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In helping lead the dynamic team here at TAG, not to mention the hundreds I’ve led the previous 21 years as an officer in the US Air Force, I have taken every effort to become a disciple of leadership.  Studying book after book, submitting to so many mentors that I have looked up to, and emulating those that have truly demonstrated the hallmarks of effective servant leadership, this is a topic that has fascinated me since I was a young lieutenant.  In the past few years, I have been in a position to put what I have learned into practice, and even start to pass some lessons to those around me. In this brief article, I’ll discuss how to maximize what behavior analysts refer to as “emotional intelligence” by implementing tenants of servant leadership.

We deal with a great group of professionals here at TAG — from strategic, billion-dollar partners, to financial advisors with a strong commitment to their clients and the plan sponsors in between.  Add to this list the thousands of participants under our care, and one can easily see how we come across all types of challenging personalities and interesting people.  Most of these folks are constantly learning what their 401(k) plan is all about, and we are constantly educating to help them in their journey.  Our service-driven business and business, in general, relies heavily on being able to manage relationships effectively.

If you’re part of my generation, you will likely akin emotional intelligence to “grow up” or “act your age, not your shoe size.” Either phase refers to how we control ourselves and our emotions, especially as it pertains to relationships.  Author Charles Swindoll said “I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I react to it. And so it is with you…we are in charge of our attitudes.”   How you respond to the people and circumstances around you (or your emotional intelligence level) is truly the hallmark of a mature leader.  Having low emotional intelligence produces nothing more than a manager.  What do you want to be, an emotionally intelligent leader committed to taking care of people or an ignorant manager that only cares about processes and not the people?  Most of us would want the former, would we not?  So how do we get there?

The first piece of the puzzle in maximizing emotional intelligence lies in one’s ability to analyze, assess, and work with correspondence — be it calls, emails, or face-to-face. Each method brings different perspectives, as well as potentially different reactions based upon our interpretation of what the sender may be saying. By saying analyze and assess, I mean we need to strive to see all sides of the argument when it comes across our desk. This action implies focus and active listening. Over these past 22 years, I have often dealt with challenging personalities, opposing views, and passionate commitment to ideals. Looking back, I’m thankful for each episode and the lessons accompanying them in further developing the ability to control my reaction in challenging situations. I am certain I responded differently during the first several years in leadership roles than I do now, as my emotional intelligence has grown with the passage of time and experience.  We must endeavor not to jump to conclusions and not let our preconceived notions dictate our response without truly soaking up the full issue at hand.

The second key lay in exercising emotional control — this is how one reacts when presented with a situation that in all likelihood tests his or her patience.  These moments are where our emotional intelligence is tested: when a customer says something inaccurate about our service, or when a partner questions one of our experts on a critical process, or even a co-worker gets into a passionate discussion that differs from what we may believe the proper course of action.  It’s not necessarily a question of right versus wrong, but rather which “right” may be best. When emotions and tensions run high, it takes strong self-control to bring about the best conclusion to such events.  Ask yourself this question, “am I the calming force when situations like this arise?” If so, congratulations, you probably possess high emotional intelligence.

How do you control your emotions under stress situations like the ones described above? It’s a somewhat difficult question to answer, but you need to start with what you can control out of the gate — your attitude.  Your ability to rise above the desire to lash out, not become defensive, and minimize emotional tendencies reveals not only your level of emotional intelligence but also your level of maturity overall.  While conflict is inevitable in high-performing organizations, and can even be a driver for change and innovation, high emotional intelligence helps drive positive outcomes and strengthens collaboration at all levels.  The ability to drive positive outcomes is what separates model leaders from status-quo managers, and by increasing your emotional intelligence you can bring your organization up to the next level.

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