02/18/2013 09:18 pm ET Updated Apr 20, 2013

Emotional Fitness Needed to Lead

How you respond to stress, relate with colleagues and listen to your feelings are all keys to leading others well, and to doing your best work. Such emotional intelligence, or "EQ" is not fad or psychobabble; it's grounded in experience and data.

EQ has become hyper-relevant to recruiters, executives, and board members alike, and is an increasingly visible part of how great careers -- and future leaders -- are made. While this is familiar ground for leadership development and talent management professionals, many in the trenches wonder what, exactly, it means -- and why they should care.

For example, when I met with a new coaching client at a materials manufacturing company, I was asked, "We're not going to talk about my feelings, are we?"

I empathized - when I was promoted to divisional COO of Charles Schwab, my own then-coach wanted to talk about my feelings, and my reaction was "ugh." Yet I would have benefited by being open-minded to it sooner.

I've since made EQ a key part of my coaching work for a simple reason: Our feelings contain knowledge necessary to achieve our best. Thoughts alone don't tell you everything you need to know to lead effectively. Subtracting feelings from career development efforts is tying one hand behind your back.

Measuring Your Feeling "Fitness" as Applied to Your Work

It's as true of EQ as it is for your P&L -- what gets measured and monitored tends to improve. According to one well-respected approach, there are six components to measure for yourself versus the population:

1. Your real-time access to the full range of your feelings
2. The balance between your level of positivity and negativity
3. The degree of your orientation toward yourself versus others
4. How you balance your reliance among your thoughts, actions and feelings
5. How accurate your empathy may be
6. Your overall level of empathy and compassion

While there are a number of EQ assessment tools, the method above entails the user watching a series of videos via the web, answering questions about each one, and receiving a report and live debrief, that, when administered skillfully, clearly help them see what EQ means in their world, and how to use it to enhance their fitness as leaders or developing leaders.

It's true, as they say in recovery, "Feelings aren't facts." Yet when you pump a little iron on finding the best balance between your thinking, actions and feelings, you can't help but improve your career fitness as a leader, whether you are a new manager or CEO.