Editor’s Column: Listen With Your Head and Your Heart
You’re sitting at your desk, poring over spreadsheet after spreadsheet, making correlations, drawing conclusions and often coming up with more questions than answers. Reports flow in on new vendor possibilities and issues with existing ones that require you to analyze and determine the best course of action. Many tangible matters come across your desk each day that are important or even crucial to your credit union’s overall success.
All of these matters also contribute to stress, an emotion that many people have trouble coping with, but (and because) it can be a powerful feeling. Feeling? Emotions? Those don’t belong in the workplace, especially not a financial institution. Wrong.
There’s no way around it. An interesting article by Daniel Goleman, “The Emotional Intelligence of Leaders” that appeared in the publication Leader to Leader, points out that your brain literally can’t work that way. Everything you know or ever will know passes through a piece of your limbic system, the part responsible for emotions, before it arrives at the cortex, the part that performs logical analysis.
So, yes, the numbers on the spreadsheets make you feel something. That can range from “yippee” to “this is hopeless,” and your reaction to whatever’s going on filters down. Then your members will be greeted by an angry teller or a nervous loan officer. This is not the impression that should be conveyed to members, particularly by representatives of a financial institution.
Unlike your spreadsheets, the brain does not organize anything in clean rows and columns.
According to Goleman, who is a psychologist and prolific author, there are five dimensions to emotional intelligence. If you are self-aware, you’ll recognize that a particular situation may be parallel to something you’ve experienced in the past and that helps form your response today. So when the results of a lending program are not going as planned, your brain automatically thinks back to a time when someone questioned your judgment now that you’re questioning your own. It doesn’t feel good. Unless you’re willing to acknowledge and accept it, the results can be a meeting that turns into a scream-fest because the boss is unwilling to look inward and instead points fingers at everyone else. If you’re certain you’re on the right path, you should be able to lead others down it.
Bullying does no good, so being able to manage your emotions is a great asset to any organization as a whole. Society for Human Resource Management surveyed and discovered that 51% of companies reported workplace bullying, which can negatively affect morale and health care costs among others. There is a practical side to all this mushy stuff.
Workers who are better able to deal with stress also demonstrated higher profitability per square foot, according to a study of a retail chain that Goleman cited in his article.
That doesn’t mean a raised voice every now and then from a normally mild-mannered executive can’t be a positive and effective tool. It just can’t be the only tool. Regular explosions hurt morale and become easier to tune out, which is counter to the intended effect.
Being an optimist also helps, Goleman asserted. Optimists feel a bit more in control and thus are able to regroup after setbacks. Optimists are more driven and outperform others, he wrote. And everyone watches how the leader responds. Self-awareness and self-control are crucial.
Demonstrating empathy and not self-interest is also important in leading any organization. That doesn’t mean you have everyone in for a good cry. But it does mean you need to be able not only to listen to their words but also to read their body language and expressions. You can’t afford to find out too late that things have gone south, degrading into apathy or even sabotage. In the virtual world these connections can be very difficult to maintain, but find creative ways to keep your fingers on the pulse of the people in your organization.
Finally, it’s all about staying connected. Being a leader means recognizing a prevalent feeling among employees and talking about it first, the Goleman article states. If morale seems low, don’t live in denial because you feel it’s your short coming–it’s not about you (or it is but not in the way you’re thinking at that moment). Addressing it will illustrate your self-awareness, your ability to manage emotions, your effort to motivate others and your ability to empathize, thus rounding out Goleman’s five dimensions of emotional intelligence.
Your credit union is not only as strong as its weakest link. Goleman says a great team creates something greater than any single player could. Achieving what consultant Warren Bennis labeled organized genius, Goleman wrote, is your team’s emotional intelligence.