Lack of Emotional Intelligence = Leadership Impotence

I was attempting to recover from the arduous transpacific flight from Chicago to Hong Kong.  Upon my arrival on Monday afternoon (Hong Kong time), I fought the overwhelming urge to sleep by trying to connect with my global colleagues who had travelled from other parts of the globe (Australia, mainland China, the United Kingdom, and the United States).

I had departed from Chicago on Saturday (a day is lost when the international date line is crossed) so I hadn’t been able to make contact with those same colleagues over the weekend to discuss the agenda or expectations for Tuesday morning’s Board of Directors meeting. I soon learned that our Chairman had called the meeting but hadn’t made contact with any of the BOD team.

On Tuesday morning I arrived at our Asia headquarters in Hong Kong amid everyone’s concern that he/she had somehow missed receiving the agenda or assignments for the meeting. After the usual catch-up and gossip over coffee and tea, we took our seats in the board room.

The Chairman convened the meeting as follows: he picked up his pen, pulled the paper coaster from underneath his coffee cup, positioned the pen to the paper as if ready to take notes and asked, “So what are we going to talk about today?”.

Stunned silence filled the room.

My colleagues and I were thinking the same things. Was this really happening? Did I travel from the other side of the globe for no particular reason? Was our Board leader so short-sighted and detached that he didn’t recognize the absurdity of his actions?

The unfortunate answer to all of these questions was “yes”.

The Chairman was highly intelligent (he was literally a rocket scientist), but highly deficient in business acumen or emotional intelligence (he was the Chairman by virtue of being the majority shareholder in the business). The requirements for being a business investor/owner are quite different from those required to be a successful business leader. He was introverted and awkward which led to ineffectiveness when dealing with other individuals or groups. These traits in and of themselves don’t lead to ineffectiveness, however the lack of self-awareness of these traits does. He didn’t understand himself as a leader, nor understand or appreciate the differences (cultural, emotional, etc.) between he and the members of his board or executive team.

All this rendered him impotent as a leader and led to hapless and deteriorating performance of the board, the executive team and the business. Key managers couldn’t get out the door fast enough, board members resigned in disgust, and investors pushed for a fire-sale of the business after adapting Shakespeare’s phrase “All’s well that ends well”, to “All’s well that ends.”

Fortunately, through Junto programs, I have witnessed the astounding transformation in similar leaders as they build their emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, use, understand, and manage emotions in positive ways to relieve stress, communicate effectively, empathize with others, overcome challenges, and defuse conflict.  

These smart leaders have come to understand, and enthusiastically adopt, the notion that it is not just book-smart intelligence that leads to productive leadership, but also the mastery of emotional intelligence. EQ is a skill that must be continually be developed and improved.  Only then will one become a respected, effective leader.