Traits of an Emotionally Intelligent Entrepreneur
Scott D. Clary | Mental Models, Performance, Business & Entrepreneurship
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Traits of an Emotionally Intelligent Entrepreneur
Emotional intelligence should be taught as a subject in elementary school – that's always been an opinion I hold. Not only is EQ a crucial tool for self-regulation and self-concept, but it underpins every action we take in our personal and professional lives.
To me, emotional intelligence means understanding that our emotions aren't a reflection of reality (or not necessarily, anyway). It means having the ability to interpret our feelings in a conscious and deliberate way, so that we can make decisions with clarity and purpose.
Recently, I've been reading up on how this important trait plays into being an entrepreneur, and what it means to be an emotionally intelligent entrepreneur. I know a pretty big chunk of my readers are super interested in this kind of thing – so I thought it would be valuable to share my findings.
Here's what I've gathered on the traits of an emotionally intelligent entrepreneur.
First of all – what's emotional intelligence?
I find it fascinating how so many of our psychological concepts were born hundreds or thousands of years ago. Both Eastern and Western philosophies stretch back centuries; we still learn about the teachings of Confucius and Lao Tzu today, and Sigmund Freud's theories remain widely studied.
So it's interesting to see that emotional intelligence – one of the most popular psychological concepts in the 21st century – was actually first formulated very recently, in the '90s.
John D. Mayer of UNH and Peter Salovey of Yale teamed up to coin and research emotional intelligence. Here's how they defined EQ:
"...emotional intelligence is the ability to accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions; to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships; and to manage your own and others’ emotions. It doesn’t necessarily include the qualities (like optimism, initiative, and self-confidence) that some popular definitions ascribe to it."
I absolutely love this definition because I think it draws some important distinctions. Emotionally intelligent people aren't chronically optimistic, nor do they ooze confidence every second of every day. That's not what EQ is about.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to shape your reality based on how you respond to your emotions and those of the people around you. And it's pretty powerful stuff.
Hallmarks of emotionally intelligent people
One of my favorite figures in the history of- well, history- is Viktor Frankl. He was a Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist whose book, Man's Search for Meaning, is one of the most crucial pieces of literature I've read in my life.
Frankl wrote about how people can find meaning even in the darkest moments. His work has been studied by everyone from philosophers to psychiatrists to entrepreneurs. And I think it speaks volumes about emotionally intelligent people: they are able to take something that other people consider negative and find a way to use it in their favor.
Here's something he said that I'll never forget:
"Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom."
An emotionally mature person lives their life as though the universe owes them something. They are completely at the mercy of their emotions, forgetting that an emotion is just a chemical reaction in the brain. It's fleeting, and it doesn't necessarily dictate how we should act or think.
An emotionally intelligent person takes that space between stimulus and response to choose their reaction wisely. They take responsibility for their emotions, and they use them as a guide to making decisions that are in line with their values, rather than letting them rule over them.
Why Entrepreneurs Need Emotional Intelligence
Let's think about the role of an entrepreneur.
First and foremost, it's a career of total devotion. It isn't a part-time job. You wake up at dawn and you work until late into the night. You take on a double workweek to get your ideas off the ground. You wear every hat and you do whatever needs to be done.
Alongside that complete dedication, you're interacting with tens or hundreds of people – employees, consultants, potential clients, investors, etc. You're also managing tasks, delegating responsibilities, and dealing with a variety of complex issues every single day.
If you're disarmed by something as unpredictable and unpreventable as an emotion, all of these responsibilities fall by the wayside. Emotions are going to ebb and swell in the life of an entrepreneur; you need to be able to ride the waves and stay afloat at all times.
Traits of an Emotionally Intelligent Entrepreneur
Wondering whether you have the chops to be an emotionally intelligent entrepreneur? Here are a few traits that show you may already be on the right page.
1. You approach your industry with a sense of awe, humility, and curiosity.
A common trap of entrepreneurs is that they try to enter their niche with the attitude that they know everything. It's partially a self-serving fallacy to make themselves feel better, but it's also an avoidance mechanism; spotting your knowledge gaps means stepping into the unknown.
An emotionally mature entrepreneur is curious about their own industry. They're startlingly aware of their own shortcomings, but they embrace the process of learning and growing – and that means knowing when to pivot.
2. You make changes earlier rather than later.
If an entrepreneur has high EQ, they don't resist change at all whatsoever. Instead, they understand that their original idea might not be the one they stick with for the long haul. They're comfortable with making changes if something isn't working out, especially if it's hurting their team or their customers.
Entrepreneurs who resist change do themselves a massive disservice. It's not only a sign of emotional immaturity but also a missed opportunity to take control and shape the future.
3. You wait for strong emotions to pass before responding.
The decision-making process of a successful entrepreneur is often rooted in logic and reason. But when emotions come into play, it's important to take a step back and let yourself process the situation without being reactive.
