more growth in the past four years than at any other time in my life. It’s not only doable, it’s exciting. So many times I ask myself, “Why didn’t you learn this in your 20s?” Change is Possible I grew up during the authoritarian era and most of my coaches were hard-nosed task masters. The Vince Lombardi’s and Bobby Knights of the world were my coaching idols, so much of my coaching style came from that mold. It seemed like the way to go because, after all, they won championships and everyone was happy with the results. Consequently, my dealings with people were sometimes less than cordial. I could give a pep talk with the best of them, but when it came to dealing with problems, I would let them know in no uncertain terms who was in charge. The message was pretty clear that you better not cross me. Let me repeat, I was a pretty positive person but often my ability to deal calmly with problems left something to be desired. Then I learned that there was another way so I went to work. It took a long time and there were some setbacks along the way, but I have made significant progress and I am thrilled with the new outcomes.

Awareness (Mindfulness) is Step #1
“Awareness precedes change.” Before you can change anything, you have to be aware of the behavior you want to change. Once you make a commitment to change, “Become aware of your awareness.” I did say “Become aware of your awareness.” Be your own observer and constantly monitor what you are thinking and doing. Be mindful of yourself, your surroundings and those around you; then respond with kindness and understanding. You don’t have to agree with everyone, but you can always exercise civility. As you deal with an upsetting situation, ask yourself, “How am I behaving right now? Am I under control? Am I using a harsh tone of voice or is my voice controlled and calm? Am I approachable? Am I behaving like a skillful leader or acting like a dictator? Am I open to working with the other person or am I in attack mode? Am I showing respect to the other person?” If you don’t like your answers, you have the power to change immediately. It may take a little time and a lot of practice to master, but it is attainable and the results are phenomenal. You will enjoy more peace of mind, more patience, better relationships both on and off the job, and you will get a bigger kick out of this great game we call life.

Talk to Yourself
As you monitor your behavior, get in the habit of coaching yourself to move towards your desired response. Self-talk is powerful. You can assure yourself, “I am upset right now, but I have the ability to maintain my composure, keep my tone of voice under control and show respect to the other person.” Here is a patience affirmation from one of our previous visits you can use as a reminder. When you are ready to lose it, catch yourself, take a deep breath and remind yourself; “I can’t help the way I feel right now, but I can control the way I think and act.” My wife was putting a train set together for our then four year old grandson and things weren’t going according to Hoyle. She said, “Dylan, I don’t know if I can do this.” He said, “Grandma, take a deep breath, clear your mind, and work very, very slowly.” She says she can’t count the number of times that she used that affirmation to keep herself calm when dealing with upsetting situations at work. From the mouths of babes often comes profound advice. Please remember that when we talk about professional improvement, we are not viewing it from standpoint of deficiency. You are already good or you wouldn’t be where you are. We simply recognize that learning is ongoing and that life is an evolving adventure. Buckle up and enjoy the ride. So go for it. Embark on a quest to continually hone your leadership capabilities and increase your emotional intelligence. Perhaps reviewing some of our previous articles can serve as helpful reminders. “Be Your Own Best Coach,” “How to Carve a Duck” and others are available online here:

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