To be a great leader, you must lead with emotional intelligence. Because leaders lead people, not projects or initiatives or “change” or innovation or any other word that is not people.
One of the most effective ways to manage the emotions of everyone involved–including yourself–is to know how to shift perspective when things are going well and when they are not.
Good leaders know how to leverage positive energy into action and results. They also know how to minimize bad energy and turn it around.
The best way I know to do this is what I call the zooming perspective. It’s simple, effective, and can help you to more easily lead with emotional intelligence.
We don’t like to lose
The first thing you need to understand is that humans are not neutral. We have a very definite negativity bias.
Simply put, the emotional impact of something negative is stronger than the emotional impact of something positive, all other things being equal. As famed psychologist Daniel Kahneman puts it, “Losses loom larger than corresponding gains.”
If you know this about yourself and the people you lead–and now you do, you can take steps to counteract the effect.
It’s your job as a leader to put things into perspective.
When there is bad news, there is a tendency to overreact.
The boss may not like your proposal. The team may miss a deadline. A vendor may not come through. Maybe an unexpected problem throws things off course. Or office politics scramble your plans.
Whatever the case, you must recognize that it is not as bad as it seems right now in this moment.
That’s where I find it useful to zoom out.
By viewing obstacles and challenges through a wider lens, you can help others to see that all is not lost.
This particular problem, this challenge, this roadblock is going to be a bump in the road in the big picture. Zooming out to a perspective that re-examines the original vision, goals, and strategy can really help temper the emotional response.
An effective way to do this is to consider how you will look back on this 30, 60, or 90 days from now. Or even six months or a year from now.
You will realize that it’s not that big of a deal. Certainly you can look back right now at some disaster that happened in the last year. Did the world end? Did it completely derail your project? Did it have some other overly-dramatic negative impact?
Probably not. Because you shifted and adjusted and reacted and responded. And that’s just what you and the team will do now.
Help them to see that and you will help to dissipate the negative and turn things around. You can get the emotional energy flowing back into a positive direction. Which will help maybe more than anything else you can do as a leader.
We are overconfident when winning
The other funny things about humans, who seem so fragile in the scenario above, is that we can be incredibly overconfident when things are going well.
How do we go from feeling the weight of the world when there is bad news to feeling like we are foolproof when things are going good?
Well, just like we have a negativity bias, we also have an optimism bias.
We tend to think that we are less at risk of experiencing a negative event than others. When things are good we assume they will continue to be good. Maybe that’s why the negative stuff hits us so strongly.
Of particular interest to leaders may be the planning fallacy.
Every project manager has seen this. People continually underestimate the time and effort required to complete a task. Even if you try to help them fudge it!
And guess what, you do this too!
This is where I find it helpful to zoom in.
When things are going well, it’s time to take much closer look at things. After all, the devil is in the details. That’s where you can find things and deal with them while they are still manageable.
If you and your team are feeling complacent, that’s the time to dig in. That’s the time to run through the order of operations, to walk through the steps, to do additional research and due diligence–zooming in perspective to look at everything under a microscope.
And you can build positive energy.
Because leaning into these details is what allows for real learning to happen. This is the sort of thing that leads to mastery and control.
While we may not always like to come face-to-face with the reality that we didn’t know everything up front like we thought we did, we will gain satisfaction in discovery and resolution of things that result in a better work product.
This is how experts become experts. This is how teams discover their greater potential. This is where leaders help the total to become greater than the sum of the parts.
So that’s your job as a leader. To take the confident energy of good times and focus it in on the details. To help the team to really lean in.
As a leader, you need to be attuned to the emotions of everyone around you (and yourself). Because emotions create energy–good energy and bad energy.
You can harness and shape that energy in useful ways. Using a little knowledge of how humans work, you can do this more easily than you might think.
You know that people tend to overreact to negatives. You also know that people tend to be overconfident when things are going well.
Your leadership is greatly enhanced by adjusting to these truths. They can help you to lead with emotional intelligence.
By zooming out when things look bleak, you can help people see the big picture.
And by zooming in to closely examine the details when things are running smoothly, you can help people to do a better job.
All of this is, of course, true for you too. When you face difficulties as a leader, remember to step back and look at the big picture. Consider looking back on whatever it is from the future. That will help you see that things probably aren’t as bad as you think.
And don’t get overconfident when things are going well. That’s your time for closer examination of your plans, your assumptions, and your strategies.
Zooming in and out will help you to become a better leader, and it will help your team to do better work.