Black Emotional Intelligence (BEI) for Executives

Black Emotional Intelligence (BEI) for Executives

The following was written by James C. Wadley, Ph.D.:

As a licensed professional counselor and marriage, family, and sexuality therapist, I frequently work with back executives who struggle to make sound business decisions because they are unable to disentangle the fusion of their cognitive, affective, and behavioral experiences at their jobs.

Debilitative thoughts, negative feelings about oneself or one’s position, and poor time management are just a few examples of how people and businesses fail to thrive when individuals are unable to effectively navigate their authentic selves.

While business should never be personal, business is inherently personal because any negotiation or transaction is a product of our race, age, gender, socioeconomic status, religion, ability, etc. Thus, for my professional clients, we spend a lot of time discussing the necessity, utility, and nuances of black emotional intelligence.

Through the lens of our individual conception of racial/ethnic identity, black emotional intelligence is our ability to be sensitive and vigilant about our own sense of self (e.g., affective, cognitive, behavioral, spiritual) in the spaces that we occupy and the experiential narrative that we reveal to those around us.

It is the capacity to be able to identify what we think, feel, and believe in the moment and be able to use those constructs in order to create a healthier and balanced presentation of who we are and what we want. Having a grasp of our racial/ethnic identity is significant because the world we live in is not colorblind. How we feel and present our individual selves either creates, maintains, severs, or destroys opportunities that may be before.

Most executives have a difficult time managing their negative affective states (e.g., anger, confusion, depression, loneliness, etc.) and as a result, make decisions that are not in alignment with professional or personal goals.

These folks may not have established networks of support or may have developed business relationships that run counter to the formation or maintenance of organizational goals.

Other black professionals may have sound business knowledge and skills but may lack the personal skills in order to negotiate or navigate relationally complex issues. For example, if a Wharton grad is unable to recognize that his feelings of loneliness impacts his willingness to engage others on a team project then all may be lost.

Similarly, if a rising star black businesswoman is asked to present her work in one hour and she is unable to effectively manage her anxiety before the presentation, then she may not be able to effectively showcase what she knows or how she can help the company grow.

Creating the capacity to be comfortable with ourselves and being able to convey that to others may allow us to get the support we need in and outside of our jobs. Black emotional intelligence is desperately needed by executives because it allows for fluid and agile movement across time, context, personnel, and circumstance.

Below are a few tips for increasing your BEI:

  1. Journal writing–Journal writing allows us to reflect and respond critically about our own experiential narrative. It also enables us to clearly separate how we feel, what we think, and what we do over the course of a day or week.
  2. Seek a mentor or other safe person–Finding a mentor or someone else at your job whom you can be completely honest with and offers feedback may serve as a healthy and viable outlet for you to address complicated matters.
  3. Self-care through meditation–Take the time and space to reflect on your goals, progress, challenges, and barriers. Be “present” by monitoring your feelings.
  4. Become familiar with your black history and how your history has enabled you to get to where you currently are.

Dr. James Wadley is an associate professor and chair of the Counseling and Human Services Program at Lincoln University. He’s a licensed professional counselor and marriage, family, and sexuality therapist in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. He is also the founder and editor-in-chief of the Journal of Black Sexuality and Relationships and hosts the Black Families, Black Relationships, Black Sexuality Conference. His website is and you can follow him on Twitter @phdjamesw