Emotional Intelligence can be an off-putting term. At least to me it can. The words have no business together. Emotional has to do with one’s feelings and Intelligence has to do with one’s ability to solve problems and retain knowledge. There’s no use in muddling the two. The heart has its reasons which reason knows not - and all of that.
Such was my skepticism going into Self-Awareness, the third class of JuntoIII and the first of the EI curriculum. I didn’t believe that self-awareness was something that could be taught in a classroom or a textbook. In life, there are people who just “get it”, and people who just don’t. Furthermore, even if a person could learn to become more self-aware, I failed to see the value of self-awareness for an entrepreneur. There are plenty of notoriously huge jerks who have gone on to found wildly successful, fruit-themed, consumer tech companies and the like. An inflated ego might be needed to start your own business in the first place!
Despite all of this negativity swirling around my head on the way in, I came away from class much more hopeful on the topic. As a non-founder, I needed to be reminded of how vital the people are in young companies. To quote the sobering text at the bottom of my Junto job description:
… when a startup or small company hires someone, it’s a life or death decision: the new hire breathes life into the company and extends its lifespan; OR the new hire sucks life out of the company and pushes it one step closer to death.
An employee is not likely to “breathe life into a company” if they don’t believe in its leadership. In the startup world, being sure that each team member believes in you as a leader is critical to the health of your business. John Fairclough, our class instructor, compared the founder-employee relationship to the general-soldier relationship of war. Within this framework he asked team leaders, “Are you worth following into battle?”
Then he offered three specific considerations to use when answering:
Do your employees believe that you are competent?
Do your employees believe that they can trust you?
Do your employees believe that you care about them?
These three questions provide a scorecard by which a leader can evaluate his or herself, or put another way, become more self-aware. If your team does not believe that you are competent, then they will not follow you into battle or bet their career on you. If they don’t trust you, then they can’t operate with the transparency needed to operate naturally. And if they don’t believe that you care about them, then they are not going to care about the success of your company.
All of this may seem straightforward. It is. However, John dispelled my doubts of self-awareness as an immovable object in one’s business relationships. He did not attempt to teach self-awareness. Instead he presented attendees with an actionable heuristic by which, through repeated practice, self-awareness might be learned. Repeated reflection on the correct questions can make you a more relatable leader. And while successful, unrelatable CEOs do exist, they are usually strange, turtle-neck-wearing exceptions.
For all founders: “Am I worth following?” is a question worth asking.