"Emotional intelligence is a way of recognizing, understanding, and choosing how we think, feel, and act. Research suggests it is responsible for as much as 80 percent of the success in our lives." – J. Freedman, CEO of Six Seconds, a non-profit dedicated to emotional intelligence (EQ).
When I think back on my life now, it seems unlikely that I would have become a leader. I was a shy, introverted engineer who felt the world wasn’t safe, hated her reflection in the mirror, and had an unhealthy attachment to animals. I worried all the time, judged people often and preferred to stay home with my cats. Yet somehow the leadership roles came.
As a young, female engineer working in the heavy truck and aerospace industries, I was focused on getting the job done; I’d do whatever it took. I worked hard and was goal-oriented. I guess that means something in the corporate world. I was willing to do whatever, and did do whatever. I was deemed a leader and given roles as such — team leader for several special projects, Quality Manager and Compliance Auditor to name a few. But I blamed others, including my teams when things went awry. My insecurities and fear didn’t allow me to admit when I messed up. I was also impatient and hard on myself and others. Significantly.
I remember a time when I was about thirty and working as a quality engineer, primarily leading cross-functional teams to resolve warranty problems reported from our customer base. I applied for a job to be an electrical design engineer, which would have been a lateral move at the time. I interviewed well and was offered the job almost immediately. A few days later, my manager informed me that the manager of that department changed his mind and was hiring someone else for the position.
I was furious and immediately went into a rant with my boss and spewed all the reasons – now I would refer to these as stories – about why I was not getting the job, including because I was a woman and that manager was sexist, that he felt threatened by a smart, strong woman. And it didn’t stop there. I insisted on a meeting with him and a Human Resource representative. I repeated all my angry, unfair stories to him, which he denied, calmly but uncomfortably. Ugh! It is uncomfortable just thinking back to that time in my life. Even more embarrassing, at the time, one of my leadership roles at the company was as an Organizational Behavior Team Lead and Coach. Really?
Were any of my stories true about him or the reason he chose another engineer? Maybe, but probably not. He said that I was not as qualified as the other candidate, and that was true. I had little design experience. He said he received several more resumes after my interview. There is no logical reason to think otherwise. My anger and insecurities were triggered and I could not see.
I have learned through my work with Conscious Transformation that our intellect shuts down when we are upset, and I believe there is a proportional relationship between just how upset we are, how charged our emotions are, and our access to thinking skills and good decision making. And back then, well, I was pretty upset, so enough said about my level of intelligence that day.
What I know now, that I didn’t know then, is that I didn’t have much of a choice. I was a product of my training from childhood and carried the patterns of my parents and other significant influences into my adult life, including my career. If I believed, even subconsciously, that my self worth was a result of my job success, or an application process, then it seems reasonable to me that I would fall apart and become defensive when things did not appear to go my way, or that I felt diminished or rejected.
While I have thirty years of traditional education, including a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering and an MBA, I’ve learned more about leadership and emotional intelligence (EI) in my eight years studying Conscious Transformation than all the years that preceded it. I have learned that to lead others I must be willing to lead myself first, to do all of the things that I ask of others, and I must be willing to go where it is vulnerable and uncomfortable as a pathway to create something new…for myself and for others.
And while I began my journey into adulthood and into Corporate America as a product of a certain kind of training, I have choice now; I am a product of mindful, intentional training. I am aware of my emotional state and how this impacts my environment. I can redirect my thoughts and emotions to create stories that serve my vision of peace, joy and fulfillment and I can choose when to take action and when to remain still and silent. From this space, I lead – accountable, empowered, grateful.
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Sarah Retzer With twenty years of experience in automotive and aerospace engineering, Sarah is now dedicated to personal and professional development, for individuals and organizations. A devoted student of Conscious Transformation since 2009, she embodies this system of training and uses her experience to impact people from a wide variety of backgrounds.