Strengthen your emotional intelligence by embracing adversity

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Wise men talk because they have something to say; fools, because they have to say something.   ~Plato (429-347 BC) 


Mar 28, 2016, 7:00am EDT  Anthony  Stephan  Contributing  Writer

When I reflect on my own personal and professional growth over the last several years, I’m reminded of the many things I’ve learned. I’m also reminded of how blessed I’ve been with many opportunities for personal and professional experiences and leadership development programs.

These opportunities have created diverse platforms for my growth, some of which were planned, but many of which were just a matter of life happening.

My most important takeaway, no matter the program or experience, is self-awareness, which I consider the foundation of developing emotional intelligence.

Growing into an emotionally intelligent leader requires a reliable and consistent self-awareness. This is a key to building emotional muscles that can help identify your values, strengths and intentions. It also helps clearly identify the environments, experiences, and people that create emotional triggers leading to less than desirable outcomes. Self-awareness is at the heart of growing as a leader, and it is the core of improving human interaction.

I’ve also discovered that while self-awareness encourages you to look internally, challenging you to be more honest, there are other important aspects of strengthening your emotional intelligence as a leader:

  1. Be Consciously Present

As leaders, we must be present with our teams if we’re to create meaningful connections. At the heart of all human interaction is the desire for belonging and purpose. The more time we create to be present with our people, the more our people will feel heard and valued, deepening our connections.

Being present allows us to live not in the past, nor become too anxious for the future. Rather, it helps us become consciously engaged and aware of the moment. When we set aside our own agendas and actively engage with others, we open and expand our minds to new ideas and experiences.

  1. Embrace Adversity

Helen Keller said, “Life is a succession of lessons that must be lived to be understood.” Our greatest growth comes through the experiences that challenge us the most. We’ve all experienced this at one time or another, both personally and professionally.

As uncomfortable as these experiences can be, they serve as a simple reminder that our lives are meant to be experienced, and that this is how we learn about ourselves, and those with whom we share our experiences. We must not retreat from difficulty, but instead try to see challenges as catalysts for growing into a more emotionally aware leader, and closer to the better version of ourselves.

  1. Reflect Daily

At the heart of personal reflection is an innocence, an honesty, and genuine curiosity. The deep moments of reflection become more common as we age, or when we prepare for retirement, or even when we wrap up a major project.

Many of us reflect more on lessons we’ve learned, things we might do differently, or a longing to repeat certain experiences that helped shape who we are. But why wait until the end?

Reflection allows us to grow by more consistently considering the questions such as, “What was I blessed with today?” “What could I have done differently?” And most important, “How can I share these experiences in ways that will help others grow?” Daily reflection helps us to become more grateful for the day’s experiences, and more conscious of our choices in the future.

  1. Be Kind and Compassionate

Writer T.N. Tiemeyer said, “Kindness is the one commodity of which you should spend more than you earn.” In our fast-paced, connected economy, it’s easy to forget the impact simple acts of kindness can have on both the recipient and the giver. Too often when leaders feel the pressure of big responsibilities and deadlines, they develop a false sense of what success ultimately looks like.

We forget we’re a part of a team made up of professionals demonstrating commitment and sacrifice. Moments of kindness and compassion for our people force us to pause and to be grateful for team members. Practice small acts of kindness and compassion daily.

  1. Create Space

Viktor E. Frankl said, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” We must learn to “create space” in all aspects of our lives in order to pause, reflect, and recover.

Like many young professionals, creating intentional space to invest in my own well-being was an important lesson I needed to learn early in my career. Without it, I wasn’t present, or consistent with my compassion and kindness, and I often failed to reflect and learn from my experiences. Without space, our responses tend to be more reactive and less intentional. These types of thoughtful disciplines are integral to becoming more emotionally intelligent.

This concept has become a cornerstone of my growth. Almost without fail, I block out two hours early each morning, and two hours at the end of the day to recover, reflect, and invest in myself. This time allows me to reflect on daily experiences, a practice that has become a key to my being more engaged and creative, personally and professionally. Create space for you!

  1. Seek out the Story

I grew up in a large family of storytellers. My family helps me feel a strong sense of my roots, and a deep connection to the experiences that created many important opportunities. Story creates cultural traditions and helps us to share experiences in ways that connect us more deeply with others.

Story also brings to life the people at the heart of the experience. It punctuates our highs and lows, and stories give life to the people in our lives, without whom the story wouldn’t exist. As leaders we have a responsibility to not only share our stories, but to seek out the stories of others. We must create platforms to hear about the diversity of our people, their influences and traditions that shape them. We grow more emotionally aware through story.

  1. Manage Your Energy

Jim Loehr, co-author and co-founder of the Corporate Athlete Program, said, “Everything we give energy to, we give life to.” This includes the good … and the not so good! Jim goes on to say, “People don’t want our time, they want our energy.” How often have we driven ourselves to exhaustion, or distraction, or emotionally exhaustion, thanks to an inner voice reminding us of competing personal and professionally priorities?

As a result, we run out of energy and our ability to engage, connect and interact with others suffers. Simply put, we can’t be the best version of ourselves. Emotionally intelligent leaders are conscious of what gives them energy and what depletes it quickly. They make choices to generate, preserve, and intentionally invest their energy. Loehr reminds us that energy is a balance of physical, emotional, mental and spiritual well-being. We must consciously and intentionally invest in all aspects for our well-being and manage our energy more efficiently.

My growth hasn’t always been an easy path, but it has made me more consciously aware of who I am, how I engage with others, and how I use emotional intelligence to engage with others. Through these experiences and my commitment to growth, I’ve learned to inspire others in ways that change the trajectory of their lives.

My hope is that every interaction, large of small, impacts the lives of others. My goal is to challenge others to reflect, invest, and become more emotionally intelligent leaders. Doing so intentionally will help them create exponential platforms for others to grow.

Anthony Stephan is a principal in the technology, media and telecom industry practice at Deloitte Consulting, leading companies through growth, improvement and transformation initiatives. He also leads national and regional people initiatives that focus on the continued growth and development of the firm’s capabilities and Deloitte’s people. He is a graduate of Albright College.




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