Reducing the Risk of Career Derailment with EQ

Your career is on an upward trajectory. Everything is going well. In fact, your most recent promotion to more senior ranks is evidence that the company has seen your potential. You’re definitely on your way to the top!

However, in quieter moments, you have reflected that this more senior role has been more challenging than you had first thought. In your previous role you were the expert and others looked up to you. This new role is further removed from the day-to-day operations and you rely more on others in order to get things done. Everything seems to take longer and this has started to stress and frustrate you. You’ve also made a few poor decisions in the first few months and you’ve started to defer more and more to your boss. What’s going wrong?

Research has shown strong correlation between emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness. Transformational leaders, who are adept at optimising individual, group and organisational development and innovation, have significantly higher emotional intelligence than leaders who are more transactional in nature. What is even more striking is that low emotional intelligence in certain areas can increase the risk of derailment.

Paying attention to the following four areas will pay dividends in terms of your  leadership effectiveness and avoidance of career-damaging behaviours.

1) Impulse Control: Having low impulse control can have a direct and negative impact on decision-making, a key capability for leaders. This can vary from the “explosive boss” who always seems to act irrationally when certain situations arise to the overly-optimistic leader who can be easily swayed by other’s enthusiasm and neglects to take the time to think things through or do a reality check.

One small step to help you improve: Identify in what situations and/or with which people you find yourself making rash decisions. Perhaps it is when you are tired, or time-pressured. It might even be associated with certain times of the day – are you more impulsive in the morning for example? Once you have identified these circumstances, actively employ a defence strategy such as taking three deep breaths or counting to ten before reacting. It might even be necessary to leave the decision to the next day – “sleeping on it” is often a wise thing to do.

2) Stress tolerance. Being a leader invariably means finding yourself in situations that are potentially very stressful. Being a leader when things are going well is a completely different experience from being a leader when there are major challenges. Colleagues observe and gauge how well a leader copes in a difficult situation. It’s a measure of leadership effectiveness. A leader whose behaviour changes dramatically during stressful situations will struggle to motivate others and provide leadership when it’s needed most.

One small step to help you improve: Start to be more aware of your own stress levels. Stop to ask yourself what are the primary triggers (certain people, situations, meetings) and recognize these in advance so that you are more prepared to deal with the stress when it arises. Next, for each trigger situation, find a coping strategy that will work best in that particular situation (for example, if the trigger is a particular person, re-frame how you feel about the individual; how could you look at this person differently; what do you value about them?)

3) Problem-solving. There are very few problems that don’t have a level of emotional content. If the problem is a “people issue”, then this is even more self-evident. Failing to recognise the role one’s own emotions and the emotions of others are playing (and taking this into account) can lead to poor problem-solving and decision-making.

One small step to help you improve: Take time every week to reflect on your problem-solving. Examine the key decisions made in the last week. For each one, ask yourself how much you relied on your gut instinct. Did you take account of your instincts while still taking the time to step outside of the problem and view it objectively? Where did emotions cloud your judgement? Where did emotions assist you? What should you look out for next time? By becoming more aware of this you will develop a greater sense of how emotions can help you to solve problems and make better decisions.


4) Independence: Finally, the leader who lacks emotional intelligence in the area of independence faces real challenges. If this area of emotional intelligence is at a low level, one finds a leader who is uncertain, appears indecisive, lets others make decisions and is uncertain of their own ideas. They will find it difficult to motivate and inspire others.

One small step to help you improve: Keep a daily/weekly track of key decisions made. Note which decisions were made independently, which involved consultation and which ones were deferred to others for decision.  Look for patterns (people, issues, etc.) and ask yourself if you are applying the correct type of decision-making when to the situations involved. Are you overly reliant on others? Or are you failing to involve others and tend to go it alone too often. Once again, the key is awareness. Take time to reflect and learn.

Overall, the key message here is to set aside time to reflect on your own performance in these key areas. Doing this on a regular basis will increase your emotional self-awareness and help you to steer clear of those derailers!