Jacob M. Engel
Author and CEO of The Prosperous Leader. I help CEOs and their organizations prosper.
It's an age-old argument: Are we who we are because of nature or nurture? Are we born with inborn tendencies, or are we born “tabula rasa” (with a clean slate)? Is our IQ fixed, or can our brain learn new things (a.k.a. neuroplasticity)? Do our habits make us, or do we make our habits? Is emotional intelligence as it’s known a learned behavior? Does this all make a difference in our personal and professional life?
These questions are hugely important in order to understand ourselves and others.
I believe leaders need to know themselves in at least three different dimensions: aptitude, attitude and altitude (a.k.a. emotional intelligence).
For understanding your aptitude, I highly recommend a personality test. It's a must for career choices and for so many other things in life. I first discovered personality types when I landed on Please Understand Me, a bestselling book by Dr. David Keirsey, a noted psychologist. He based his theory on Carl Jung’s book, Psychological Types.
Kiersey had a great understanding of how types influenced our schools and academic choices, our mates and our leadership preferences. I, for one, was very enlightened, as it gave me a great amount of clarity as to why I enjoy leadership and why school bored me.
In 1943, Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabel Briggs Myers, also interpreted Jung’s theory into an assessment now famously known as the Myers-Briggs Types Indicator (MBTI). As a Myers-Briggs certified evaluator myself, I come across many people who were either put into the wrong position (see the Peter Principle) or made bad career choices and have become miserable. When I clarified for them what their "nature" or inborn personality was, they were able to understand why they weren't successful in their position or why they weren't happy with their choices and look at their careers with new insight.
While many will tell you that leaders are "made," Dr. Keirsey and Myers-Briggs will tell you that leadership is an inborn trait, and that some personalities are naturally meant for leadership. It doesn't mean others can't learn how to lead, but they are just as comfortable following, while inborn leaders can't not lead!
Most psychologists, however, will tell you that our inborn nature/aptitude or our DNA make up at best 50% of who we are. The question is, what's the other 50%?
I believe the other part of our persona is made up of our attitude or "nurture."
Nurture is what we learn from others or from certain needs we have that were met or unmet. Nobody is born angry, lazy, feeble, timid or scared; these traits are mostly nurtured.
A bad attitude is very hard to change, but not impossible.
Think about two neighboring countries, like the U.S. and Mexico or Switzerland and Italy. Are all people born in those countries so opposite? Or are there behaviors and norms that have entrenched each society? Family traditions, religion and more each make a mark on people’s behaviors.
In the same way, attitudes and behaviors in companies create the culture of the company. For example, if a leader has a positive attitude about people, especially their employees, it will create a positive work environment. On the other hand, if a leader has a toxic personality and is condescending or abrupt with employees and clients, that will translate into how the company deals with its employees and customers. Richard Branson said it best: "The way you treat your employees is the way they will treat your customers."
Altitude (Emotional Intelligence)
Then, there is emotional intelligence (EQ), which today, is a great predictor of success in both your personal and professional life.
According to all EQ schools of thought, the basic foundations of EQ are our own self-awareness and our awareness of others. We can only grow or change if we are aware of what is working and what is not.
The good news is that EQ can (and should) be taught. If you want to improve your personal and professional life, especially if you are in or anticipating getting into a leadership position, get a good understanding of your own EQ.
I've used various EQ assessments for individuals wanting to understand how they stack up on their EQ score. All evaluations start with self-awareness. How self-aware are you of your own emotions and triggers? For example, do you get easily knocked down when adversity hits you over the head? If so, how quickly do you bounce back?
And how aware are you of other people's emotions and triggers? For example as a leader, are you concerned about your employees' well being? Are people feeling burned out, unappreciated, overworked, etc.? Do they have pressing personal issues that are affecting their work? As a leader, having emotional intelligence means being aware of such issues and making sure there are resources available, such as therapists, coaches, mentors, etc.
Another aspect of EQ is self-regulation. How disciplined are you with your emotions and behaviors? Do you lose it easily (scream and yell), get irritated over small issues, become passive-aggressive with employees, etc.? These are all signs of low regulation.
Benjamin Franklin said it best in his 1750 Poor Richard's Almanac that "There are three things extremely hard: steel, a diamond, and to know one's self."