Last year, while teaching our “Leading with Emotional Intelligence” Master Class, I had a revelation.

I realized that every interaction of mine – with myself and with others – could be viewed through the lens of emotional intelligence. Whether it was someone I was meeting for the first time or spending time with my parents; whether it was a personal friend or a business partner; whether it was a child or an elder; whether it was being in solitude or at an event with hundreds of people…every single interaction I had with humanity could be planned, experienced, and reflected on through this lens.

The Junto Institute_Building Blocks of Emotional Intelligence.jpg

What caused that revelation to occur was our creation of the above graphic. Each of the four levels is an emotional intelligence domain, and each domain consists of four competencies that are the building blocks.

As I wrote in a blog post earlier this year, our experience with Apprentices learning emotional intelligence led me to the idea that it is additive and somewhat linear: we must develop greater self-awareness competencies before we can improve the self-management ones; when we build those skills, we are better suited to develop our social awareness competencies; and when we begin mastering social awareness, only then can we make progress with relationship management, where the competencies reflect those of effective leadership.

Put another way, I believe that we’re unable to flourish as leaders until and unless we develop mastery with ourselves and with being socially aware.

To me, it was a pleasing revelation because the building blocks are a simple framework to use as I continue to navigate this elaborate world of ours. And upon sharing the framework in our Classes, the Master Class, and various talks I give on emotional intelligence, the response was overwhelmingly positive because people could relate to the building blocks metaphor.

Emotional intelligence is a highly complex, scientific concept. In the popular press and on the Internet, it becomes overly simplified into lists of “top 10 traits”, single-word labels like “empathy” (which is actually one competency of social awareness), or something that’s referred to as a “fad.”

But the more I continue to study, practice, and teach it, the more I come to appreciate its complexity and how hard it is to build the competencies. Having a metaphor like building blocks helps. And using those blocks as a lens through which to view all interactions with the world makes things even easier.