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Primal Leadership, Emotional Intelligence, And Self-Improvement For Entrepreneurs

Many years ago, while sitting in a college cafeteria munching a sandwich and waiting to take a chemistry test with about 1,000 other students, I noticed a young blond lady sit down next to a studious-looking foreign student a few tables away. I could overhear their conversation as I ate my sandwich, and it went something like this:

Young Blond Lady: "Hi. Are you all prepared for the test?"

Studious-Looking Foreign Student: "Hi. I hope so. How bout you?"

Young Blond Lady: "Not as well as I'd like. ...I'm sorry, but I forgot to bring your notebook."

Studious-Looking Foreign Student: "But, the test is today. I need that notebook! Damn! How could you forget that?! This is important! It's not something you can forget!"

Young Blond Lady: "I'm sorry...."

Studious-Looking Foreign Student: "You're stupid! You're a stupid, stupid girl!! ..."

The guy flew into a little verbal mini-rage over not having his precious chemistry notebook. It didn't take a Sherlock Holmes to realize he had lent her the notebook to study for the test, she had left it at home, but now he wanted it, because the test was open book and notes were allowed. The young lady was shocked by her acquaintance's behavior and rightfully so.

My first thought was: "Gosh, this guy's a real ****." His behavior was so unexpected that I remember the incident to this day. Clearly, if he ever became a boss, he'd abuse his direct reports, if they angered him. He probably wouldn't ever get to be a boss, however, because he'd have to deal with superiors first, and if he acted like that, he'd be fired on the spot. So, he'd have to swallow his angers and frustrations, and he'd probably have a heart attack and die before he got to be thirty.

Today, we'd say that the student lacked emotional intelligence or EI. He didn't understand that relationships are more important than chemistry notebooks. He didn't know how to deal with his emotions in a productive way. Instead, his emotions hijacked his behavior and damaged his personal relationships. The student could have had straight A's and be brilliant, but after his notebook tirade, suitable for a two-year old, not a college student, I couldn't imagine a company wanting to hire him.

Primal Leadership: Realizing The Power Of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis, and Anne Mckee argues that great leaders merge emotional intelligence with intellect. Leadership skills can be learned by improving emotional intelligence.

Goleman, Boyatzis, and Mckee say great leaders are masters of self-awareness, self-management, empathy, social awareness, and relationship management, while leaders who lack those skills often run amuck.

A leader who is unaware of his or her anger over a situation, for example, might not be able to control that emotion. And, a lack of control creates a poor and unproductive work environment, because employees adopt the mood of their leader.

In one study, the authors evaluated the factors contributing to each partner's profit in an accounting firm. While strengths in analytical reasoning added 50 percent more to a partner's incremental profit, a strength in self-management added an amazing 390 percent more incremental profit, or about $1.5 million per year.

In addition to managing emotions in ourselves, we must be empathetic and acknowledge emotions in others. Goleman, Boyatzis, and Mckee write: "The triad of self-awareness, self-management, and empathy all come together in the final EI ability: relationship management. Here we find the most visible tools of leadership—persuasion, conflict management, and collaboration among them. Managing relationships skillfully boils down to handling other people's emotions. This, in turn, demands that leaders be aware of their own emotions and attuned with empathy to the people they lead."

Goleman, Boyatzis, and Mckee argue that most of the money spent learning leadership is wasted, because traditional leadership education focuses upon neocortex (or intellectual) learning, while true leadership is based upon emotions and resides in the more primitive, limbic brain.

Great leaders were found to acquire their leadership skills, not through formal study, but through experience, practice, and reflection. Most of us are imperfect leaders, because we learn leadership haphazardly. But, there is hope.

Goleman, Boyatzis, and Mckee say that we can improve our emotional intelligence and leadership if we do three things: "Bring bad habits into awareness, consciously practice a better way, and rehearse that new behavior at every opportunity until it becomes automatic...."

The authors tell us that to properly motivate ourselves to grow as leaders, we should acquire an image of the person we would like to be, as a leader and as a person. Then, work toward becoming that ideal image.

While an image of an ideal is great motivation for an individual, Goleman, Boyatzis, and Mckee say a group or organization has a collective emotional intelligence and emotional climate that can only be improved by first focusing upon the present reality of the group's interactions. Ideal images at a corporate level tend to be viewed as mission statements—meaningless babble with no relevance to the day-to-day world. A new leader who tries to lead a group without an understanding of the group's present emotional climate is probably destined to fail.

To improve group interactions, leaders must tune into the emotional climate of the group, reinforce group members when they help build the group's emotional intelligence, and diplomatically prevent anyone from poisoning the group's emotional atmosphere.

Goleman, Boyatzis, and Mckee point out that an estimated 100,000 deaths occur in U.S. hospitals each year due to preventable medical errors, such as routine prescription errors. The authors attribute many of these errors to the hierarchical command-and-control culture that exists in hospitals.

They quote a physician to demonstrate their point: "'In the culture of hospitals, a nurse who corrects a doctor—telling him he wrote too many zeros in an order for a patient's meds—can get her head bitten off.'" Sadly, nurses pick up implicit cues from the culture that they aren't to correct doctors. Very few individuals are so strong that they buck an entire organization.

I never learned what Mr. Chemistry Notebook majored in—maybe, he was pre-med. But, I feel bad for thinking that he was a *****. That wasn't a particularly productive thought. For all I know, he was a good guy. It's just that he didn't know how to manage his emotions. And, that can be learned.