How Leaders Can Use Emotional Intelligence To Predict Their Success

February 15th, 2015 by LaRae Quy

Few could accuse the FBI of being soft and fluffy, and yet emotional intelligence is at the heart of most successful FBI investigations. 

Discomfort zone - duckling

The ability to recognize, control, and express emotions was often the single factor that led to my success in recruiting foreign intelligence officers to work for the U.S. government. It’s also played an essential role in recruiting human intelligence (humint) sources from among the business community.

By remaining alert for how people reacted to different topics of conversation, I gained an insight into how their emotions and thoughts drove their behavior.

While the FBI is constantly training agents how to do their job better, I learned about the importance of emotional intelligence by observing squad mates who failed to demonstrate it.

They were the ones who failed to develop humint sources or get close to the subject of their investigation—they could not break through barriers and develop rapport with people. Not only that, they often had a particular lack of self-awareness—a wreck waiting to happen to anyone, not just those working counterintelligence cases. 

The way in which we react to obstacles, misfortune, and adversity is often the result of habit rather than deliberate choice. With a little training and awareness, we can develop the mental toughness needed to make smarter choices and be more successful.

Here are 5 ways leaders can use emotional intelligence to predict their success:

1. Engage In Psychological Fortune Telling

Our preoccupation with being happy all the time can actually lead us to expect too much from everyday experiences.

Psychologist Maya Tamir recommends that instead of making the pursuit of happiness your guiding principle in stressful situations, you should think about your long-term goal first. Once you’ve clearly identified your long term goal, you can choose the emotion you want to experience in that situation. 

For example, leaders who are under pressure to make a compromise can use emotional intelligence to opt for the emotion or feeling that will help them be more successful.

TIP: Leaders with high emotional intelligence do not always choose the pleasant emotion; instead, they opt for the one that keeps them moving down the road and toward their long-term goals.

2. Early Intervention Is Key

Sometimes we’re thrown into situations where there is no exit strategy. But often, many of us could avoid emotional events by simply anticipating them and taking pro-active measures. We’re better off if we can nip the monster in the bud before it overtakes us.

There is always someone with an irksome laugh or annoying habit to deal with, so develop buffers if you know you’re going to be in their company.

Situations that trigger negative emotions often leave people feeling depressed, especially when they could have been averted. 

Many events that produce stress and negative emotions are uncontrollable, such as accidents or illnesses. Many of them, however, can be managed if leaders are savvy about how to anticipate them and intervene.

TIP: Identify and address your source of stress proactively rather than try to deal with the emotional fallout later. 

3. Avoidance Is Not An Option

It is not always possible to run from a negative situation. Given a choice, most of us would choose to avoid recurring situations that evoke unpleasant or sad feelings. Dealing with people or situations that continually bleed annoying emotions can be exhausting, so we seek distractions or look away with relief.

Studies have shown that those who know the situation is likely to rear it’s ugly head again in the future but have the grit to stick with it, and pierce through the negativity, are far more likely to respond in ways that are constructive. 

The reason is this: when the situation is recurring, you bolster your brain’s ability to observe and detach from inner reactions so you can strengthen emotional management. 

TIP: Identify those situations in your life where avoidance is not an option. You know your emotional buttons will be pushed. Punch through the negativity of the situation so you can find ways to manage your emotional reactions.

4. Reframe Your Emotion

Often, the key to managing emotions is simply to reframe them. Anger and fear are both freighted with energy; so, instead of expressing them in a negative way, channel them into a more positive one. Is a lump of coal or a diamond in the making?

For example, if you are afraid of public speaking, reframe that nervous energy as “getting pumped” for the next performance.

Managing your emotions is a skill; you learn it better when you practice it over time. The same goes for reframing them—it takes intentional training. Often, we let the energy from our emotions decide how we react. We do not intentionally cultivate the emotions that will serve us best.

TIP: Research in Neuroplasticity has shown us that we can literally re-wire our brain by changing the way we think about negative situations. If we can take responsibility for own brain, then we can also take responsibility for our own emotions.

5. Let It All Hang Out

But what if someone insults you? You cannot avoid feeling hurt no matter how hard you try to control your response. 

There are times when we need to express our emotions because holding them back takes a toll.

Psychologist Roy F. Baumeister conducted a series of experiments where people who suppressed their emotions (both happy and sad) tended to give up sooner on later projects. Resisting emotional  responses had taxed their willpower and energy.

TIP: Other research has found that people who suppress their emotions all the time have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease and suffer from more broken relationships, chronic pain, tinnitus, and diabetes than the rest of the population.

Leaders who use emotional intelligence to anticipate their reactions, visualize the outcomes, and identify the actions that could change future feelings are in a better position to predict their success.

How has emotional intelligence helped you to be more successful?

© 2015 LaRaeQuy. All rights reserved.

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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” and “Secrets of a Strong Mind.”

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7 Responses to “How Leaders Can Use Emotional Intelligence To Predict Their Success”

  1. LaRae – This is such a powerful statement… “The ability to recognize, control, and express emotions was often the single factor that led to my success…”

    Understanding ourselves and understanding others leads to great strategy and outcomes!

  2. Karin Hurt says:

    Excellent list. I particularly liked your thoughts on early intervention. It’s so true, we often can’t avoid a negative scene, but anticipating our reactions and preparing for a better response can really be valuable.

  3. Terri Klass says:

    Loved your post, LaRae as emotional intelligence is essential to surviving our imperfect work and personal lives!

    I have learned to regulate my emotional intelligence by becoming a more strategic listener instead of just quickly responding. It allows me time to process what is really happening and whether it may be a familiar situation that I have dealt with before. Allowing our initial reactions to take over can compromise the outcomes we want to achieve.

    I think your idea of reframing can be so helpful. When I am frustrated I take the negative energy and try to push it into positive actions that can help me cope.

    Thanks LaRae!

    • LaRae Quy says:

      Great point about being a good listener as a component of emotional intelligence, Terri!

      Curbing our initial reactions really does take time and practice, but if we’re measured in our responses, it allows us to process each piece of information as it comes—instead of blurting out a response that may or may not move us forward…

  4. Alli Polin says:

    Excellent advice on how to tap into Emotional Intelligence, LaRae. Over the years I’ve also learned when I need a time out… to breathe and get some perspective before putting myself back in the fray. It’s not walking away, it’s finding both inner strength and peace to move forward.

    Also, I agree, early intervention is key. You can’t avoid every situation that will tick you off but you can be prepared for who you want to be during the encounter.

    ~ Alli

    • LaRae Quy says:

      So true about intervention, Alli. As you say, we can’t always avoid our situations, but we can be strategic in preparing for them.

      Sometimes it’s as easy as sitting away from an annoying person—and I confess, I usually look at the mix of people before I sit down at a table…is this going to be the best place for me? Other times, you’re in the midst of it, but thinking ahead of how to respond helps to keep me focused on what is really important.

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