Emotional intelligence: The heart of being an audacious, adaptable, and authentic human leader

How mastering emotional intelligence can shape your leadership

The Obelisk Support Women Who Will classes of 2020 and 2021, recently came together once again to discuss and exchange ideas, as senior female leaders in law, on the opportunities, challenges and responsibilities faced as female leaders with a focus on exploring the role of mastering emotional intelligence.

Held in partnership with the Next 100 Years Project, the session, led by Alina Addison, Chief Founding Officer of Adaptaa which specialises in executive coaching and development, explored how female leaders in law could be audacious, adaptable and authentic human leaders and create a ‘Ripple of Impact’ for others to benefit from in the future.

In this post we explore the importance of emotional intelligence and outline four leadership principles to that can help you change your perspective to achieve your full potential.

Emotional intelligence – your leadership superpower

With growing geopolitical tensions, the complex economic consequences of Brexit and the global coronavirus pandemic and the current cost of living crisis – all of which impact workplaces and, importantly, the people within them – leaders today face an extraordinary degree of unpredictability and uncharted territory.

It comes as little surprise then, that emotional intelligence is no longer considered a nice-to-have skill for effective leadership, but is in fact listed as one of the World Economic Forum’s Top 10 Skills to thrive in the fourth industrial revolution.

As Alina explains “Your mood, your state, your emotions are important to your performance. Whether an athlete or in the corporate world – your emotional state will impact your performance.”

But what exactly is emotional intelligence? And how can it be your superpower?

Your emotional brain vs your rational brain

Emotional intelligence or your EQ – emotional quotient – is defined as the ability to recognise, understand, and manage your own emotions, and those of the people around you. People with high EQ can adjust their emotions to adapt to environments. Yet, only about 30% of us can accurately identify or ‘label’ our emotions correctly as they occur according to Dr Daniel Goleman, psychologist, and author of the New York Times bestseller Emotional Intelligence and Social Intelligence: The New Science of Human Relationships.

Why is labelling your emotions so important? Alina explains “Your emotional brain is infinitely more powerful than your rational brain.  And your emotional brain instructs the body to produce chemicals, which you experience as emotions. The first step in mastering your emotions, is to understand the signals that those emotions are sending you. Being unable to identify your own emotions is like making decisions based on the wrong data. This can lead to irrational choices and counterproductive actions, which are more common than not.

“All negative emotions are just a signal, a message to the brain that what you are doing right now is not working and you need to change it.  If you ignore the message or emotional signal, that signal does not go away. It intensifies.  You feel even more stressed, even more angry.  It intensifies until you realize you need to change something. Your expectations, the way you look at things, the way you communicate or the way you behave.”

According to Alina, there is no coincidence. Only serendipity. Everything happens to us for a reason – and everything happens to us through people. Life and work will have its peaks and troughs and it is vital that we manage our energy to navigate the highs and lows effectively. Here understanding our ‘EQ muscles’ – such as self-control, optimism, and empathy – and which are stronger and weaker; can help us make positive changes and achieve  our own full potential – and support those around us to achieve the same.

Four Leadership Principles

For Alina, there are several leadership principles that she lives by and teaches others through coaching. Below we outline 4 of these principles in more detail.

Leadership principle #1: Success is visible. Failure is invisible

Yet, none is possible without the other.  And if you re-frame failure into feedback and have a learning mindset, you will guarantee success.

It is easy to see success, yet behind every success story there are many, many failures, mistakes, trials, and errors. Often, we see the end success story but not what comes with it achieving it – yet they are part of the same package.

Here Alina recommends using positive psychology to reframe everything in a constructive light. Her top tip? Remember there is no failure – there is only feedback. Think what is the lesson in this? What have I learned from this? How quickly can I recover from this?

Leadership principle #2: Consistency vs intensity

Alina’s advice is practical and simple. Always be on time.  When you are not, people will know it’s the exception. 

The little things you do every day will make a difference to you as a leader and to those around you.

