This is a guest post by Pat Sweet.
Over at my Engineering and Leadership blog, I tend to talk quite a bit about how business skills can be applied to the daily work of an engineer so thatengineers can be more productive, more purpose-driven, and more satisfied in their roles.
Today, I wanted to share one of these concepts I’ve borrowed from the world of business and show you why it might be the single most important thing you need to develop this year.
Harvard Business Review’s Top 10
My wife gifted me an excellent little book recently. It’s a collection of Harvard Business Review’s all-time top ten articles on leadership. It features some of the greatest business minds of all time, like Peter Drucker and Jim Collins.
I was struck by an article written by Daniel Goleman called “What makes a leader?” Goleman argues that, once people makes it to the executive level of a company, what distinguishes a successful person from an unsuccessful one is their emotional intelligence, not their technical skill or cognitive ability.
Basically what he’s arguing is that by the time you make it to some corner office, you’re “smart enough” to be there. Being twice as smart as the guy in the office next door won’t make you twice as effective in your role, if any more effective at all. Having more technical skill in your field won’t differentiate you as a leader.
At the very top, it’s emotional intelligence that makes you a winner.
So what the heck is emotional intelligence anyway? In short, it’s the ability to read and react to others’ emotions and to identify and control your own emotions. You can’t necessarily control how you feel at any given time, but you sure can control how you react to those feelings.
Self-help guru Steven Covey wrote in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People that one of the greatest powers we have as people is the ability to voluntarily choose our reaction to a stimulus. He says that between stimulus and response, there is a gap, and we can use that gap to make decisions about our reaction. In my mind, emotional intelligence is the ability to make intelligent use of that gap.
So Why Should Engineers Give a Hoot?
I think there’s a huge lesson to be learned here for engineers. For us, technical skills are definitely critical—the better you are technically, the better an engineer you are. That being said, I believe strongly that emotional intelligence can be the difference between a good engineer and a truly great engineer.
Engineers have to work with others. They have to pitch ideas and defend them. They have to work with people outside of their field. Communication is absolutely critical for engineers. Having a strong ability to read the emotions of others and being aware of your own emotions is key to your success.
How to Develop Emotional Intelligence
So how does an engineer go about developing emotional intelligence? The single best way to do that is to know yourself.
Goleman suggests that there are some serious benefits to knowing who you are deep down—your strengths, weaknesses, preferences, values and emotions. Knowing yourself is the first step necessary to know how your actions might affect those you work with. It also helps you sort out how you should work such that you’re the best team member you can be. Work best under pressure? Ask for lots to do to keep yourself motivated to work hard. Can’t stand ambiguity? Look to clarify your tasks as much as possible. If you can zero in on these things, you’ll avoid being that stressed-out jerk that nobody wants to work with.
One way you can go about getting to know yourself a bit better is to read StrengthsFinder 2.0 by Tom Rath, or What Color is Your Parachute? by Richard Bolles. You might also consider hiring a coach, like Anthony, to help you with some self-discovery.
How else would you suggest developing emotional intelligence? Give us your ideas in the comments section below!
About Pat Sweet
Pat Sweet is a Professional Engineer working in Ontario, Canada. He’s a full-time vehicle engineer focusing on commuter train electrical subsystems and the author behind the Engineering and Leadership blog, where he shares his thoughts and experiences on leadership, productivity and career advice for engineers. Go to Pat’s blog now to get your free copy of his free career guide – The 7 Habits of a Highly Ineffective Engineer.
Photo credit: Flickr/ royblumenthal