The High Cost of Low EI

Most of us have experienced a leader who is technically competent, possibly an expert in his or her functional area, and yet seems to consistently miss when it comes to emotional intelligence (EI). EI, if you are not familiar with the term, is the ability to express and control our emotions, and our ability to understand, interpret and respond to the emotions of others.  When a leader has low EI, the cost to the organization can be significant, but is often considered to be a “cost of doing business” rather than a cost that can be managed.

The compounding effect of working for or with someone who has low emotional intelligence is that it’s much more difficult to be at our best when we’re managing the impact and outcomes associated with dysfunctional behaviors. Someone with low EI in a leadership position will have the resources and power to make decisions that can cascade tension, drama or worse in the workplace.  All leaders are paid to have productive conversations and remove barriers to good work in order to achieve outcomes for the organization. Low EI can delay or reduce productivity by creating distractions and building dysfunction between teams, as well as negatively impact learning and development, and disrupting systems that allow work to be done.  

The cost to the organization can be any or all of the following: lost time, lower productivity, higher turnover, increased stress, waning engagement, reduced creativity, fewer productive meetings and conversations, and low morale, just to name a few. We tend to discount these costs because the solution to addressing this behavior might be difficult conversations and organizational disruption. But if you simply add up the hours (yours and others’) spent on dealing with drama, re-work, turnover, stress and burnout in the organization, you’ll conclude that avoiding those uncomfortable conversations and disruption is costing your company handsomely.

If this dynamic sounds familiar to you, looking in the mirror is a great place to begin. Being self-aware means you have a pretty good idea, from feedback and experience, of what your emotional triggers and derailers are. Knowing how these “blind spots” affect others is a product of asking for and truly listening to feedback:

  • Ask yourself if you could be part of the problem. Be willing to assess your own self-awareness. Ask for feedback regularly and accept the feedback as that person’s truth, not defensively.
  • Take stock of the times when you tend to lean into your emotional triggers.  Ask someone you trust to give you a sign when you are going there. Notice when you feel compelled to use that behavior, and self-assess or ask for help about why you believe that behavior works for you. Identify and practice behaviors that would be more positive and productive.
  • Notice when you feel compelled to leverage your position and/or power to get what you want, take a short cut in a relationship, or push your agenda.  Use self-reflection to determine why you believe that behavior is necessary in the situation, and ask yourself what other options are available to you.

Executive coaching has great value in partnering with leaders to identify and adopt more productive and positive behaviors to reduce the cost of low EI in the workplace.