Leaders with mental toughness need to identify and control emotions, not only of themselves but of others as well. Mental toughness is not ignoring feelings or refusing to express them; instead, it is the emotional intelligence to perceive, use, understand, and manage them.
During a recent interview on the Iron Jen radio show, I was asked how the “touchy-feely” aspect of emotional intelligence was viewed by the FBI agents with whom I worked alongside for 24 years. I would be the first to say that the FBI is not a touchy-feely sort of organization; on the other hand, emotional intelligence is an important tool for agents required to recruit human intelligence (humint) sources and interview suspects.
Many believe that mental toughness is a leader’s ability to plow through emotions and feelings without being touched by them so they can continue to march stalwartly onward. It’s not that simple.
Awareness and curiosity about their own emotions, as well as those of others, places leaders in a stronger position to not only recognize the negative ones but to anticipate how they could spin out of control.
So how do the mentally tough use emotional intelligence?
They label their own emotions and those of others, identify what creates stress and what motivates positive behavior, and finally, listen and talk in ways that resolve conflicts rather than escalate them.
Here are essential 3 mindsets used by FBI agents to develop emotional intelligence:
1. Clued In
Among the first steps in any investigation is putting the subject under surveillance. There are many reasons for this, but one of them is to identify their patterns of behavior. In other words, agents need to be clued in to the activities, behavior, motivation, thinking, and emotions of the subject they are investigating.
Picking apart and analyzing what makes people tick becomes a mindset. Because of this, it is something that can be practiced by anyone at anytime.
Law enforcement officers often look at people around them in restaurants and airports and attempt to figure out their stories—such as what they do for a living, their mood, what they’re thinking—based solely on observation. This simple focused-awareness drill can train a person’s mind to be clued in on what is going on with the people around them.
Getting clued in means moving your awareness level up a notch or two. Learn more about yourself, as well, by asking, “What preoccupies my thinking?” “When am I most comfortable with myself?” “What do I notice first in others?”
Curiosity is an important trait for geniuses, FBI agents working investigations, and anyone who wants to be emotionally intelligent. Curious people have active minds that are always asking questions and searching for answers, instead of passive ones.
A curious mindset is continually expecting and anticipating new information about events and situations. Curious people seek new insight into the behavior of others, as well as themselves.
They do not accept the world as it is without trying to dig deeper beneath the surface around them. This is why interviews and questioning is another essential investigative step for FBI agents. Using open-ended questions by starting them with these words—who, what, when, where, and how—are great ways to unlock information.
The ability to become mentally tough can be attained by anyone with the will and the discipline to do so. It’s not possible to become an expert at anything unless you are disciplined to put in both the time and the effort.
Self-discipline is not an attitude of harshness or limitations. Instead, it is an element of inner strength where you choose what you will make a priority. To become an expert, you will need to stick with it, practice, fail many times, find new approaches to attack the problem, and continue to study in your field until you find a path to success. This takes a discipline that will leave you with such deep skills that when confronted with obstacles and barriers, you will have the mental strength to do things faster, smarter, and better.
Mental toughness is many things and rather difficult to explain. It is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It’s a state of mind—you could call it character in action—Vince Lombardi
Self-awareness is a critical skill for FBI agents who continually seek out ways to overcome obstacles and adversity. Self-awareness is being in touch with emotions. It is not being tough or strong to ignore them.
Acknowledging emotions does not make you weak; instead, it is an essential element of mental toughness (click to tweet).
How have you used emotional intelligence to be a better and stronger leader?
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