To Be a Great Leader, You Need a High EQ

One of the toughest situations I had to navigate as a founder was a key team member threatening to leave my team. During a strategy session about an important topic, Bob and I saw things differently. Neither of us backed away from our position, and it turned into a heated debate. We were respectful of each other, but later that day I received an email from Bob saying he would like to leave the team because we didn’t see eye to eye. Bob was extremely smart and talented. He owned all the details of a critical part of the business. Translation: it would be hard to replace Bob, and a critical part of the business would come to a standstill if he left.

I didn’t realize the seriousness of the situation until I read Bob’s email. I immediately realized that it could spiral out of control unless I handled it correctly. I got Bob on the phone, and we listened to each other’s viewpoints (instead of pushing our own). I told him I valued him as a team member, and we agreed to sleep on things.

I felt there was more there, so over the next few days we talked it over and got to the root of his frustrations. I learned that it had nothing to do with what we were originally debating. The company was growing, and Bob’s role was becoming more demanding. He didn’t understand why he was being asked to take on many new responsibilities. This was news to me, but once I understood the problem I came up with a solution.

I realized I hadn’t articulated my vision for where the company was going, so the extra work didn’t make sense to Bob. He didn’t understand how he fit in. He just felt overworked. I started communicating my high-level vision more clearly and frequently to the entire team so that everyone would understand their importance to making the vision reality. I transitioned certain responsibilities away from Bob and hired someone to work closely with Bob and take them on. We put the plan in writing and agreed to it. Everything was back on track. Bob and the rest of the team understood the vision and were satisfied.

That situation was a great lesson. I learned that being a leader is not just about being hard-charging and executing. It’s about people, too (other people—not just you). Leaders need to have emotional intelligence and awareness to understand what your team needs (even if they can’t—or don’t—articulate it) and provide it.

Cultivate this ability in yourself. Your team will run through walls for you.