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The Key to Your Career Advancement: An Emotional Intelligence Mentor

Learn from solid leaders how to manage feelings in the workplace

Woman with a PDA

(Image: Thinkstock)

It’s often said that emotional intelligence (EI) is valuable for anyone who wants to be a leader, especially for women. We are often quick with the emotional response or approach to things, but in a business or professional setting, a lack of EI can hinder advancement.

The concept of EI has been defined by many experts, but for me, it means not losing your cool in a difficult situation and not going off on people, even when they deserve it. For another it could mean approaching a major deal, not with the heart, but with critical thought and advisement, or not going head-first into something before weighing all logical options. It could also mean excelling under pressure and motivating others to get the job done, even when you and your team are faced with major challenges.

For some of us, things are not innate; They’re learned. Thus, the importance of having an emotional intelligence mentor is tremendous.

I’ve had several in my life—some I know personally and some I’m more than six degrees of separation from having Sunday tea with—but I’ll focus specifically on one: my mother.

In one scenario, years ago, financial aid staff had misplaced vital information that would make or break whether I’d be returning to my university for another semester. I’d done my part. Someone had dropped the ball. There was something said to the tune of, “I’m sorry, but there’s nothing we can do.”

The thought of not returning to school was more than unnerving. I wanted to flip a table, and was several choice words short of doing so.

My mom turned to me, gave me that maternal look of “I got this,” and smiled at the woman behind the desk. “Please excuse my daughter’s enthusiasm, [insert name here]. She’s a student under quite a great deal of pressure. She meant no disrespect to you.”

“Now, since there seems to be a discrepancy with the paperwork,” she continued as she reached in her bag, “here are copies of receipts of payments, stamped and verified. I also have copies of her verified financial aid allotment, along with dates and times of following up with professionals in this office.”

She went on to calmly resubmit the paperwork and not only was the situation handled, but my mother stopped me from making a total fool of myself and ending my college career at a quite prestigious university of which I’m proud to have graduated from. (She was also able to gain an ally in the office who she could talk with about questions or other concerns she had in regard to my education.)

Now, that’s emotional intelligence, and my mother has strengthened that skill after more than a decade working in U.S. government, where one can’t afford to blow her top with military officials, three children and a husband to answer to.

That day, I learned five key things about EI that I still apply today:

  • Even in a challenge or dispute, you get better results being polite. Always acknowledge a person by name and with respect. It’s even a good idea to smile despite wanting to do otherwise.
  • Keep your mindset as one that prioritizes solutions. This allows you to be logical in your response to conflict or challenges, not impulsive and irrational.
  • Always think of the bigger picture and the domino affect your actions could trigger.
  • Be prepared for the task at hand and aware of any fallout from the decision you choose to make at that moment.

My challenge to all young professionals who seek to be leaders, whether it’s within a company or at the helm of a company of their own: Watch and learn from the emotionally intelligent people around you. If they’re in your workplace, take note of how they handle stress and how they work through challenges in a way that commands respect, results, and authority. Observe how they interact with people—even those who are disrespectful or downright grimy— and find out what mental processes they use to get beyond the bad for the greater good of the bottom line.

Power players understand that though emotions are a healthy part of being human, the appropriate management of them constitutes the makings of a great leader.

Who is your emotional intelligence mentor, and why? #Soundoff and follow Janell on Twitter @JPHazelwood.