Working with leaders to improve emotional intelligence skills, I’ve noticed a common myth. People often describe emotional intelligence as controlling negative reactions. We assume that an emotionally intelligent person tamps down his/her anger and resists yelling and sending heated emails. However, positive emotions also get in the way of our success at work.
In the right amounts and at the right times, leaders benefit from their optimism and passion. Leaders who are skilled in conveying their enthusiasm inspire people to see possibilities and engage in a common purpose.
However, unbridled enthusiasm leads to overcommitting, hasty decisions, and overwhelmed employees. For example, a leader feels so excited about a new opportunity that he/she immediately says “yes” without thinking through how to deliver on the commitment.
In one case, a leader felt so excited about working with a particular customer, he agreed to their requests instantaneously. Positive emotions got the better of him. Biased by the happiness of signing the customer before the end of the quarter, he committed his team to a high-profile project with an impossible deadline. Saying “yes” without careful thought made him appear unpredictable and unfocused. His team started burning out. They missed project deadlines, which damaged the leader’s credibility.
While we cannot control our immediate reactions, we CAN manage emotions thoughtfully. Preventing emotions from overly influencing decisions makes us better leaders, especially when stakes are high. Consider the following suggestions for making smart decisions.
Notice Your Emotional Temperature
Like many leadership skills, decision-making starts with self-awareness. Noticing your excitement level serves as an important first step. By taking your emotional temperature before making a commitment, you will recognize situations that require you to tone down excitement and ratchet up serious thought.
Reality Check Your Enthusiasm
To ensure your optimism is based in reality, get out of your own head. Check in with other people and data.
Talking with a trusted colleague who can serve as a “reality testing partner” will offer an alternate perspective. A trusted colleague will prevent you from overcommitting. Identify who in your network can reality check your thinking.
You can also reality test your decisions with objective data points and evidence. Don’t just trust your gut. Look for information that will help you frame the decision.
Give Yourself Room to Think
Finally, time and space alllow you to gain a more objective perspective. Determine whether the decisions needs to be made right this very moment. If not, let the adrenaline cool off. Making decisions when you are calm and cool is more effective than when stuck in the moment. Try these ways to give yourself room:
Call the other party back later after you have cooled off.
Leave your desk for a quick walk or cup of coffee.
If time allows, commit to making a decision tomorrow and sleep on it tonight.
Practice a technique for focusing attention.
An emotionally smart leader recognizes different emotions and uses them in the right circumstances. By noticing when you lose sight of risks because of enthusiasm, you can develop small habits to improve your decisions. More self-awareness, better decisions, less overcommitment, less burnout.