Monday September 28, 2015
When you make a new hire in your business, what kinds of skills do you focus on? Do you go by technical skills, years of experience, and college degrees? Or do you prioritize “soft skills,” like communication, teamwork, and accountability? In other words, do you favor IQ (intelligence quotient) or EQ (emotional intelligence quotient)?
There’s no one size fits all answer—it depends on the needs of your business and your team—but let me encourage you to weight those soft skills more heavily.
Most the so-called “soft skills” are also natural traits of emotionally intelligent people. Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, manage, and appropriately address your own emotions and those of others. In a small business, emotionally intelligent employees are the ones that will carry you the distance. Here’s why.
You Don’t Have Time to Be a Hand-Holder
Managing employees can be one of those rabbit holes that sucks up all your available time. Since your time can usually be better spent elsewhere, you need to hire people who are unafraid to take initiative.
Employees who can prioritize, learn, self-motivate, and achieve on their own are incredibly valuable, especially in a small business. Being an entrepreneur takes a certain degree of fearlessness, and it has to go all the way through the organization.
Emotionally intelligent people are able to more easily take the initiative because they aren’t caught up in fear of how others will react to their decisions. They are confident that any conflict that might arise can be dealt with.
But emotional intelligence also is very important for moderating initiative. We can all think of people who are too assertive, to the point of making others uncomfortable. A highly emotionally intelligent person will know just where to draw the line, and will always find an area where it’s appropriate for them to take action.
Sometimes, the Stuff Hits the Fan
No small business is free of crises. When a business is just starting out, sometimes those crises are a daily occurrence! You can’t afford an employee who shuts down when the going gets tough—you need someone who sees each new crisis as an irresistible challenge.
The true test is of an employee comes when you hit hard times. Whether “hard times” means an insane afternoon, two weeks of stress before a tight deadline, or 6 months of financial uncertainty, your employees have to be resilient and flexible enough to cope.
Just one person who isn’t resilient in the face of uncertainty and crisis can totally derail a team with negativity and paralysis, so make sure to ask lots of questions about this in the interview.
Resilience means the ability to stay positive, keep productivity high, and continue to take care of oneself even when things get really difficult. It also means a willingness to do whatever’s necessary to keep things together, even when a task isn’t in the job description.
Emotionally intelligent people are in enough control of their emotions to manage the stress and unpredictability without losing sight of what’s important, and they’re humble enough to stay flexible when unexpected new responsibilities come their way.
Conflict Can Tear a Team Apart or Strengthen It
Conflict is a natural part of any team dynamic. Particularly on a small business team, conflict is actually necessary to ensure that all voices are heard and to help the best ideas come to light.
But there’s both constructive and destructive conflict, and the destructive kind can cause the entire team’s productivity and morale to plummet.
Emotionally intelligent employees don’t shy away from conflict when it’s necessary, but they certainly don’t seek it out. More importantly, when engaged in conflict, they’re able to stay calm and respectful, presenting their positions without attacking others or becoming defensive.
When others bring conflict to them, no matter how badly the other person handles the conflict, emotional intelligence allows them to withstand personal attacks, anger, and defensiveness without resorting to those tactics themselves.
Accountability is a Powerful Tool in the Right Hands
You can tell a lot about a person by how they feel about accountability. Emotionally intelligent people embrace accountability. They own their decisions, the way they did the job, and the results they got, even if they made mistakes.
When they do make a mistake, rather than trying to conceal it, they bring their mistake to the attention of others, so it can be addressed quickly and efficiently. This attitude brings a team closer together—everyone has each others’ back, and accountability never needs to be a tool for assigning blame.
For employees with low emotional intelligence, however, accountability brings up feelings of guilt and fear. Even if an employee is a top performer, they may feel afraid that their shortcomings will be “discovered” through accountability, and will try to hide them.
This creates an uncomfortable dynamic in a small team, with low trust and an emphasis on laying blame rather than on solving problems. You want the opposite, if you’re looking for a team that can accomplish the impossible. Everyone has to feel safe and trust each other completely—which means recognizing that accountability is a wonderful tool, not a punishment.
Improvement is an Unending Process
Finally, emotionally intelligent employees are secure enough to know where they need to improve. They’re also willing to do what it takes to achieve their goals, professionally and personally.
This attitude extends to the workplace, where they are likely to be the ones to point out inefficiencies or problems. More than just pointing them out, though, they will immediately take action and mobilize others to come to a solution.
They’re able to do this because they recognize that growth is a constant, for themselves and for the business they’re a part of. Nothing is ever “good enough”—there are always smarter, more efficient ways to do things next time.
Some people who lack emotionally intelligence are driven in this way too, but it comes from a place of insecurity rather than from the deep security of the emotionally intelligent. Emotional intelligence helps you maintain this attitude while avoiding the traps of perfectionism and analysis paralysis. They’re able to celebrate a job well done, even while recognizing where they can improve next time.
Emotional intelligence itself is an area that can be improved upon! If you feel that your team is lacking in some of these areas, consider trying to educate everyone and work towards an office culture where EQ is valued as highly as IQ.
What traits do you value most in your employees? Let me know in the comments!