A common misconception people often have when they think of Emotionally Intelligent people is an image of a likable person who is generally labeled as “nice”.
While being perceived as a nice individual can certainly be one outcome of developing high emotional intelligence, it isn’t necessarily the end result. In fact, a balanced Emotional Intelligence requires authentic relationship building and some aspects of that process don’t feel all that nice at all.
Emotional Intelligence requires development in all five dimensions of EQ. These include Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Motivation, Social Awareness and Social Regulation. While building strong relationships start with having a strong awareness of your own emotions and the ability to control them paired with a positive outlook and genuine empathy for others, the buck doesn’t stop there. Often, those who have well-developed traits in these areas are spoken of as very nice people. They are probably well liked and pleasant to work for.
Leaders with these qualities may often be held up as models of high EQ. After all, they likely have high scores in four out of the five EQ dimensions. However, if these traits aren’t paired with some skill at Social Regulation, this type of leader may possess an inflated sense of their own efficacy and relationships with direct reports that appear to be quite positive on the surface that actually lack authenticity and will eventually start to crack.
John is a middle manager in a large company who manages a team of creatives. He is well-liked and fits the above description to a T. However, he conflates his need to be a hero with displaying empathy for his direct reports. He sets high standards and his team consistently meets deadlines and completes projects on time. However, this year, the team’s performance has taken a noticeable nose-dive. It turns out that while they appear to be a high functioning group, they have been hitting targets due to John’s tendency to step in and take over when individuals can’t hit the mark. John’s “nice” leadership approach isn’t sustainable.
When a team member expresses anxiety that they won’t be able to meet standards, John acknowledges their concerns. He is able to see it from their point of view. He remains positive and ensures them that they will figure out a way to succeed. The problem is, John is so wrapped up in being a supportive boss that he doesn’t practice strong Social Regulation.
John avoids confrontation and is afraid of communicating hard truths like pointing out that sometimes the solution is that his team members need to work harder. He likes being known as the “nice” boss. Instead of communicating expectations clearly and collaborating with his direct reports to help them find solutions to their problems, he steps in and picks up the slack. This unsustainable approach may get short-term results, but in the end, John lacks the ability to influence others authentically and is over-compensating for that by doing work that his team members should be doing.
In reality, the nicest thing John could do is work on his Social Regulation skills. By strengthening his ability to communicate expectations while also expressing empathy, he will do his team members a much greater service. His relationships with his Direct Reports will not hinge on a reputation as being “nice”, but as being a strong and empathetic leader who empowers his team members and influences them to achieve big things even when they doubt themselves. Not only will they grow in their own skills and confidence, but they will respect John’s honesty and their relationship will be built on an authentic dynamic rather than a sugar-coated one that holds everyone back from true growth and achievement.
It may take time for John to develop this trait. But until he attends to this shortcoming, his team is likely to fall apart and John will struggle to maintain his reputation as an effective leader who gets results.
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