Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Leading by Perceiving Emotions

Bill is gone? I thought to myself. I shouldn't be surprised. He was great at putting a project scope together. He had the most elegant project charts in the company. He was even a good guy… once you got to know him.

I later learned that Bill was fired from Siemens because he was not a "people person," meaning he had low emotional intelligence. How is yours?

Emotional intelligence (EI) is "the ability to carry out accurate reasoning about emotions and the ability to use the emotions and emotional knowledge to enhance thought.” (1) In a review of EI research, Professor John Mayer from the University of New Hampshire reported that high EI scores predict better social relations, decision-making at work, negotiation results, and long-term leadership success. (1) Their findings are consistent with the large body of work conducted by other investigators. (2) In a previous blog, I explained the four major emotional skills reported by Professor Mayer. ( ) These include:

I. Perceive the emotions

II. Use the emotions

III. Understand the emotional future

IV. Manage the emotions

In this blog, I’d like to help you improve the first EI skill in which Bill was probably deficient - perceiving the emotions.

Perceiving the emotions refers to the ability to identify accurately what you and those around you are feeling. Without a strong understanding of emotions, the rest of the other three EI skills would be weak. It's the old garbage in, garbage out. Perceiving the emotions is more than just awareness, it's accurate awareness. Leaders who are highly skilled in this area have the ability to read people, label feelings appropriately, and express the correct emotional signals. Bill was highly wanting here. I remember sitting in meetings with him and not having a clue what he was feeling. It's as if he wore a poker face all day.

Becoming more aware of your own emotions begins with a quick assessment. Please answer the questions below by giving a score of 1 (strongly disagree), 2 (disagree), 3 (agree), or 4 (strongly agree)*:

- It is important to think about feelings.

- Emotions should be felt and noticed.

- I pay attention to how I am feeling.

- I usually make sense of how I am feeling.

- My feelings are clear.

- I know how I am feeling.

Adapted from ‘The Emotionally Intelligent Manager’ page 84* (3)

So, how did you do? If your total score is less than 16, you might want to use a few of the following six tools to increase your awareness of emotions:

1. Write Morning Pages. In her book ‘The Artist’s Way,’ Julia Cameron describes a powerful writing technique called Morning Pages. First thing in the morning, write three pages by hand, non-stop, and fast. Anything that comes to mind write it down, without editing. Don’t think, don’t hesitate, and don’t stop. The key is to keep your hand moving no matter what splats out onto the pages. If it takes you more than 20 minutes, you’re thinking too much. Morning Pages are NOT prose, poetry, or journaling. You shouldn't show them to or share them with anyone. You will be amazed at what you learn about your emotions through your writing. Try it, you might like it.

2. Use the Emotion Scale. Caruso and Salovey suggest that you assess your emotions several times a day, using this scale: (1, 2, or 3 = Definitely Don’t Feel; 4, 5, or 6 = Maybe Feel; 7, 8, or 10 = Definitely Feel)

Happy 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Sad 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Angry 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Anticipating 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Fearful 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Surprised 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Accepting 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Disgusted 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Jealous 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Ashamed 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

3. Pay Attention. As you increase your awareness of your own emotional state, it is also important to understand others’ feelings. The first step in becoming a people reader is to pay attention to what people are saying with their body language and words. Facial expressions can tell you a lot if you focus on the mouth, eyes, and nose. A smiling mouth with no eye crinkles is usually a fake smile. A smile that appears too quickly or with the lips stretched sideways instead of curled upward is also not a real smile.

4. Catch a Movie. Dr. Amy Van Buren recommends that you scan through a movie and stop at any point where there are two people talking. Turn the sound off and watch the scene for about 30 seconds. Next, evaluate the emotion in this scene using the emotion scale above. You may want to compare notes with a partner. Then, watch the scene again with the sound on.

5. Model at Work. Identify a leader at work that you, and others, believe demonstrates high emotional awareness. Find ways to work more closely with the individual. You may even ask them if you could shadow them occasionally.

6. Work With a Coach. A good coach will help you identify an ideal image that you have of yourself, provide feedback regarding your real self at this moment, assist in the development plan to bridge the gap, and coach you through the process of learning new behaviors.

I wish I could have helped Bill. But at least I hope I'm helping you. Let me know how it goes.

Keep on stretching,


1. John Mayer and colleagues, Human Abilities: Emotional Intelligence, ‘Annual Review of Psychology,’ 2008, 59: 507 -- 536.

2. Daniel Goleman and colleagues, ‘Primal Leadership: Realizing the Power of Emotional Intelligence,’ Harvard Business School Press, Boston, Massachusetts, 2002.

3. David Caruso and Peter Salovey: ‘The Emotionally Intelligent Manager: How To Develop and Use The Four Key Emotional Skills of Leadership,’ Josse-Bass, San Francisco, California, 2004.

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