“You have an EQ of zero!” Ken yelled at me.
“What the hell is an EQ?” I asked.
“Perfect!” Ken screamed back. Then he hung up the phone. Those were the last words Ken ever said to me.
Just like that a twenty-year friendship and business relationship ended forever.
Ken was a co-founder of my company. More importantly I considered him a close friend.
I had lunch with Ken the day before to have our weekly 1:1. I pushed him pretty hard at lunch because he wasn’t performing well.
I looked down at Ken’s feet and he wasn’t wearing socks.
It triggered a memory of when we were raising money. We were in a diligence meeting with a VC and I vividly remembered the VC looking disapprovingly at Ken’s sockless feet.
I told Ken that day with the VC that he needed to wear socks.
At lunch I said nothing. But I was a little pissed off.
Over lunch, I went point-by-point with Ken about my concerns. Ken listened without saying a word.
I ended our lunch conversation saying, “Make life easier for us.”
Ken didn’t say a word as we drove back to the office.
The next morning at 9AM, I received an email from Ken. The title was “Resignation”:
I’ve decided to make your life easier by resigning. I will no longer come into the office, but I will make my last day May 30th, so I can vest one more month of stock.”
I immediately got on the phone and called Ken.
That’s when Ken yelled at me, “You have an EQ of zero!”
I did some deep thinking after the call ended and after I called the board of directors letting them know Ken resigned. The first thing I did was Google “EQ”. Here’s what I found on psychcentral.com:
“For most people, emotional intelligence (EQ) is more important than one’s intelligence (IQ) in attaining success in their lives and careers. As individuals our success and the success of the profession today depend on our ability to read other people’s signals and react appropriately to them.”
I asked myself a lot of questions:
- “Should I have pushed Ken?”
- “Was I out of line?”
- “What did I miss?”
The reality is that I wasn’t being honest with myself or with Ken. I think we both had known for months things weren’t working well.
I was holding out hope that he would suddenly get motivated and start working the way he used to years ago.
It wasn’t going to happen.
The way I should have handled my conversation with Ken was just stating the specific facts about his performance. Then I should have asked him a question, not with anger, but with empathy:
“We know there’s a lot of hard work and personal sacrifice needed in your role. I am just wondering whether you really want to do this anymore?”
Maybe we would still be friends if I handled the situation in this way. I don’t know.
What I did know was I was bummed out for two reasons:
- A dear friend was no longer a friend.
- I thought my EQ (after I learned what it was) was pretty high. It wasn’t. I would have sensed the personal issues Ken was dealing with if my EQ was higher.
The reality is you can always get better no matter how good you think you are.
Growing your EQ requires five things:
- Self-Awareness. You have to be able to recognize your emotions and the effects your emotions have on others. You also need to be self-confident.
- Self-Regulation. How well do you control your emotions?
- Motivation. You need to set clear goals and have a positive attitude.
- Empathy. You need to have the capacity to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within the other person’s frame of reference.
- Social Skills. You need to be able to understand, empathize, and communicate well with others to have a high EQ.
Effective communication is everything in the working world. It doesn’t matter if you are a manager, a CEO, or an employee.
Think about everything and everyone you have to effectively communicate with:
- Your employees
- Your board of directors (if you’re CEO)
- Your investors (if you’re CEO)
- Your peers
- Your manager
- Trade press
The list goes on and on.
OK, so what goes into being an effective communicator?
Here’s what is effective for me with my personality:
- Be direct and to the point. I like to tell it like it is. I don’t oversell, and I don’t undersell. Just the facts. Employees want to know where they stand, so I work hard to win points by being honest.
- Underpromise and overdeliver. It’s so important to set realistic expectations, especially with your board and with investors. I’ll give you an example of how not to do it. We provided engineering updates every board meeting when the company started. The schedules we used were “perfect” schedules. In other words, we looked bad every time we had a slip. We looked bad in the board’s eyes even though our execution was good. We changed our scheduling technique using the “critical chain” methodology. This actually improved our engineering performance and our standing with the board.
- Be transparent. Share as much as possible with your team. Yes, there will be leaks, but it is worth it. Treat your team like adults, and the team will respond positively even to bad news. In fact, they may have ideas of how to solve the problem. You will earn the team’s loyalty and support working this way.
- Be positive in voice and body language. Every movement, every speech, every email, everything you do is analyzed by your team. Hell can be breaking out around you, but you need to have a steady hand at the wheel. Your team is going to take their lead from you.
- Fill in the blanks. You always need to tell the team what you mean, and what you don’t mean. Telling people what you don’t mean is critical because your team will fill in the blanks for you — and you may not like what the team fills in.
That’s all well and good, but improving your EQ revolves around your empathy:
Truly caring for the people you work with is the most important skill you will need to succeed in business and life.
We all have heard the story of the heartless person who clawed his way to the top over a pile of dead bodies.
That’s one way to succeed. And you succeed (if you succeed at all) at a horrible price to yourself and those around you.
There is another way to success. That way is through empathy and high standards.
Now, I’m not saying you should roll over. In fact, I’m saying just the opposite.
What I am saying is you can truly care for the people you work with and hold them accountable. But:
- You can’t fake caring. You will fail spectacularly if you try and fake caring.
- You need to really get to know the people you work with. And not just them, but their spouses and children.
- You will need to hold the people you work with to an even higher standard. Yes, an even higher standard. Not just with the physical results they produce but with the way they contribute to the organization.
Do you truly want to be the best? Then you will need to deal with the not just the good stuff, but the not-so-good stuff:
- Aging parents
It’s a long list with many more life issues we all face.
You will need large doses of empathy to help your team through these life issues. And you will need creative solutions. For example:
What if you have an employee that is diagnosed with cancer? Will you:
- Let the employee get two weeks sick pay and then tell the employee she is on her own?
- Say the hell with the company’s sick pay policy and decide that the employee is on paid indefinite leave until she is well enough to return?
The empathetic leader puts the employee on paid indefinite leave because it’s the right thing to do. Yes, it costs more, but that’s what you are supposed to do.
And guess what? It feels really good helping people.
In fact, you really regret when you are unsuccessful (Ken being a prime example). That drives you to always do the right thing. It may seem more costly (emotionally and financially) but it is actually far easier.
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Brett Fox is an accomplished high-tech executive with experience as a CEO, turnaround specialist, and executive coach. He has built several businesses from $0 to >$100M and has raised over $100M in venture capital and private equity. You can learn more by going to www.brettjfox.com, where this piece originally ran.