Stress impacts all of us in a number of different ways. Our cognitive ability (how quickly and effectively we process information) diminishes as our stress level elevates. The ability to make effective decisions is also dramatically downgraded. In his book The Stress Effect: Why Smart Leaders Make Dumb Decisions, author Henry L. Thompson points out that in addition to cognitive ability and decision making, the simple and often overlooked fact is that as stress goes up, emotional intelligence also drops. That's right, just when you need it the most, your ability to access the emotional intelligence you have is lowered.

"Stress changes the emotional landscape"...Henry L. Thompson

Key aspects of emotional intelligence are your abilities to be aware of your own emotions and how they are affecting you, to control your emotions, to accurately assess other people's emotions, and to choose appropriate actions to influence their behavior in a positive way. Information that enters our system under stress is perceived differently than when we're not stressed. The truth is that there are likely to be some aspects of emotional intelligence in all of us that may be left unprotected in moments of stress.

The starting point is awareness

These emotional areas vary by individual and, from a leadership perspective, will ultimately be your Achilles' heel as you process information during times of stress. It's easy for a leader to get caught up in a downward spiral that starts with rising levels of stress. Understanding where the gaps are in your emotional intelligence allows you to develop an effective strategy that you can use during those times you feel the level of stress beginning to rise.

Dr. Thompson shares the following four steps in understanding the impact of stress on your decision making and building a stress resilient system:

  • Develop knowledge of what the effects of stress are, particularly on the decision making process
  • Understand how and what those stress effects cause you to feel
  • Be aware of the physiological and behavioral signs of being in the grip of stress
  • Arm yourself with best practices for managing specific stressors that take the biggest toll on your ability to make effective decisions
Three of the emotional intelligence skills that set high performing leaders to possess are empathy, self-regard and assertiveness. Empathetic leaders are better at listening and reading their people. Leaders with high self-regard are surer of themselves and have a better handle on their strengths and weaknesses. Assertive leaders make sure the people around them know where they stand and what's expected. They're not about hidden agendas or imposing their will on others.

Anyone can sail a ship when the sea is calm

There are consequences when we get knocked out of our comfort zone. Knowing what your reaction is going to be ahead of time buys you the critical moments you need to remain effective. As Dr. Thompson points out, the fallout is likely going to be different for each of us. It all depends on your specific set of emotional intelligence skills and the level of resilience you have. Here are some insights as to the potential impact for the three emotional intelligence skills I just highlighted:

  • Lower levels of empathy will result in misreading social clues, having difficulties in relating to others and being surprised by their reactions. This can kick start a reinforcing loop that sends you into the downward spiral
  • Higher levels of self-regard may result in ignoring feedback, becoming egotistical and taking in information but doing nothing with it. Why would you need information from others when your way is the best way to do something? Over time this shuts off the tap that provides valuable information from others in the organization
  • Higher levels of assertiveness often result in poor listening skills, a lack of tact being blunt and foregoing team play. Again, this is not great for the long term effects on leadership or employee engagement.

There's only one way for you to be sure what your strengths and areas of development are and that's to complete and emotional intelligence self- assessment. If you'd like more information on the EQ-i 2.0 assessment just follow this link.


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