Remember – life has peaks and troughs. It can be extremely good and extremely bad. Enjoy life and work when it is good and save energy to navigate the tougher times.

Leadership principle #3: If you like it say it. If you don’t like it say it

Expressing what’s on our mind in a straightforward and empathic way is one of the few ways to live a happy life.  Disappointments always arise from unfulfilled expectations. Yet, most people never express their expectations out loud. They don’t like something, yet they never let the other people know. Equally when people do something for you that you appreciate, let them know.  

Honesty is an incredible skill to have because it is so rare. To be straightforward in an empathetic way is a true superpower.  We are all faced with times when we want to express something on our minds that is difficult. A practical tip from Alina is to start by saying “I am just going to be straightforward right now”. It can soften the message by setting an expectation with the recipient. To illustrate the point Alina explains that as a coach for example she often says to her clients “I am going to challenge you now in a loving way”. In this way, her clients are still challenges but receive what she shares with a different and positive mindset.

Leadership principle #4: Always ask

Alina’s experience is that when you ask you always get.  Even if it’s not what you originally asked for. And especially if you truly believe you are going to get a no.

Alina points to the power of receiving a ‘no’ as a powerful negotiation tactic citing Chris Voss – former FBI lead hostage negotiator and author of the bestseller “Never Split the Difference: Negotiating as if Your Life Depended on It.”

When people say no, people feel safe, that they have not given in. A top tip from Alina is to force a no by starting a conversation or negotiation with a question like “do you think this is a ridiculous request?” Often the response will be ‘no’ providing a strong starting point for further negotiation and discussion. Here, empathy can be a powerful strategy.  

Yet sometimes you will not get a ‘yes’ immediately. However, Alina encourages us not to be disheartened. Down the line the ‘no’ is likely to turn into a ‘yes’ or, you are likely to be offered an alternative, often better option. Alina explains the human brain will keep thinking about your request and feelings of guilt can spurn action because the person feels they owe you something.

Bonus tip! Manage your energy

Asked what the key challenge leaders face professionally and personally in achieving their goals, the answer was unanimous. Time.

Whether more time to spend with family, friends and loved ones, to give back more to society, the community and support more philanthropic activities or simply relax, enjoy one’s hobby or prioritise self-care and physical and mental wellbeing – finding an equilibrium between professional and personal demands was identified as a key challenge, especially for female leaders in law who must often balance family and work commitments.

This challenge can be exacerbated by a need to feel that one always needs to be doing something constructive – often experiencing feelings of guilt if you do take time out to relax, read a book or garden for enjoyment as opposed to the chore of clearing the weeds.

Reminded of a line in the Kipling poem “If” – “if you can fill the unforgiving minute, with sixty seconds’ worth of distance run”, it was highlighted that sometimes one can feel that if there is a second wasted then somehow it is a disgrace and you have let yourself or someone else down.

Time is clearly precious – because it is limited. So how can you take control? Can being able to sit still in the moment be within our grasp? How can we prevent self-care being the first sacrificed when time is limited?

One piece of advice shared is to focus on one ‘front’ or goal at a time to prevent the striving imperative becoming overwhelming with the result that one feels you fail at it all.

For Alina, her advice is that we remember we are human beings. We are not human doings. Rather than do, do, do, we need to remember to ‘be’. She recommends that you do not focus on managing time, but instead focus on managing your energy. We only have 24 hours in a day. Think about how you can best manage your energy in the time you have been given.

About Adaptaa

Adaptaa specialises in executive coaching and development. With a passion for improving Emotional Intelligence and driving high performance in the modern workplace, Adaptaa is founded on 4 core values that drive and inform all the work that they do: integrity, connection, courage and growth.

Their commitment is to serve the leaders of the future, with the highest standards of quality, reliability and flexibility through team coaching, peer coaching and bespoke leadership programmes.

“Alina is the most inspirational coach to have by your side. Incredibly insightful and challenging and yet supportive as well. I loved that each session was very bespoke and tailored to my needs at that very specific moment in time.”


Executive Director, Investment Bank

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