IMD International

Are you maximizing your emotional intelligence?

Bestselling author Daniel Goleman underlines the power of focus

November 5, 2013


They say people are every company's greatest resource. But not all are created equal. And everyone can be measured. When assessing talent, the qualities that make people stand out the most are cognitive (as in IQ level), technical (as in skill proficiency) and emotional intelligence. While cognitive and technical qualities are typically those required to do a job, it's the emotional intelligence that determines how good someone will be at it. And the higher up someone is in an organization, the more important his or her level of emotional intelligence will be. 

But what can one do to increase emotional intelligence? In presenting to executives at an IMD Global Leaders Series, the internationally renowned psychologist Dr. Daniel Goleman spoke on how leaders use focus to help emotional intelligence and boost performance. 

"The higher up you move in an organization, the more emotional intelligence matters," Goleman said. "And in rethinking and explaining the notions behind EI, we've been led to find that attention makes a huge impact." 

And this has big implications for business leaders. "Leaders direct attention. And not just their own attention, but everyone else's as well. They are the ones who decide what matters now and what doesn't." 

So how well a leader is able to focus is an indicator of how well he or she will perform. Ideal leaders must put their focus on three areas. First, to focus on themselves and identify what really matters. Second, to focus on others and tune in to who they are leading. And third, to focus on attracting the attention of others and redirecting it to where it's most needed. 

But achieving these three areas of focus isn't easy. As it happens, such focus is even a bit unnatural and against our instincts. "Brains are not well designed for modern leadership," Goleman said. "They are made for survival and are still looking out for saber-toothed tiger threats." 

In fact, there's an area in the brain called the amygdala which is designed to detect threats and focus your attention towards them. In today's business world, this can occur in any number of situations such as not feeling you are being treated with respect, feeling blamed or not listened to, misinterpreting the tone of an email or saying something you wish you hadn't. In such cases, the amygdala kicks in and curbs your attention to focus on this worry, while you easily lose track of the larger goal at hand. 

This is the reason that, in the business environment, mastering focus is crucial. And there's a simple mind exercise we can all do to improve our focusing ability. Simply close your eyes, relax and breathe calmly. Listen to yourself breathe, over and over. And slowly, as your mind starts to drift to a foreign thought, stop it and bring it back to focusing on just the breathing. Over time, the exercise will expand your focusing ability. 

"The brain captures and records everything we do in life and makes a mental recording of what works and what doesn't," said Goleman. "All decisions that we make are related to these recordings. By engaging in the mind exercise, you work on your cognitive control, keeping the mind focused on a goal, while forcing out distractions." 

The presentation was based on Daniel Goleman's new book Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, which delves deeper in explaining why attention is a little-noticed mental asset that makes a huge difference in how well we find our way in our personal lives, our careers, as parents and partners, and in virtually everything we do. 

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