THE FAMOUS AMERICAN banker J.P. Morgan once said that people make decisions for two reasons: the good reason and the real reason.
The truth of this observation is immediately obvious if you ask any business executive in New York, London, or Hong Kong to explain why they chose one course of action over another.
Nine times out of 10, they will frame their answer in terms of such measures as the return on investment, market share, profitability or increased shareholder value.
This is completely understandable, since businesspeople are conditioned to express themselves in a certain vocabulary and by means of well-defined concepts.
However, the question remains whether these are the real reasons for their decisions or just good reasons.
Factors other than those stated openly are nearly always at play, and they relate to the decision maker’s emotions while weighing up the situation and reaching a judgment.
In fact, research suggests that emotions are generally the driving force in any decision, rather than the objective standards or financial yardsticks usually mentioned.
Like anyone else, a leader can experience the full gamut of emotions in the workplace, ranging from greed and selfishness to joy, hate, pride and fear. This is all part of the human experience in the corporate world, and inevitably has a major impact on both day-to-day and longer-term decisions.
If we feel negatively about someone or something, this will have a direct bearing on our thoughts and subsequent actions.
For example, imagine working on a project and one person, perhaps from the finance department, clearly isn’t pulling his weight. The signs could be anything from being late for meetings to missing deadlines or failing to complete key assignments.
One year on, you might come across the same person on a different project designed to look into cost-cutting options. Despite the passage of time and the individual’s undoubted expertise in the area under investigation, you will have misgivings and not want him on the team.
If you make this known and senior management then asks why, you will probably fudge the issue and come up with a good reason, rather than the real one to justify your views.
Though reluctant to admit it, you will have been unable to set aside the negative impressions formed during the previous working encounter and to see things in a different light the second time around.
This phenomenon is called “mood congruence thought”. Fortunately, it applies to positive emotions as well as negative ones.
Even more than other employees, people who have leadership responsibilities must be aware of their feelings at work, for one simple reason: these feelings determine thoughts, which, in turn, affect every kind of decision and, thereby, the performance and deliverables of your team.
It is certainly not stretching a point to say that there is a direct connection between a leader’s emotional intelligence and the results of the business.
Many of us may think that there is no room for emotions in the workplace, but it is far better to accept that they are an integral part of what you and your colleagues do.
To understand this, it first helps to explore your own values, since they greatly influence attitudes and the intensity of various feelings.
For instance, if you value “achievement”, winning a new account will make you upbeat for at least the rest of the day. Conversely, losing out to a competitor will automatically inspire disappointment, or even anger, and affect your whole outlook until the mood finally passes.
To get to grips with this, you need to recognise not just your own values but also the corporate values that prevail in the workplace.
They may include competence, commitment, honesty and the aggressive pursuit of new business. Then, take a step back and consider how these different values influence your emotions and, consequently, your behaviour when at work.
To illustrate this, you may regard honesty as the most important value. One day, you ask a colleague when a vital report will be ready, and are told “by the end of the day”.
Next morning, there is no sign of it and, when digging deeper, you find the work is nowhere near complete.
By not being honest, your colleague may have been trying to save face. For you, though, that lack of honesty is an affront and may even be enough to spark a display of anger. Generally, that is unlikely to help anyone and may well serve to distract or demotivate other members of the team.
Therefore, it is important to realise how your values, emotions and actions interconnect, and not to expect other people to have precisely the same values as you. This will make it easier to control your emotions and, as a result, your actions and the outcomes for the business.
A good leader does not try to avoid emotions or rationalise them with spurious explanations about such things as employee competence, market conditions, or the need for change. They understand that emotions are part and parcel of corporate life and do not try to hide from them.
The first step to doing that is to become emotionally self-aware. Then, you will be in a better position to control yourself, understand others, and make decisions for all the right reasons.
We can all do a better job of managing our emotions. If things are starting to get on top of you, consider one or more of the following to help improve your mood. Practise yoga, deep breathing or meditation. Participate in a preferred sport or hobby. Regard relaxation as an activity, and make it part of your daily routine. Talk to someone about what’s on your mind. Put on your headphones and shut out the world for a while. Call up a couple of friends and go for a drink. Some of these suggestions are more active than others, but whichever you choose, allow enough time for them to have a positive effect.
Emotions are on show in every team meeting, sales visit, or negotiation with a sub-contractor or vendor. They can range from the highs of solving a complex problem or landing a big deal, to the lows of missing the annual target or being undercut on price. When faced with these feelings, you choose how to behave and can be either co-operative or competitive. If you are co-operative, you are being open, honest, and prepared to share or compromise. If you are competitive, it might mean bluffing, obscuring, obstructing and delaying. Doing business involves both co-operative and competitive tactics. The important thing, therefore, is to understand what you want to accomplish and what the impact of your chosen course of behaviour will be. Remember that long-term success is more often built on a co-operative rather than a constantly competitive approach.
To develop greater emotional intelligence, the first step is to understand your objective. This can be done by reading or talking to others to get different insights. Then, like a golfer, you need to practise by reviewing your own values, paying attention to your emotional state, and thinking through how your feelings affect your behaviour. Finally, you should get feedback from others and regularly ask yourself three questions: what positive or negative emotions were present; if you handled the situation well; and what could be improved.