The Motorcycle Ranger and Emotional Intelligence
“What do emotions and intelligence have to do with each other, anyway?” a disgruntled district ranger asked me when I picked him up at the airport in Asheville. I will never forget the first time I saw him. He was striding toward me wearing a black t-shirt with white letters, “God loves bikers, too” and broken- in cowboy boots. The year was 2000, and he was asked to attend our “Leadership through Emotional Intelligence” program after his boss attended the pilot program that same year. She told him it was great and he would get a lot out of it, but he was clearly not convinced.
Over the years we have encountered the same confusion, misperceptions and general angst about what emotional intelligence is and what it isn’t. Some consider it to be “soft skills.” Think about the last time you had to tell someone a difficult truth, or hear critical feedback yourself, or be patient and compassionate when you felt the opposite. Those are not “soft” experiences, and require emotional intelligence to navigate successfully. Some perceive emotional intelligence as a “touchy/feely” exercise. It is neither “touchy/feely” nor is it an exercise. It is a life-long journey of directing the flow, energy and intention of your emotional machinery at will, regardless of what is happening around you.
While IQ and technical skills are important, they are more “threshold capabilities.” In other words, they provide entry into a leadership role, but they will not make you a successful leader. What creates barriers to effective leadership? The inability to communicate through conflict, the unwillingness to give and receive feedback, the lack of attention to building trusting relationships, and the absence of mission and purpose, to name a few. In our experience, it is extremely rare that a leader is deemed “bad” because of technical skills. It is almost always a case of low emotional intelligence, which certainly includes the outcome of poor communication. Notice I said that poor communication is an outcome…the cause is at the heart of the issue and that is where the improvement is made.
We are all magnificent beings with multi-layers of consciousness, capabilities, joys, despairs, talents, experiences and dreams. That is why the only leadership model that will work for you is your own individual model, and that cannot be taught or templated, it must be discovered, fine-tuned and honored. It is important to remember, you are not your mind, but it’s essential to have a mind. You are not your body, though it’s wonderful to have a body. You are not your emotions, yet they are helpful teachers. You are the whole, the observer of those elements, and that is where your leadership flourishes.
The most important questions are, “How do you want to experience yourself? What will you have to do to get that experience?” Once you know the answer, over-ride your fixed tape loops, the same old predictable ways of acting and reacting in your mind, body and emotions, to get that experience.
That brings us back to our District Ranger. He left the five day Emotional Intelligence program motivated to return for the three day follow up in a couple of months. At the conclusion of the three day follow-up program he was the first one to say, “What‘s next? We have to keep this going.” We developed our advanced leadership program, The Faces of Leadership, and our motorcycle riding district ranger signed up. He said he was bringing his family to Asheville, and when the group came over to our house for dinner during the session, he asked if his family could come, too. And here is where we learned the extent of his integration of emotions and intelligence.
After dinner, he pulled up a chair in the living room for his wife. His sons were in the basement playing with our son, so he called them upstairs. He then sat across from his wife with his guitar across his legs, his sons sitting on the floor nearby, while he played and sang a love song he had written for her. What did he teach his teenage sons? How did the other leaders in the room view him? How does that event translate into leadership? How does it translate into work performance?
Leadership is a 360 degree condition. We are leaders at work, at home, with ourselves, our families, our communities. Being aware of what we are feeling and connecting those feelings to their source, empowers us to respond appropriately and create the outcomes we truly desire. Being unaware of what we are feeling and responding through that lens is a sure de-railer of career, relationships and even wellness. Increasing our awareness means our awareness is increased…and you cannot de-crease it after it is known and experienced.
Our definition of emotional intelligence is the ability to direct the flow, the energy and the intention of your emotional machinery at will, regardless of the circumstances. The willingness to express a full range of emotions, not as a reaction, but as an authentic tool to communicate and connect with others, builds trust and clarity. It takes courage and creates legacy.
Emotional Intelligence is not an inoculation or something to be “checked off” and put on the shelf. It is challenging and demanding to become more and more conscious of the cause rather than the effect. The outcome of that intention and effort is a very rewarding life and experience of yourself and your leadership.