EQ: Emotional Intelligence, 3 Brain Theory & Leadership

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups. A skill that most leadership training programs now highly recommend as a necessity for great leaders. Traditionally analytical skills measured by IQ tests were considered as the pinnacle of leadership missing probably the most important quality of a leader, EQ.

Recently I gave Daniel Goleman’s book called “Emotional Intelligence” a spin. In his book, Goleman explains how emotions play a much greater role in thought, decision-making and individual success than is commonly acknowledged.

Let me explain.

Paul MacLean – 3 Brain Theory

Dr. MacLean said we do not have 1 brain but 3. Each brain evolved over time one by one over the older brain until there were 3 distinct brains interconnected with their own purpose and function. This is called the Triune Brain Model.

The 3 brains – starting in the center

1st – Reptilian (Primitive) is at the brain stem, root brain. This controls breathing, heart and organ functions. It is a part of the brain which cannot be reprogrammed since it regulates your body. Its goal is to make sure you stay alive and reproduce.

2nd – Limbic (Emotional) sits over the primitive brain and is impulsive and powerful. It controls how you feel to certain stimulus. Knowing something is right in your heart. It connects information to memory and works best during emotionally charged context. It serves the primitive brain giving pleasure to natural survival needs.

We like to believe that our decisions are based on our thought but in reality they are based on our “emotional state of mind”, how we feel at the time.

It’s important to know that there was an emotional brain long before rational brain.

3rd – Neocortex (Rational) is the newest part of our brain and is also referred to as the “thinking brain”. It sits on top of the emotional brain and it controls higher level processes such as logic, reasoning, creative thinking, language etc.

Neocortex tends to be swamped by the brains beneath it, especially the emotional brain on which it sits & connects to directly. The emotional brain is known to hijack your rational mind when it its basic needs for survival & reproduction are threatened sending a storm of messages to the lower brain to execute pre-programmed instructions in a fight or flight response. E.g. Fear sends stress signals to all parts of the brain immobilizing the body.

I’m sure by now you can see the importance of the 3 brains and their impact on us and people we lead.

A Japanese tale

There is a nice Japanese tale about a samurai and a zen master. The samurai wanted to know the difference between heaven and hell. The monk replied to the samurai “I have no time to waste with a lout like you”. The samurai flew into a rage and pulled his sword in anger yelling “I could kill you for your impudence!”. “That”, the monk replied “is hell”. Startled, having realised what the monk said the samurai put his sword away, bowed and thanked the monk for his insight. “And that” the monk said “is heaven”.
This illustrates the crucial difference in getting caught up in a feeling and becoming aware that you are getting swept away by it.

Socrates injunction “know thy self” speaks to this keystone of emotional intelligence. Awareness of ones own feelings as they occur and self-awareness as an ongoing attention to ones internal states – being aware of our moods and thoughts about that mood.

How to manage your emotions?

Here are a basic set of set of steps you can follow to learn to control your emotions and in turn understand the emotions and drivers of the people you lead.

  • Cease and challenge the emotion (e.g. anger) before reacting to it.
  • Realize that you cannot stop emotions flooding your mind. Emotions happen too quickly and outside your rational mind. But you are in total control of how you will react.
  • Have an open mind and realise that you may not understand the other story where the emotion was triggered. The situation might not be as bad as you perceive it.
  • Each thought triggers more emotions. So use the power of distraction to stop it.

Why is this important?

  • We are all affected by the 3 parts of our brain in making and dealing with decisions and people.
  • As a leader understanding how this affects you is fundamental in understanding your followers, those that you lead. How can you lead people if you do not understand basic fundamentals of how your emotions drive your world. Understand 1st, then apply.
  • Being an effective leader means you understand that people are emotional creatures and at times can get swamped by their lower brains in response to various environmental triggers, as it is also explained on a leadership keynote speakers site.
  • Intentions and Behaviours are 2 different things. Behaviours are sometimes triggered by lower brain functions. Never make conclusions based on them, rather on the “true intentions” of the said individual, their rational mind. Have an open mind.

Emotional Intelligence

Before you can be effective at this you must understand your own emotions better just like the samurai in the Japanese tale. Once you learn to manage your emotions you will have a profound deep understanding of the people around you and how to best respond, motivate, lead and inspire them. That my life explorers, is true Emotional Intelligence.

Goleman in his book on Emotional Intelligence shares great stories and examples on EQ. If you haven’t already, spend some time immersing yourself in this knowledge. You will be surprised what you learn.

~ Ernest