The EQ Factor

Navigating through the emotions around Lean changes

Navigating through today's business climate can be a formidable task. In particular, when on the Lean path of challenging the norm, eliminating waste and searching for root-cause, business leaders must apply "Emotional Quotient" (EQ) skills to overcome roadblocks. It takes more than traditional cognitive intelligence to be a successful Lean change champion in today's business climate. You need to identify, take ownership, solve and meet the challenges head on while applying an emotionally intelligent response.

Emotional Intelligence (EI) can be defined as the innate dimension of intelligence responsible for our potential to manage opportunities when presented and manage relationships with others. EQ (like IQ, only with emotions) is the relative measure of a person's healthy or unhealthy development of their innate EI. EQ is the distinguishing factor that enables us to have healthy relationships, find a passion and collaborate with others. Emotion is distinct from cognition (thinking) and volition (will). While many leaders can comprehend tremendously intricate data, frequently those same leaders lack empathy, sabotage relationships, and ultimately fail to "rally the troops" and implement desired changes. As more companies downsize, delayer and work in teams, doing more with less equals stress. So being able to lead with EQ skills is becoming more critical. Sometimes the best way to learn a new skill is through case examples.

Case Study: The EQ Blunder

A Lean project team has been created to reduce cycle time on the fill line. Representatives from Engineering, Manufacturing, Supply Chain and Quality Control have assembled. The meeting begins with an initial pass at identifying root cause. The 5M+E root-cause analysis tool has been sent out as pre-work for the meeting. Pat, the plant planning manager, has done his pre-work and has some idea of what opportunities exist. At the meeting, Pat identifies some "very critical points" about label lead times, scheduling challenges and planned plant downtime. Wilber, the Vice President of Manufacturing, corrects Pat by stating that the shutdown dates for this year are not set in stone and tells him he needs to remain flexible. Pat chimes in later with his pessimistic views regarding forecast inaccuracy. Another point made by Pat has to do with a rash of late changes made to label design by Marketing. Susan, a Marketing manager and the team leader, takes offense to the comment and tells Pat that vendor lead-times drove the delays. Pat's perspectives tend to be voiced in a condescending and pessimistic tone that invites challenge. Wilber finally tells Pat to table his comments. I will explore alternatives for Pat throughout this paper as a way to illustrate EQ Skills.

An EQ blunder can quickly become a career-limiting move. Despite being a manager and strong technical player, Pat has managed to damage his character and devalue himself. The good news for Pat (and all of us) is that EQ skills can be developed. I will refer to the above case as I review the EQ skills that can be attained.

Today, many books, tools and trainings exist on the subject of emotional intelligence. Organizations are applying an array of EI-based instruments for predicting on-the-job performance. The American Society for Training and Development, for example, has published a volume describing "best practice" guidelines for helping people in organizations cultivate the EI-based competencies that distinguish outstanding performers from average ones (Cherniss & Adler, 2000). According to Daniel Goleman, author of the popular 1995 book Emotional Intelligence, for individuals in leadership positions 86 percent of their competencies were in the EI domain.

It is not uncommon for people to blame depression, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and anxieties on past experiences. There are billions spent annually on absenteeism and lost productivity that are blamed on terrible experiences and past wounds. However, even true victims need to overcome hurtful histories and develop a sense of accountability, futuristic perspective and empowerment.

EQ thought-leader Daniel Goleman, PhD., initially identified five critical skills that make up emotional intelligence. They are:

  • Self-awareness — knowing your emotions, recognizing feelings as they occur and discriminating between them. In other words, being able to predict your emotional reaction to specific situations and displaying confidence in the face of challenges.
  • Mood Management — handling feelings so they're relevant to the current situation and you react appropriately
  • Self-motivation — "gathering up" your feelings and directing yourself toward a goal, despite self-doubt, inertia and impulsiveness.
  • Empathy — recognizing feelings in others and tuning into their verbal and nonverbal cues
  • Managing Relationships — handling interpersonal interaction, conflict resolution and negotiations build bonds around human equality. Ability to express genuine feelings, even conflict, in a way that builds trust and support without compromising your beliefs.

He later revised his model into a four quadrants of EI Competencies. Self-awareness and Relationship Management remained the same, and Goleman created the Self-management and Social Awareness quadrants to incorporate the other three critical EI components. With Self-management, having a strong EQ means maintaining a strong personal philosophy articulated with passion. You choose to be optimistic and demonstrate an achievement orientation. In demonstrating Social Awareness, you respond to others in ways that indicate an accurate knowledge of how they perceive situations. When immersing yourself in their situation you still remain wholly apart. High EQ people establish a strong network for assistance when needed, both personally or professionally. They inspire others through both words and deeds and can determine when to trust and how to build on that trust.

