Beyond Temperament: What Donald Trump Can Teach Us About Social and Emotional Intelligence

08/22/2016 03:24 pm ET | Updated Aug 22, 2016

Social and emotional intelligence - it’s what I work with every day. In leadership and management development, it’s one of the most popular elements that impacts leadership effectiveness, as well as employee performance. It’s a constant message in management training― most negative employee issues are not skill based issues, but tend to be emotional and social intelligence issues. The lack of it can cost a company millions in lost revenue.

In fact, social and emotional intelligence has become so important to leadership they are now considered standard leadership competencies. With that, an entire consulting industry has grown around it, including pre-hire assessments, leadership development assessments, as well as EQ specific coaching certifications.

Studies have generally reflected that companies are more successful when their leaders and employees have a certain level of emotional and social intelligence.

With that said, it begs the question: “Should we expect the same or similar competency for political leaders as we do for our corporate leaders? Should we have at minimum a baseline of similar leadership qualities for the most powerful role on the planet?” My personal answer is yes and then some.

The concepts surrounding having or not having emotional intelligence in some respects are difficult to teach, see, understand, and self-identify. In fact, in the most recent news cycles, the word “temperament” is being used to explain why some feel Donald Trump is not qualified for the presidency. In my view, the issue can be more specially described as emotional intelligence, and it’s easier to learn about and understand when it’s seen or demonstrated. Unfortunately, in this current political cycle, we have constant, larger than life examples of what isn’t emotional and social intelligence.

In short, social and emotional Intelligence, commonly known as EQ, can be described quite simply as emotional maturity and can be assessed as follows:

  1. Self-Realize: One who is able to identify their feelings and emotions.
  2. Self-Control: One who is able to self-regulate (that is manage impulses, exercise self-control, self-manage).
  3. Empathy: One who is able to identify the emotions and feelings of others.
  4. Response: One who is able to respond appropriately.

Certainly with any quality, there is range and dimension. With regard to empathy, on the lower end of the scale, we’re looking at the basic capacity to be so and then to what degree depends on the circumstances. For example, I have experienced feeling awful for a friend who has a child struggling with drug abuse. However, I can only experience that to a limited degree because I do not have children of my own. There is a certain dimension of empathy that will be missing, though I can imagine what she must be feeling.

Our fundamental capacity for empathy comes from a sense of our own humanity and others, coupled with a heart of humility, demonstrated by our willingness to be vulnerable to someone else’s pain. As children, in healthy upbringings, we developed this capability as our parents facilitated in safety and love. For those not so fortunate, some did not. The absence of a safe, nurturing environment can result in being emotionally handicapped, which we then carry into adulthood only to be relentlessly pinged during every life experience both personal and professional.

It’s not something you can run away from or ignore. Emotional maturity is like the electrical wiring in a home, it’s an intricate part of the design and function of the house and it regularly utilized and tested.

Gage Skidmore
Donald Trump speaking at CPAC 2011 in Washington, D.C.

That’s what’s happening this political season with Donald Trump, relentlessly broadcasting a breath of examples demonstrating what EQ doesn’t look like and the resulting effects. This is not to say Hillary Clinton doesn’t have her own EQ challenges (which you may recognize in the list below), it’s just that Donald Trump has numerous, obvious examples to use which have also been amplified by extensive media coverage.

If business leaders are becoming more concerned and aware of their own EQ, shouldn’t we be concerned about the EQ level of politicians and candidates? This is not meant to be a partisan commentary. What I do have are discerning ears and eyes developed from years of working with human behavior in both personal and professional settings.

The behaviors listed below would fall under the category of low emotional intelligence with a dose of narcissism. Here’s what I’ve observed to date in interviews and public appearances and which seems to be habitual (meaning default action or pattern):

  • Refusing to acknowledge a fact
  • Difficulty admitting a wrong
  • Habitually defaults to defensiveness
  • Difficulty apologizing
  • Continuous diversion in a conversation to point of the ridiculous
  • Lack of discernment
  • Using absolute, grandiose, exaggerated or catastrophic terms as standard parts of speech: always, never, super, disaster, amazing, tremendous 
  • Easily triggered
  • Over reactionary 
  • Cyber-bullying / bullying
  • Insulting/demeaning/belittling those in opposition
  • Lack of civility
  • Over personalizes events and/or actions of others
  • Talks about oneself disproportionately, using “I” much more than “we”
  • Claiming to be the only source of hope, almost as a savior 
  • Making statements of power, that are beyond reason or capability
  • Tit for tat
  • Easily wronged
  • Petty
  • Refusal to acknowledge reality
  • Glib communication in which lies are fluidly expressed with no sense of error
  • Acts like a victim when things don’t go their way
  • Attacks back instead of receiving input or feedback
  • Revengeful, not able to let go of an offense
  • Blames others for one’s missteps

I know this is a pretty generous list. That’s because there has been so many examples, and that’s why I felt compelled to write this piece. At any point in time, turn on the TV or radio and listen to a speech or interview by Trump (or Clinton when being asked about her emails). You’ll consistently witness many of these unfortunate actions.

In corporate leadership, these kinds of behaviors habitually demonstrated (which are seen as a reflection of one’s emotional, social, and intellectual maturity) are known to be unhealthy and destructive. For many, it would not be tolerated and a basis for termination.

This is not to say that these don’t exist in companies ― some have a high tolerance for and have become use to, in fact numb to the dysfunction they create. But there are many companies that have seen the light and value social and emotional intelligence as being a non-negotiable component of their company culture and leadership.

If this is true for our corporate settings, how much more should these behaviors be taken seriously in the assessment of our next commander-in-chief or any public leader for that matter? I invite you to put on this lens from time to time as you evaluate any candidate throughout the remainder of this election session.

JoAnn Corley is a passionate champion of human potential with a focus on leadership and organizational success. She has the crazy belief that we can create our best leaders and businesses from the best of our human selves. Her overall mission is to help companies put the human back in human resource through holistic talent management. She has been consistently recognized as one of the top 100 most social HR & management experts to follow on social media at @joanncorley.


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