Emotions are contagious, by Daniel Goleman

Emotions are contagious. So what about, through our interaction with everyone, everyday, we leave people feeling just a little bit happier that before we met them? This is how Daniel Goleman ended his speech at the conference I attended last week. And I believe it’s a brilliant simple food for thought.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and why it matters

Daniel Goleman started by saying that with an IQ of above 120, it won’t make any difference in job advancement. In CXO roles, 80 to 100% of the competence matrix needed is related to EQ. You need a high EQ in order to be able to inspire, motivate people and deal with them for performance.

We have three main areas in our brain dealing with IQ and EQ:

  • pre-frontal cortex: the part of the brain dealing with strategy, planning and execution
  • limbic system: or the emotions center
  • amygdala: the part of the brain responsible for making us feel safe, so that we can focus then on things the emotions and logical centers of our brain require from us

In today’s world the most important dangers we face are the social ones. We might be left without a job or we might feel undermined and on the edge of something important to us. Someone taking credit for our work, not being listened to or not having a chance to state our opinion when it matter to us. This is when the amygdala feels hijacked.

And when the amygdala is out of her safe zone, it blocks the pre-frontal cortex. All the rationale is gone. We start ruminating. The amygdala goes back and brings back into memory the “relevant” facts from the past that sustain the ruminating part. And this is how our brain goes back to the responses we learned in childhood. No wonder we act anything but like adults when we don’t feel safe. And given the emotions are contagious, it’s easy to understand why a person going out of control can easily influence a group, a working place and so on.

The challenge zone: the optimal zone for the brain

If we think about performance and stress, the highest performance happens when the level of stress is moderate. When the challenges faced are not pushing the individual out of his safety area. This is when he can focus and bring the best to the table.

To achieve optimal performance while in a leadership role:

  • set very clear goals for your teams, and let them achieve this on their own; give them the freedom to innovate and be proud of their achievements
  • give constant performance feedback. The goal is to make positive adjustments before it’s too late, not to critique or micro-manage

To be able to do all this, Daniel Goleman advises on becoming a good person. Social and present, balanced. Caring to serve. With a good level of social emotional learning.

Mindfulness and social emotional learning

Mindfulness is the fitness of the brain according to Daniel Goleman. We need to practice it to grasp the benefits it yields. For this, he recommends focusing and improving on four main areas.

Self awareness

Be aware of where you’re heading and what are your values. Also, what is your emotional repertoire and how useful is that for you in the role you’re playing.

Self management

This is especially important for leaders during a crisis, as this is when emotional self control is so vital.┬áIt also refers to the area of adaptability in one’s life to achieve satisfaction personally as well as career-wise. Self management goal orientation means keeping the results in sight no matter what distractions come along, while also maintaining a positive outlook and see things beyond actual results.

We humans have a social brain, and that means we have a few types of neurons that help us in the “self” process. Such neurons are the mirror neurons, the ones responsible for adapting to and understanding the external context. We do have our inner sense of what is happening, and perceive the emotions in the teams we lead. But what we can actually do is set the emotional tone we want to have. Emotions are contagious, so a leader’s role is to keep the mood in the team positive, and drive results by working with the optimal zone of the team’s brains. Think of simple things, like the fact that even a negative feedback can be given in a positive constructive way.

Social awareness

Being socially aware has two main directions:

  • show concern and empathy, to earn the trust you need from your team to let you guide them
  • have a strong organizational awareness, understand the organization’s dynamics, whom and how to persuade, know if you need to show data or tell a story depending on your audience

Being socially aware allows you to lead by concern, to lead by caring.

Relationship management

It’s all about using the relationship for the good use of your team and the organization you function in. Being able to influence, manage conflicts, coach and mentor and be inspirational, as well as driving a good teamwork to achieve results.

Teamwork means a high group EQ between a group of people that share the common goal to be the best. Such a group enjoys being together, they trust each other, know what their strengths and weaknesses are. They can adjust the who does what, don’t let things simmer then explore and, very important, they laugh and relax together as well. These kind of emotions are the glue for performance.

To be able to perform as a leader you need as well a good level of organizational focus. This means:

  • stay on top of technological changes, see things before they happen or are needed
  • be aware of cultural and social trends and changes
  • know the internal organization and its status

A good focus means the right balance between exploration (seeing things before they happen – e.g. Apple) and exploitation (how long to use a product before it becomes obsolete – e.g. Blackberry).

Leadership styles can be different, and they definitely affect the climate inside the team and organization. The slide below sums it up:

Development steps

To become a high level EQ leader and be able to use the contagious emotions to your benefit, there are a few steps in your development:

  1. Motivation: do you really care? What do you care about?
  2. Support: where can you get support from? Think inside as well as outside of the organization
  3. Assessment: do a 360 own evaluation, but not for performance. Choose the honest, confidential one
  4. Learning plan: for the things that you want to improve at
  5. Practice: again. And again and again.

Thank you Daniel Goleman for your lessons and insights!