An article appeared in the Huffington Post in early December posing the question, “How emotionally intelligent are you?” This has been a hot topic around the subject of leadership and what makes a leader successful for a number of years now. We’re certainly not in a “command and control” world any longer when the U.S. Army starts to think about the emotional intelligence of its officers.
Carolyn Gregoire, the article’s author, cites 14 characteristics of emotionally intelligent people. It’s worth your time to read the full article on the web (http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/12/05/are-you-emotionally-intel_n_4371920.html?ncid=webmail15). The traits run the gamut – from curiosity about people you don’t know to knowing your strengths and weaknesses (which I’ve written about before), getting along with people, being a good and moral person, and resilient in the face of adversity. But one caught my attention: “You take time to slow down and help others.”
A chill ran up my spine as a remembered the time when I opened an office for our firm in Los Angeles. I was young and naïve. Things were going exceedingly well. We were very busy; just couldn’t hire people fast enough to do the work that came into the office. One day, to take a poke at my frantic leadership style at that time, the folks in the office screwed a “ticket spitter” to the outside of my cubicle (you know, the red plastic device they have in retail shops for you to take a number to determine the order in which you’ll be served). Let’s say, I got the message. It was time to slow down in order to go faster. The feeling is similar to when my wife says, “You’re just not being present in the moment.’’ Do you ever get that at home?
Along the way, I heard a story that has stuck with me over the years about a young man (still playing Little League baseball – that young) who lived near the Disney Studios in Burbank. Boundlessly curious, he would sneak in frequently, often ending up in the animators’ building. The artists and storytellers working there thought he was probably just a child actor on a break and asked him what he thought of what they were doing; whether they were telling the story well. His insights were so keen that they continued to invite him back. Word of him filtered up to Walt Disney himself.
Walt sent one of his creative directors to the young man’s house to find out more about him. The parents, of course, were dismayed. “You mean our son has been sneaking into the studio? That’s awful!”
“No, no,” said the executive. “We’re going to give him a permanent pass to come to the studio any time he wants to. But I’m curious about how you’ve raised him to have these wonderful insights and ideas.”
The parents described him as an only child, doing okay in school, and, at least until now, staying out of trouble. After much poking and prodding about what his home life was like, the father finally said, “Well, I’ve always answered all his questions.” Asked for an example, he told of a time when the young man had been standing at the sink watching his mother do the dishes and asked where the water went. His father opened the doors under the sink, explained how the curved portion of the pipe kept odors from the house waste line from coming up the drain, crawled under the house with him to show him how the sink drain connected with other waste lines from the toilets and bath tub, then went out into the street, popped the manhole cover, had his mother flush a toilet so he could see how the waste from his house joined the waste from the rest of the community, then hopped in the car and took him to the sewage treatment plant for a tour. As long as his son was interested, he was willing to continue the exploration.
Does that give you a chill when you remember your child asking you “why” for the 10th time and you told him or her to just do it that way, or “I don’t know” rather than, “Let’s go find out together?” Or how about when a subordinate asks you a question and you blow the person off with a quick, “Just do it like I said.” Your kids, and the folks you work with, want to know why. And if you take the time to tell them, in as great a detail and to the deepest level that they have the time and interest to explore with you, you’re exhibiting a high level of emotional intelligence… and leadership. This may be the most important lesson I’ve ever been given in my life.