The Key to Elevating Leaders’ Emotional Intelligence: Help Them Address Their Insecurities

The Key to Elevating Leaders’ Emotional Intelligence: Help Them Address Their Insecurities
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I want to share my experience working with three different CEOs who struggle with emotional intelligence.

For each of these situations, I was hired to work with the executive team by the head of HR precisely because they were routinely having to play “clean up” as a result of the CEO’s low levels of emotional intelligence.

As you will see, for each CEO, there are deep-seated issues that are inhibiting their emotional intelligence.

CEO #1

This CEO is the founder of his organization that has recently seen its employee base double to over 1,000 employees in the last 18 months.

While the organization is seeing great growth, there are cracks appearing in the structure of the organization, and it starts with the CEO.

The CEO is a hard-charging micromanager who struggles to deal effectively with problems. When a problem pops up, he quickly becomes unhinged. Specifically, he pushes those responsible out of the way, takes the reigns, does very little listening, and is usually quite forceful about his opinion about how his employees aren’t doing their job very well.

In one of my first coaching calls with him, I asked him: “Why did you start your business?”

I think you will find his answer interesting. He said, “To prove others wrong.”

CEO #2

This CEO has recently presided over the acquisition of 6-8 small companies to expand the larger company’s geographic footprint and customer base.

The HR team hired me to help develop the organization’s executive team. But, when I met with the CEO, he informed me that he would not be participating in the coaching and workshops because he didn’t need development, his team did. I asked him if he would at least be willing to complete some self-assessments. He said no.

As I began working with the team, they shared two perspectives I found interesting:

  1. They felt like they wanted to perform at a higher level, and they felt limited by the leadership of the CEO.
  2. In a development workshop a year prior, the facilitator got the team to share childhood stories. The CEOs story involved him saying that his best friend was his basketball.

CEO #3

This CEO leads a mid-sized aviation business. One of the reasons why he asked his HR team to find a leadership development consultant was because he felt like his executive team wasn’t keeping up with him. He didn’t feel like he could fully trust them to do their job.

After I was hired and met with the organization’s executive team individually, the CEO’s subordinates complained that (1) the CEO was always meddling around in their projects, and (2) they were having to spend too much time reporting on their projects to the CEO that they couldn’t actually go about the business of completing their job.

In one of my coaching calls with the CEO, he said the following, which stood out to me: “Deep down, I don’t really like myself. I need success and the validation of others to feel good about myself.”

What Do These CEOs Have in Common?

Across the CEOs, they share two things in common.

First, they all struggle with emotional intelligence. They have difficulty navigating their emotions as well as those of others, and as a result, they are hard-charging, emotionally avoidant, untrusting, and prone to micromanage.

Second, they all have insecurities about their self-worth.

Do you think those two things are related?

You better believe it.

Helping Executives Elevate Their Emotional Intelligence

We can train leaders on the skills associated with emotional intelligence all day long, but if we do not address their underlying insecurities, our efforts will be for naught.

It turns out that emotional intelligence is not simply a skills-based ability. It is, more deeply, a neural-based ability. This means that a leader’s emotional intelligence is predicated upon the health and well-being of their body’s central nervous system.

When a leader has an impacted nervous system, usually as the result of past psychological trauma, they generally possess a nervous system that is either:

  • Hypervigilant: They possess a decreased ability to regulate their emotions, causing them to see relatively safe things (e.g., problems that pop up) as being dangerous
  • Dissociated: They have a diminished capacity to get in touch with their emotions or those of others

Either way, their impacted nervous system prevents one from being emotionally intelligent.

Thus, if we want to significantly improve our leaders’ emotional intelligence, it is necessary that we help them heal from their insecurities to counteract any negative effect the hypervigilance or dissociation they are experiencing.

Your Next Step

Stated differently, if you want to improve the emotional intelligence of the leaders in your organization, it is likely that you will have to invest in a different approach to leadership development than what you are used to.

You are going to need to expand your focus, not on horizontal development (e.g., improvement of knowledge and skills), but on vertical development (e.g., upgrading leaders’ internal operating systems).

To learn about vertical development and helping leaders heal from their insecurities, we invite you to attend the HRDQ-U webinar we are facilitating: The Next Frontier of Emotional Intelligence: Rewiring the Brain

We look forward to meeting you there. And, to encourage you to attend, we are each giving away five copies of our most recent books:

  • The Elevated Leader: Level Up Your Leadership Through Vertical Development by Ryan Gottfredson
  • Unlimited Worth: Lessons of Healing From Childhood Trauma; Finding Happiness, Love, and Success for Male Leaders by Mike Skrypnek


Written by Ryan Gottfredson, Ph.D. & Mike Skrypnek

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