It’s impossible to quantify whether emotional intelligence can truly be taught. But I’m convinced we all have deeper reserves that can be tapped with one simple gesture: opening up. Throughout my career, I’ve noticed that the least empathetic managers are also the ones who are most unforgiving to themselves in times of trial – be it divorce, or financial duress, or even illness. These pent up balls of repression seem intent on proving their mental toughness by responding to every personal crisis with the same mantra: I’m okay.
Well you’re not okay – as an individual or as a manager. When you deny yourself space to heal, or absolution for your perceived sins, you resent extending that same courtesy to others. Your lack of empathy puts a low ceiling on relationships and leadership. You cannot truly see the full range of potential in others because the stoic image you project is only skin deep.
I was that person when I was diagnosed with testicular cancer at 32. I took just one day off of work for the surgery – as if coming back with a giant ice pack in place of my once-taken-for-granted, now missing piece of anatomy would prove that I was no less a man.
All it proved was that I wasn’t comfortable with any vulnerability. I spent a month enduring every indignity that accompanies testicular cancer (in addition to talking about it), not limited to sperm banking, radiation and roaming around Sloane Kettering in those flattering gowns that let it all hang out.
But something changed when I came out the other side wearing the new moniker ‘cancer survivor.’ Talking about something so taboo pried open a new side of me, where for the first time in my life, I could be honest about my inner demons. In time, empathy took root where resentment once festered. I wanted to soothe anyone who was also struggling to hide their pain – divorce, cancer, a failed business – you name it, I felt it.
In conversations, I suddenly had the urge to go below the surface, where real life happens. It was like a new world opened up to me, one that was heartbreaking and beautiful. And it made me a better leader.
So my advice to anyone deficient in the EQ department: Dare to share just a little bit of what torments you (start in the comments below if you’re feeling brave!) And watch the world embrace you – as your EQ skyrockets.