Let's explore these some of the four EQ Competencies in more detail.

Q1 — Self-Awareness

We all feel a complex range of emotions. Sometimes we may experience multiple emotional responses simultaneously. With EQ, we learn to sort out our feelings, name them and begin to understand their cause and effects. EQ also helps us understand how emotions function and impact us physically. Research has identified eight "core" feelings: anticipation, fear, surprise, anger, disgust, sorrow, acceptance and joy. For example, if you identify a situation in which you are feeling surprised, upon further review you may more accurately describe yourself as distracted, embarrassed, hesitant or indecisive.

Misinterpretation, doubt and dissatisfaction account for the reasons why conflict occurs in relationships. If we are in possession of incomplete or inaccurate information about an event, person, product, data or circumstance we may give an incorrect emotional response. These facts, when combined with previous experiences, lead to prejudgments that make it a challenge to resolve differences. A strategy for responding to these misinterpretations, doubts and dissatisfactions will come in handy and reflect strong EQ.

You should initially gather your thoughts and then formulate a reply that includes an acknowledgement of the concern. Then you should ask a few simple questions to gain clarification: "Please tell me more about your concern," or "Let's review our facts." Emotionally intelligent professionals attempt to build a complete, unambiguous and mutual understanding of the facts and/or circumstances before responding.

If you have identified a disconnect that is your error (as in Pat's Forecast data) you should acknowledge the mistake and move on. If you identify a misinterpretation by the other party, you should acknowledge how that could have occurred (perhaps it was a result of rumor, poor research, old habits, etc.). Next, supply them with the relevant facts. Remember, it can be very disappointing to discover you were incorrect, so be sensitive to this fact. Also, some may still be skeptical and then move to dissatisfaction with other factors. You must remain calm and do your best to support your view of reality.

Where you choose to communicate these facts can also make an impact on how well they are received. If the setting is a meeting with a lot of others who are observing, you may want to hold your comments for a later time.

In the EQ Blunder, Pat's misinterpretation of facts and his delivery of this information at the meeting resulted in him getting the stern reaction from Wilber. Perhaps Pat was trying to gain acceptance and feared blame by other groups. He loaded up on issues for the meeting but was misinformed and presented with closed-mindedness.

Ask yourself:

  • Is it easy for me to recognize what emotions I'm experiencing in a particular situation?
  • Do I listen rather than have a response ready before the other person finishes?
  • Do I check my facts and probe for understanding before challenging others?
  • Do I take a clarifying stance, or do I aggressively assume a mistake has been made?
  • If I feel justified, do I go on the attack and point blame?
  • Can I accurately determine what drives the decisions of others?

Q2 — Self-management

Evaluate and Adapt: We each make countless decisions each day. How we interpret our role in the situation, organization or project will impact the decisions we make. What is valuable information to share? When should I bring this point up? Who may take offense to this point? Who may have more relevant data? How should I put this to him? At times we make those decisions consciously based on personal priorities.

Other decisions are more unconscious or reactionary. In order to create integrity, we must look at the costs and benefits of the small actions as well as the large ones and align our actions with our intentions. The key is to take the appropriate amount of time and give the right amount of attention to critical tasks in order to manage all the issues and act appropriately.

Another Q2 competency is Optimism that confirms our long-term motivation because it allows us see the future as positive and worthwhile. Optimism is the vehicle to see beyond the present and anticipate the future. It is tied to resiliency and perseverance, which are two skills that most affect our ability to function despite the stresses and challenges of day-to-day life. Optimism means recognizing that we each have the power to make change, and through our efforts our world can improve. Our perceptions of the future create the present; optimistic thinking immediately enhances our lives.

Ask yourself:

  • When obstacles come up, do I veer off course?
  • Do I know how to use humor to relieve tense or uncomfortable situations?
  • In situations that are full of turmoil and confusion, do I stay calm and levelheaded?
  • Would my colleagues say that I am able to acknowledge my mistake and limitations without being too defensive?
  • Am I able to be flexible in my dealings with others?

"Motivation" comes from the Latin meaning "to move." In essence, we take action because it feels rewarding to do so. The challenge is to manage and sustain our energy levels and ensure that we are able to persevere through the challenges. To do so, we must tap into the part of ourselves that has a longer view and find the reward within ourselves. Otherwise, we are dependent on feedback from others and can easily be swayed from our true intentions. No one can force another person to be more effective, more productive, more trustworthy or more courageous.

