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Great captains of our lives: Emotional intelligence and leadership

main.jpgImagine, you’re at the office early, morning beverage in hand and you settle in for a productive morning. That’s when Tony (who has been driving you nuts for months) comes over asking the same questions about the same project in the same way since he started. Your pulse rises and you can feel the knots forming in your shoulders and neck. You consider your options: fleeing at lunch and working remotely the rest of the day or shaking Tony by the shoulders until he understands the answers you’ve given to him a thousand times in a thousand ways.

Now – pause… 

Those responses are just a basic fight or flight response mode. It kept our ancestors safe, that emotional jump to respond with our fists, or to run away. While you might not be aware of this kind of reaction, it infiltrates our lives every day. As Vincent van Gogh put it, “Let’s not forget that the little emotions are the great captains of our lives, and we obey them without realizing it.” And while anyone can hold the helm when the sea is calm, you certainly wouldn’t want those little emotions driving your crisis decisions.

As aspiring leaders, we can’t just let our emotions run away with us; we are the captains that remain calm in the face of a storm. Taking a minute or even a second to recognize when those basic instincts are taking over can be the difference between leadership and dictatorship. The recognition that this happens to everyone is the first step in understanding how to better communicate and collaborate… essentially, how to lead.

Once you have that self-awareness, you may want to encourage others around you to give their all and to put their heart into the mission of your organization. Yet, at times, it can seem that enthusiasm simply isn’t there. When that is the case, take a moment to do the following exercise:

First, consider empathy, helpful advice, personal sacrifice, respect, innovation, cooperation, and basic information. Every day you decide to hold back or give away these (and more) in your work. When you don’t feel valued in your position, are you giving empathy to your coworkers? Will you give personal sacrifice when you feel unappreciated, unsupported, and unhappy? Will you give innovation and cooperation to a leader that doesn’t respect you?

Now consider what you give away when you feel valued. Are you more likely to feel empathy for others when it is being reciprocated?  If you wouldn’t give away those items when you aren’t feeling valued, what makes you think your peers would act differently? As a leader, consider the way your team is valued when you want to take them to the next level. Communicate with them, ask them about it, and understand their drive.  

Emotional intelligence is necessary to lead in today’s nonprofit sector. Not only does it allow you to increase your own potential, but then your ability to affect change is multiplied by your collaboration and cooperation with others. Bill Gates said it succinctly, “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others.” Build your emotional intelligence and high impact leadership naturally follows.

Anthony took advantage of his YNPN-TC member benefits and received a discount on MAP for Nonprofit's leadership training on emotional intelligence. Thanks to our partners, MAP for Nonprofits, theDatabank and Minnesota Council on Nonprofits, for their YNPN-TC member benefits!


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