A good example of this is when entrepreneurs are confronted with difficult questions or criticism from stakeholders. As long as their emotional state isn't too overwhelming, they can pause for a moment and respond thoughtfully and constructively.
It's the same with team communication – too many CEOs are highly reactive and let their emotions enter communication with their staff, which can be very damaging. An emotionally intelligent entrepreneur takes a step back and considers the situation from different angles before responding.
4. You understand how to lead with empathy.
A high-EQ entrepreneur doesn't just know when to keep their emotions in check, but also when to use them effectively. They don't shy away from showing vulnerability or compassion, as they recognize that these qualities can be powerful tools for connecting with others and fostering team spirit.
They know how to draw on their own experiences, or listen carefully to the stories and perspectives of others, in order to create an understanding of shared goals and objectives. They also understand that emotional intelligence is a two-way street; they have to be willing to take responsibility for their own feelings as well as those of the people around them.
5. You invest in yourself outside of your business.
No matter how much energy you invest into your business, or how attached you are to your brainchild, it doesn't change what really matters. The only consistent presence in your life is yourself – and if you don't take good care of yourself, you risk being left with nothing.
Emotionally intelligent entrepreneurs maintain a balanced perspective here. They're fully aware that careers aren't the be-all and end-all. For that reason, they make sure to invest in activities that nurture their own well-being, such as exercise, meditation, and hobbies.
6. You embrace criticism and ask for feedback.
If there's one thing I'd like to see more of in the entrepreneurial space, it's humility; the willingness to admit mistakes and accept criticism. High EQ entrepreneurs understand that feedback is essential for personal growth and development, so they make sure to continually ask for it from their team members.
(They don't just wait for a nasty Tweet. They actively seek out constructive criticism, allowing them to understand their own weaknesses and capitalize on their strengths).
At the same time, these entrepreneurs are secure enough in themselves to take criticism without feeling personally attacked. They recognize that it's a necessary part of success – not something to be feared or avoided.
7. Your relationships matter more than money.
At the end of the day, relationships are paramount for successful entrepreneurs. It's not just about networking and making connections; it's about building strong, meaningful relationships that will stand by you no matter what.
And no, it isn't enough to buddy up with workmates. Emotionally intelligent entrepreneurs seek out and invest in platonic and romantic relationships that exist outside the realm of their business.
The reason here is simple; it's the separation of work and personal life that makes them more resilient and able to handle difficult situations without letting their emotions take over.
8. You invest in employees rather than viewing them as assets.
The difference between an emotionally intelligent entrepreneur and a traditional CEO is that the latter views employees as nothing more than assets to be used for their own benefit. The former, however, understands that people are much more complex than that – they have goals and dreams of their own.
That's why emotionally intelligent entrepreneurs make sure to invest in the development of their team members, giving them the tools and resources they need to reach their full potential. They recognize that it's in their best interest, both professionally and personally – investing in people is the surest way to create long-term success.
9. You show up authentically in all settings.
It's very unsettling to meet CEOs and business owners who change their tone drastically depending on their environment. You've probably met these people before; they seem to have a certain "business persona" that they put on when in the company of clients or investors.
High EQ entrepreneurs take the opposite approach, showing up authentically in all settings and interactions. They understand that their relationships (and businesses) will only benefit from genuine conversations, so they make sure to be open and honest with everyone they meet.
10. You actively consume the thoughts, opinions, and ideas of people you disagree with.
I think number 10 is true of everyone, not just entrepreneurs. It's one of the most important traits of emotionally intelligent people; the ability to listen, understand, and learn from those who have different opinions than us.
High EQ entrepreneurs make sure to open themselves up to perspectives that differ from their own – both inside and outside of their industry – recognizing that these conversations are essential for personal growth and development.
I love this trait because it's a sure-fire way to keep yourself humble and eliminate your comfort zone. You're not stuck in an echo chamber; you're actively expanding your knowledge and understanding of the world.
What If You Can't Relate?
The beauty of emotional intelligence is that it's a learned trait. Some of us were fortunate enough to begin learning it at a young age; perhaps we had emotionally balanced parents, or went through a life-changing experience that forced us to confront and manage our emotions.
But if none of the above applies to you, don't be discouraged – emotional intelligence is something we can all learn over time. Working with a psychologist and consuming content from the likes of Brene Brown and Gary Chapman can help you gain greater insight into your own emotions, as well as how to manage them.
Emotional intelligence is one of the most important traits an entrepreneur can have. It's not just about being able to ‘read’ people; it's also about having the courage and humility to learn from them, invest in relationships, embrace criticism, and show up authentically in all settings.
If you're looking to become a more emotionally intelligent entrepreneur, start by taking steps towards understanding your own emotions, as well as the feelings of those around you. From there, you can begin to build a meaningful life – both inside and outside of your business.
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