Learning to Use Your Psychological Equipment

Could you walk at birth? Of course not. But when your muscles and mind were mature enough, you learned, usually with some guidance. Later you had opportunities to master other skills requiring muscle coordination, perhaps baseball, playing the piano, dancing, and so forth. Our society provides many organized ways to learn muscle coordination.

Could you do multiplication at birth? No. Again, when you were mature enough, teachers worked with you to learn that and other intellectual skills. Our society provides myriad organized activities to teach intellectual skills.

When you were born, did you know how to manage stress, think optimistically, understand the feelings of others, or express your ideas without offending people? Like baseball and multiplication, these emotional skills are learned. Now for the kicker: list the organized methods our society provided you to learn these and other essential emotional skills. Most readers won’t be able to list any items, because for the most part, they don’t exist. Most people who learn emotional skills learn from friends and family members who have good emotional skills. Other people don’t learn them because they have no such opportunities. That’s costly, both for them and for the rest of us.

Emotional skills are essential for success. The Center for Creative Leadership studied the reasons why executives get fired. The vast majority were fired not for poor intellectual skills but for poor emotional skills. They offend people, try to order people around, and have poor team skills. The lack of such skills costs businesses so much that they actually, finally, often way too late, face the emotionally fearsome task of letting another executive go.

Studies demonstrate that emotionally skilled CEOs produce dramatically higher profits than CEOs without such skills. Insurance sales professionals who have learned the emotional skill of optimism outsell their pessimistic colleagues by a wide margin. There are many other studies that demonstrate similar results.

As a society, we seem to believe that people just somehow, magically, learn emotional skills. Were that true, our economy would not be burdened with the huge costs of drug abuse, alcohol abuse, person abuse, and crime. The vast majority of these behaviors result directly from poor emotional skills. We also would not be burdened by such high health care costs. It is estimated that 90% of illness today is caused by or related to stress. Stress management is an emotional skill.

While some people are lucky enough to have parents who can teach about emotional skills, these skills are so complex that no one ever masters them all. Learning how to use our psychological equipment is a life long task. All people are incomplete, which means that the teachings of all parents also must be incomplete.

What are the implications for you as a business leader? Under-developed emotional skills among your key executives costs you money, time, and talent. You can do two things.

For current leaders, provide coaching and training in emotional skills. A recent column outlined the clear ROI well-qualified coaches can provide. Training programs also can provide excellent results when grounded in science-based methods to produce changes in trainees’ emotional default responses. (Those programs that are not well conceived make all such programs look bad.)

Next, build your work force for the future. Encourage our school systems to spend resources to provide training in emotional skills to our youngsters. Model programs already exist.

Dana C. Ackley, Ph.D., founder and CEO of EQ Leader, Inc., helps individuals and companies solve problems and build skills. He can be reached at (540) 774-1927, or by e-mail at dana.ackley@eqleader.net.

The comprehensive science based EQ Leader Program builds lasting change in EQ skills that make a dramatic difference in performance.

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