Emotions Run High Higher Up The Ladder

How many times have you heard your friends, family or colleagues discuss the capabilities that their bosses lack. Usually, it tends to focus on their lack of engagement or inability to see things from a different point of view. You’ve probably witnessed leaders who started off accomplished and successful, take a turn for the worse without so much of an explanation. Perhaps they start making fatal decisions that don’t seem to make sense to the rest of the team, or maybe they stop listening to the advice of others, believing their way to be the only way.

Research in Psychology Today explains that leaders could be susceptible to losing emotional intelligence and losing control of their cognitive abilities and our article will take a look at why leaders are much more vulnerable to this, the symptoms to look out for and the strategies to prevent this.

Losing EI and Loss of IQ

The effects of short-term stress on the IQ can actually be beneficial. However, problems start to occur when increased stress takes place over an extended period.

  • Short- term stressors lead to the release of neurotransmitters and hormones which can increase concentration, strength and reaction times.
  • But If stress becomes high enough over a longer length of time, these neurotransmitters and hormones begin to negatively affect the brain.
    • The prefrontal cortex, the main source of control in the brain, becomes compromised which impacts processes such as analysing and decision-making.
    • The amygdala is also affected, which plays a major role in emotional responses. Usually, the prefrontal cortex can override the amygdala, however when it is compromised, it loses this ability, resulting in an overactive state of emotion.
    • The increased and prolonged stress effectively turns off the prefrontal cortex and turns on the amygdala.
    • The individual loses control of cognitive abilities (including IQ), and loses control of their emotions, becoming less emotionally intelligent.

The Proof is in the EQ-i

Research from High Performing Systems was carried out in 2007 to prove the hypothesis that emotional intelligence deteriorates under stressful conditions. A study of 62 participants completed the EQ-i under ‘normal’ conditions and then under ‘stressed’ conditions. The average score under ‘normal’ conditions sat at 101, while ‘stressed’ conditions were reduced to a score of 80. 

Furthermore, The New York Times published a study in 1983 that found that children who were suffering from physical or emotional stress scored 13% lower on intelligence tests than children who did not experience stress. The average score dropped from 104 to 91.

Why are leaders more vulnerable?

First of all, leaders are frequently under excessive pressure which can lead to stress and it is not necessarily a short-term one-off burst of stress.  Their whole role includes continuous stressors which means that their stress levels tend to remain elevated over a prolonged period of time.

Secondly, They have a pivotal role to play. They are in a position that requires them to make decisions on behalf of others, their team and the company. Decisions which might be make or break. These decisions can impact the people who work there and the success of the organisation.   They can feel very lonely at the top and that is why we offer executive coaching support to them.

The symptoms

You will usually notice a sudden drop in the performance of the leader, as there is often a ‘tipping point’ when this will start to occur. Typical signs of losing emotional intelligence and IQ include…

  • Not paying attention
  • Making poor decisions, fuelled by emotions rather than logic
  • Adopting blindness – ignoring the advice of others
  • Avoiding making decisions
  • Over-analysing
  • Self-satisfying
  • Adopting a self-indulgent manner and response

Strategies to counter the effects

  • Stimulate your brain: It is thought that there is a direct correlation between playing chess and logical thinking, with it being credited to increase concentration, strategic planning, analysis, reasoning and critical thinking. Like any other skill, intelligence can be improved through practise. Games like Sudoku and puzzles will keep your brain in shape.
  • Go for a run:  there is a strong association between cardiovascular fitness and cognitive abilities, with muscle mass only generating a weak correlation.
  • Mindfulness: Meditation doesn’t need to be done for hours on end and isn’t the only form of practicing mindfulness. Something as simple as a walk in the park can bring about the same benefits. Brief mindfulness training can improve visuo-spatial processing, working memory, and executive functioning.
  • Grow your brain: There’s evidence that learning a foreign language or learning to play a musical instrument can make your brain grow and raise IQ levels. Learning a new language results in cortical thickening and increases the volume of your hippocampus, eventually leading to improvements in other tasks like negotiating and problem-solving. Musical practice is associated with structural and functional plasticity of the brain and can lead to an increased IQ by 7 or more points.

The impact that stress can have on emotional intelligence and IQ levels is evident. This is why it is so important to protect those in high-stress positions who are most susceptible to experience losing control of their cognitive abilities and their emotions. These are individuals who are in roles which rely on concentration, focus, empathy, and judgement.

If you feel as if you, or your employees, don’t know how to identify the signs to look out for, or you don’t understand how to prevent and manage these issues, you should make sure that your team gets the right training to enable them to do so. As a member of a team, you should look out for your colleagues and as a part of an organisation, you should be a part of its best efforts.

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