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The Art of EQ-Driven Leadership

In a world where data and decisions dart through our lives like lightning from the sky, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) is the critical element that sets transformative leaders apart.

EQ used to lurk in the background while its peacocking counterparts, IQ and technical skills, took center stage. John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey, a pair of pioneering psychologist dudes, first coined the term “emotional intelligence” in the 90s, just a few years before Ross and Rachel were on a break.

Many frosted tips and fanny packs later, there came another dude named Daniel Goleman, who not only popularized the concept with his 1995 book, but also expanded it to include the critical leadership components of self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skill.

Now we can all agree that understanding the emotional landscape of oneself and others is a powerful tool in crafting a leadership style that resonates, inspires, and endures.

The Core of EQ: Understanding and Empathy
Understanding and empathy are the twin pillars of emotional intelligence. A leader with high EQ can read the room, sense unspoken tensions, and navigate the complexities of team dynamics with a deft hand. But how does this look in practice?

Whether we’re talking to production partners, potential ghosting clients, or our internal storytellers during one of our umbrella calls, my partner, Niamh, and I are constantly reading the room and tailoring conversations for our audience. Knowing what to say, along with when and how to say it, means that even a difficult announcement can become a bonding experience for the group instead of something that frays the fabric of team unity.

The EQ Advantage: Communication and Connection
Effective communication is more than conveying information; it’s about connecting on a human level. Leaders with high EQ excel in this arena, turning every conversation into an opportunity for meaningful engagement.

Storytellers are sensitive souls by nature. Getting their best work while never hedging from the truth is an art form, balancing the brushstrokes of honesty with the palette of empathy. An environment of trust and safety is crucial, where storytellers feel valued and understood, both for their output and their unique perspectives. “Candor and Manners” is a phrase we never forget at Sterling & Stone: it serves as our guiding principle to ensure that feedback gets delivered with respect and consideration, so we can foster a culture where creativity thrives.

Even the hardest conversations, like when I asked Johnny (my former COO) to step aside so that Niamh could assume that role, can become a bridge to new understandings and deeper mutual respect.

According to dudes and dudettes in the field of neuroscience, EQ can be the game-changer in leadership: empathetic interactions and emotional connections have the power to light up the brain’s trust and cooperation centers. This neurological response is soaked in oxytocin (often referred to as the “trust hormone”), which is triggered by the empathy and understanding conveyed through high-EQ communication.

Navigating Change with Emotional Intelligence
The stakes are high in leadership, and the ability to regulate emotions paramount.

High EQ uniquely equips leaders to guide their teams through times of uncertainty or change, maintaining morale and focus amid upheaval. Change is the only constant, and controlling our feelings is only the start. We must also manage them in a way that enhances decision-making, communication, and resilience in the face of adversity.

Adopt strategies to maintain your composure, and you can remain effective even after getting grabbed by a tornado. Mindfulness techniques offer a path to greater self-awareness and emotional control, enabling leaders to face challenges with clarity and intention. Regular exercise, adequate sleep, and healthy eating all play a crucial role in maintaining emotional stability. Consider this trifecta as the foundation of physical well-being to build your emotional resilience upon. Like bamboo in the storm.

Moving from a publishing company to an IP incubator with a publishing arm meant redefining our core identity and reimagining the potential of our creative output. Getting pounded by the twin blows of a writers’ strike immediately followed by nearly a million dollars in lost revenue last year required us to navigate a period of significant change within our studio. But we only grew stronger, emerging not just intact but invigorated, with our commitment to creativity and collaboration stronger than ever.

EQ in Action: Leading by Example
The true power of emotional intelligence in leadership shows up not in our successes, but in how we handle our failures and challenges. It’s about showing vulnerability, learning from our mistakes, and embodying the resilience we wish to see in our teams.

I am open and honest with our studio, regardless of how I’m feeling, and when our company hit a low after two disasters in a row, I started every morning with a slack that began with the words, Today I feel… Everyone chimed in and cheered each other on.

Those slacks lasted from May until we closed shop for the year in December, but now they’re still a tradition, but with other storytellers setting the example, starting the morning with a post that details what they are struggling with or what they’re proud to have accomplished.

This daily exercise has fostered a lot of healthy conversation, helpful suggestions, support, and encouragement in our little community.

The Path Forward with EQ
Feedback loops are an essential element of elevating emotional intelligence within any team. They provide a structured yet flexible framework for communication, where feedback is exchanged freely and constructively (candor and manners).

Leaders who implement feedback loops open the door to a more inclusive and empathetic workplace culture, empowering team members to openly voice their thoughts and feelings openly. As leaders and teams engage in this continuous cycle of giving and receiving feedback, they sharpen their empathy, self-regulation, and social awareness.

Cultivating EQ is a journey, not a destination. Constant self-reflection, a willingness to adapt, and an open heart will get you there. The rewards — a more cohesive team, deeper connections, and a more fulfilling leadership experience — are well worth the effort.