Mindfulness is the foundation of Emotional Intelligence

Many articles and papers specifically by Daniel Goleman or other researchers show that emotional intelligence is a bigger determinant of success, than IQ or other attributes. You might stand to acquire high grades through a higher IQ, but career success is believed to be linked to emotional intelligence.

The term “Emotional Intelligence” was first shared by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer in 1990. As per their description, it is a type of social intelligence. It means that the individual is able to assess and track his/ her own and others' feelings and emotions, and then use this information to direct one's thoughts and actions.

Most of us will have read or known about this in the past. But what we must explore further is the connection that lies between Mindfulness and EI. Mindfulness is the new corporate buzzword, in the same way that EI was a decade or two ago. What it truly means is that one must be aware of one’s thoughts, actions and behaviors, and understand how to repurpose or realign them for a more enriching life, and fulfilling career. Mindfulness is defined as the state of mental awareness that an individual has, with respect to the present moment and the external surroundings. It also involves being conscious to one’s own thoughts and feelings. To explain the difference between Mindfulness and EI, it is critical to know the first principle that mindfulness is the basis of EI. Once you become mindful and shift your focus inwards,  you are exploring the first element of EI, which is Self-Awareness. That is where the overlap ends. If the individual does not have high levels of EI, he or she will remain mindful but not proceed to put this awareness to use. Being aware is the first step, that is, Mindfulness. Using that awareness to implement change within oneself, at the workplace is the actual journey, that is, Emotional Intelligence.

There are, however few organizations who understand the linkage and how their joint impact is huge, particularly for those in leadership roles.  Leaders are under constant pressure to perform as well as to make their teams perform. They face the heat of internal stakeholders, as well as external competitors. Leadership roles are high-risk roles because of the extreme highs and lows that they bring with them.

Are all individuals capable of handling such extremes and taking it in their stride? Not really. But a focused effort using Mindfulness and EI can raise the levels of self-awareness for them and also build in resilience. Both these concepts can be applied in our workplace scenarios very easily and with some degree of practice, a leader can become very proficient at them.

While there are many ways to use them well, here is how leaders can use these theories to perform better at work.

  1. Harness the potential of the team – As a leader, one spends a lot of effort and time in motivating the team to achieve its goals and to work well together. The leader’s behavior and style has tremendous impact on the team. A leader whose emotional intelligence is high and who is mindful of his or her thoughts, and how to use them positively at work, is transformational. He or she can determine the way the team actually performs, push its limits and help it realize its potential. The team looks up to a leader who is able to connect with them at an emotional level and also realize the individual-specific, and collective strength.
  1. Develop his or her unique brand of leadership – By understanding one’s own thoughts and actions, and being aware or mindful of one’s emotions, a leader can create a unique brand of leadership. Each person leads differently and while there might be some traits that can help categorize that style into the ones we know of, there is that extra element that makes the manner of leadership more personal. This can be achieved only through EI and Mindfulness, both. Emotions can be a hugely powerful tool when it comes to leadership. Every person experiences them, but very few are able to channel them productively, in their leadership roles.
  1. Impact business outcomes – Organizations go through upswings and downswings frequently, especially when there are changes in external market situations. As a leader, one is bound to be affected by a range of emotions starting from uncertainty to anticipation, or excitement to stress. These are natural thoughts, but for a leader who is not emotionally intelligent or mindful, this can result in knee-jerk reactions or drastic decisions. That in turn can impact business negatively. For a leader who is high on EI, the behavior will be more restrained, well-thought out and planned. He or she will be mindful of the steps to be taken to accept those emotions or thoughts, and then move on. They will tend to anticipate the business issues that their decisions can cause and behave accordingly.
  1. Build long lasting client relationships – Relationships with clients are delicate bonds and often fairly tenuous. We need to invest time and effort in building them. In doing so, one also needs to get an understanding of the emotions of the clients and connect with them accordingly. That ability to empathize with the client, comes from a high EI and by being mindful of their needs, said and unsaid. Client relationships become long lasting after the person who manages it with them, from the organization’s end, is repeatedly able to gain their trust for being aware of what will truly make them happy.
  1. Better conflict management skills – As a manager and leader, one is often placed into situations that are difficult and fraught with negativity. It could be a frictional relationship between two team members or an abrasive one between an individual and his or her manager, who in turn reports to you as a leader. The better your conflict management skills, the better the environment in which the whole team operates. With every such situation, you as a leader, get the chance to assess your own level of EI and how you go about being mindful of the emotions of those who are in the middle of such conflicts. As you become aware of these factors, you can practice how to resolve them in a positive or proactive manner, rather than reactive way.
  1. Better adaptability – When you choose to become mindful and self-aware, you open up your mind to feedback and change. That indicates the progress in you as a person because you begin to become more flexible and adaptable to the changes around you. Accepting feedback is one of the hardest things to do. The second hardest thing is to use that feedback and facilitate self-change. Only a leader with high EI can take these kind of courageous steps and start becoming more receptive. Flexibility is a much sought after trait in current times, because it indicates that the leader is able to un-learn and re-learn quickly. Higher mindfulness translates into acceptance of one’s thoughts and how they can be utilized for the betterment of one’s work, and oneself.
  1. Higher tenacity and perseverance – As a leader, there are times when you will face the brunt of failures, yours and those of others as well. In such times, anxiety sets in and one wonders about the future. It is only qualities like perseverance and tenacity that can help a leader to tide through such emotions. And these yet again, are a result of the ability to be mindful and emotionally intelligent as well as resilient.

Mindfulness is not ingrained, but acquired. Leaders need to spend time on acquiring this quality and it is only with committed practice that they can sustain it. For many leaders, mindfulness might just be a phase or a reactive measure to a particular situation. But for a great leader, it is a way of life, professionally and personally. Similarly, EI is a combination of some traits, but it is only impactful when the leader nurtures those traits for organizational, as well as personal success.  



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