How Emotional Literacy Can Make You A Better Leader

This post by Jan Bruce, CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, first appeared on

While we all know some of the greatest names in innovation didn’t earn so much as a bachelor’s degree, there’s little question that education—not just what you’re taught, but how to apply and even question what you’ve learned—has everything to do with your success. Which is why I found it particularly compelling to read in the New York Times magazine recently about the emotional literacy tools being developed and used in school today. And it goes outside of anything you’d pick up at Harvard Business School.

Based on some exciting new research, there’s growing acceptance of an approach to social-emotional skills that experts say are pivotal to a child’s development. This used to fall outside the domain of straight-up academics, but now, is being folded into the curriculum.

In the piece (“This Is What Anger Looks Like”), Times contributor Jennifer Kahn writes,

“Once a small corner of education theory, S.E.L. has gained traction in recent years, driven in part by concerns over school violence, bullying and teen suicide. But while prevention programs tend to focus on a single problem, the goal of social-emotional learning is grander: to instill a deep psychological intelligence that will help children regulate their emotions.”

The reason this matters is because what’s essentially being said is that your ability to read, understand, and manage emotions (your own and others) has a direct impact on your life, productivity, and achievement—and it’s a skill you can learn.

Maurice Elias, a psychology professor at Rutgers University and the director of the Rutgers Social-Emotional Learning Lab, calls calling this the “ ‘missing piece’ in American education.”

That’s big. It’s what I’ve believed for a long time, and defines our approach at meQuilibrium:  That you don’t have to let your emotions rule you or determine the quality of your life.

I asked my colleague and meQ’s Chief Science Officer Andrew Shatté, PhD, to weigh in on the topic, and what he told me is that this whole concept of emotional intelligence (or EQ) was breakthrough because it showed that everything did hang on IQ alone. “What matters most in terms of success is emotional intelligence,” he said, “an awareness of the emotional state of oneself and others and how to harness that knowledge to achieve.”

The problem in this field, he says, is that there’s a lot of insight and defining—but not a whole lot of straight-up application. Even Dan Goleman’s famous book Emotional Intelligence, is about 99.9% description and 0.1% prescription.

If you want to boost your EQ, you need to get to the root of it all: Your thoughts. As Andrew says, “Thoughts determine emotions.”

Your business and your bottom line are dependent on how aligned and focused your team is, in essence, the collective power of all of your many brilliant, conflicting, and sometimes disruptive, thoughts. And without the tools to manage distraction—physical, emotional, and mental—you risk being thrown by each storm, rather than weathering it with resilience.

What I teach people—employees, execs, CEOs—to do is start with the thoughts and from there, you can keep stress, distraction, and upset from hindering your efforts. That’s why more and more companies are taking interest in employing tools like ours companywide—because while individual measures to reduce the negative impact of stress is vital, so are the measures you take as a company to keep them moving ahead in a stressful business environment.

Emotional intelligence and the skills to develop it are invaluable for helping the next generation grow up to be emotionally adjusted and capable of communicating with clarity and care. But those same skills are just as critical and worth cultivating in your workforce. A team that communicates powerfully and effectively while also being sensitive to others’ responses (and the customers’ needs and expectations), will have the competitive edge in any marketplace.

(Read my post on the vital link between resilience and your bottom line).