Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

Leadership and Emotional Intelligence

In a previous blog, we considered Bosses We have Loved, Lessons in 
 /. I would like to share with you a lesson I learned from a boss, which I later learned to be emotional intelligence.

employee disengagementNow emotional intelligence can be defined to understand and feeling the emotions of others during a discussion or presentation. Politicians may want to rile-up the crowd and make them emotional about the issue being presented. A supervisor may want to be cognizant of an employee’s emotions during a discussion of a performance issue.On the reverse side, a manager or supervisor needs to be aware of their own emotions during a stressful situation. Controlling those emotions can be an extremely effective tool in obtaining desired results.

One day, my Vice President and I were discussing an upcoming contract negotiation with a union. During a negotiation process it is important to show the opposite side your flexibility and the issue where there is no flexibility. If you do this effectively, and the ultimate goal is a fair settlement, negotiations will move slowly, with few misunderstandings along the way. His statement to me was, “never get mad unless you want to”. At that point in time, I was unaware of the term emotional intelligence, so there was no theory just his advice to follow. I watched as he demonstrated that skill though our negotiations which went much more smoothly than I expected and came to a successful and fair contract.

During management classes at the Tillman School of Business at Mount Olive College, there is a session on emotional intelligence,during which I relate that advice which I received. I later go on to tell them of a second instance where I employed a similar technique. In our plant, there was one woman who had a severe problem with alcohol.

Our company was very understanding and provided a leave of absence for her to participate in a rehabilitation program. Upon return, she maintained her sobriety for several weeks but there was a relapse. As plant manager, I had the final management decision of discipline. The union shop committee knew this and understood the danger an intoxicated person was to themselves and others in the plant.  Prior to the meeting with the employee, a union representative came to my office to ask for my help. He asked me to scare her, so that she might understand the severity of the situation. He knew that I would have to suspend her, which was the previously negotiated shop rule.

As I entered the conference room, the employee was seated at the opposite end if a rectangular meeting groupconference table with the union representative on one side and other management representative on the other. I was seated at the opposite end of the table. There was some discussion of the facts which were not challenged and it was then my turn to present our conclusion. To the surprise of those in the room, I did make an emotional appeal, but not by getting angry. Seeing her condition helped me to realize that alcoholism in not just bad behavior; it is disease. I approached the subject with soft and understanding words. I told her how everyone in the room wanted to see her recover and again be a productive coworker. I almost was at the point of tears when I suspended her for 30 days.  Alcoholism is a difficult decease to overcome and my emotional words would not be enough, in the long term, to bring her back to a normal life.  In the short term it helped and I did make some friends among my normally adversarial union employees.

When I tell this story to my students in class, their first reaction is that I am being less than honest. I was play acting to get an advantage in a given situation. Was I?

What do you think? Is this leadership or salesmanship?