The Emotional Process To Help Senior Leaders Make Better Decisions

By Christine Michel Carter

In our personal lives, we sometimes rely on our gut to make bold decisions. However, in the business world, depending on your gut is risky. In its 2022 Research Report, cloud-based software company Momentive (the parent company of SurveyMonkey) found that 32% of senior leaders rely on their gut and experience to make decisions at their company. Senior leaders are defined as vice presidents and those in the C-suite, and “depending on one’s gut” refers to making decisions based on one’s emotional (and sometimes physical) reaction to potential outcomes.

Perhaps senior leaders rely on their gut because 30% believe they don’t have access to accurate data. Regardless of data challenges, the days are long gone when a senior leader should make decisions based primarily on intuition; some argue it’s a driver of extreme passion and an enormous ego. However, others believe when senior leaders have the proper tools to manage their emotions, they can become better decision-makers on behalf of the organization.

Carolyn Stern is the president and CEO of EI Experience, an executive leadership development and emotional intelligence training firm. She is a certified emotional intelligence and leadership development expert, professional speaker, and university professor. Stern believes when managers grow their emotional intelligence, they can enhance attention, creativity, and decision-making.

“The way we feel at work and about work affects how we perform. For example, when people are hopeful, happy, and engaged, they’re likely motivated to do their jobs well, boosting performance. The key to building these positive feelings lies in cultivating and leading with emotional intelligence,” Stern explains.

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Just over 25% of business leaders collect feedback from key stakeholders sometimes, rarely, or even not at all. Senior leaders can embrace stakeholder emotions and build high-performing organizations by effectively defining and regularly listening to them for feedback. To better respond and adapt to team perspectives, in their report Momentive also recommended senior leaders increase stakeholder feedback cadence. (In a related article, managers who encouraged emotion wheel breaks during one-on-ones ultimately led to increased productivity and lower turnover.)

Stern developed a six-step process to help senior leaders learn the proper tools to manage their emotions, backed by science and decades of field research. Below she shares some of the process which has helped senior leaders identify the specific emotional skills that most impact their careers (and thus, their teams), uncover barriers to growth, set goals, and tap into the motivation to change. The six-step process addresses five distinct areas of emotional intelligence: self-perception, self-expression, interpersonal, stress management, and ultimately, decision-making.

Connect With Yourself

Begin the process by taking a hard look in the mirror to create an inventory of existing emotional intelligence strengths and areas for development. Then, Stern advises senior leaders to ask themselves questions that probe all five areas of emotional intelligence, such as, “am I aware of how I am feeling at any given moment? Do I stand up for myself? Am I able to put myself in other people’s shoes?”

Consult With Others

Self-perception is not always accurate. Therefore, senior leaders must interview others to learn how they are seen and then circle back to compare these results with their perceptions. Senior leaders should ask questions like, “does it seem that I care too much about what others think of me? Do I adequately manage my stress? Do you think that I control my impulses?”

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Clarify Focus

Once senior leaders collect this information about their level of emotional intelligence, they’re more likely to change if they understand the why behind their gaps and what those gaps are costing them. Stern recommends looking at one’s highest and lowest emotional intelligence competencies and asking, “where does this development opportunity come from? Childhood? Life experience? How does it hold me back in the workplace?”

Consider Possibilities and Barriers

This step helps senior leaders figure out how to close the gap between where they are and where they want to be. First, brainstorm as many options as possible for reaching an emotional intelligence goal, and then think about what might get in the way of realizing each option. For clients, Stern often advises finding ways to dissolve the roadblocks impeding success.

Craft an Action Plan

Next, develop an action plan broken down into bite-size chunks with target dates for completion, and create a relapse prevention strategy for handling hiccups. The relapse prevention strategy includes asking oneself, “what triggers do I anticipate experiencing as I attempt to reach my goal? What can I do to avoid these triggers?”

Confirm Commitment and Close the Conversation

In this final step, it’s important to establish goal accountability. Identify a competency advisor who can provide support during the emotional intelligence development process. When senior leaders check in with their advisors, they should be asked questions like, “what strategies have you tried to achieve your goal? How did it go? What are you learning about yourself? What is one thing you will do differently next time?”

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Psychology Today reported last year that emotional intelligence training could yield organizations a 1484% return on investment. Emotional intelligence in executives has also been linked to higher profit-earning companies. Stern agrees- emotional intelligence is critical for growing and scaling businesses:

“Your emotions, and those of others, are not the enemy but are the basis of your strengths. Not dealing with emotions hurts us, our people, and our organizations. Worse, it prevents us from creating remarkable cultures and achieving incredible business results.”


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