Ask yourself:

  • Am I aware of how my own patterns of behavior impact others?
  • In assessing a situation, do I look at my biases and adjust my assessment accordingly?
  • Do I know what is most important to me?
  • Am I short-term driven or focused on the bigger picture?

Navigate Emotions: Instead of disconnecting our emotions, we need to slow down our reactions so that we have time to make the most creative, insightful and powerful decisions. Particularly when dealing with conflict or crisis, we benefit by staying engaged (both our heart and our mind) and creating productive solutions. When we become skilled at sensing, labeling and using our own emotions, we are able to harness them as a source of information and motivation. Emotions are the fuel for change — the challenge is to refine and utilize that energy to carefully choose how we will use the power of our feelings.

When doing demand forecasting, it is necessary to navigate through many emotions when attempting to gain consensus and agree one number that will be used as the basis for tactical execution activities. We stay connected across sales, marketing and the supply chain functions. The paradigm changes from responding to demand to influencing demand.

We basically have four response options in any given situation. These are Passive, Passive Aggressive, Aggressive and Assertive. In the EQ Blunder case, Pat was aggressive with his teammates but believed they would see him as knowledgeable and solution-focused. His direct, blaming and attacking style resulted in conflict and disrespect. If he had been assertive he would have expressed the same self-confidence but delivered his message in a hearable format.

Figure 1— Response Choices (by Scott Barrella, MS CPIM)

Q3 — Social Awareness

Last-minute order changes, e-commerce, promotions and other just-in-time delivery variables are becoming increasingly common in most industries. Recognizing patterns is important in EQ. Our brain is looking for patterns known as neural pathways. A stimulus leads to response and, over time, the response becomes habitual as the pathway becomes a road. With life experiences, the road becomes a super highway. These patterns include thinking, feeling and action in a continuous cycle. At a young age we learn lessons of how to cope, how to get our needs met and how to protect ourselves. For example, if we perceive we are being attacked or disrespected, we may aggressively counterattack. These strategies reinforce one another, and we develop a complex structure of beliefs to support our "victim mentality."

Authors of The Oz Principle (Conners, Smith and Hickman) give examples of finger-pointing, denying, ignoring, pretending and passive-aggressive approaches. Many people see accountability as a negative management tool used to bully, punish or pressure people to perform or explain their choices. The authors discuss ownership and accountability through seeing issues, owning the problem, asking questions and doing whatever is necessary to create change and improvements. They write, "People hold inside themselves the power to rise above their circumstances and get the results they want." If everyone buys into the approach that the problem is their own to solve an entrepreneurial spirit takes over and creativity and passion lead to success.

In Pat's case, he was not seeking to insult the team, but his poor EQ skills lead to his self-destruction. He needs to find ways to bring up important issues without projecting blame. He is an empowered dictator who relieves himself of accountability (delegates). The authors of The Oz Principle would say he is operating "Below the line." Entitlement and misalignment are critical issues that permeate every level of the organization and distract from collaborative decision-making. Pat should ask himself higher-order questions like, "What else can I do to get the results I want?" This demonstrates a high EQ and personal accountability for change. Using the "IOSD" (identify, own, solve and do) approach to address critical challenges will help.

Supply chain optimization is focused on reducing total supply chain costs, not on functional optimization. We are seeking responsiveness (focused on speed-to-market), flexibility (operate seamlessly across our supplier base), consistency (common processes and standardized data), and visibility (fact-based decision making). There are savings to be found by applying optimization technology to transportation and manufacturing challenges.

Ask yourself:

  • Could I diagram for my organization's power structure?
  • Can I articulate the concerns of my organization? (Not just my team's but other functional areas as well)
  • Can I identify those individuals within my organization that will support me when needed?
  • Do I know where I can be utilized as a resource for others?
  • Do I take initiative and challenge current processes?

Additional Q3 Social EQ Skills include empathy, mirroring, paraphrasing, spotlighting, discovery, closed questions and sharing.

  • Empathy: This is the ability to recognize and respond to other people's emotions. Unfortunately, our unconscious or instinctive behavior to feel does not automatically lead to conscious empathy. Instead, empathy must be carefully banked and fueled through role modeling, reinforcement and practice. For Pat, empathy for Susan (Team Leader) should include sensitivity about her concern around leading a team and getting off to a positive start. She would want to have issues identified but not play referee.
  • Mirroring: This means reflecting the other person's gestures, body language, voice tone and intensity so they feel comfortable just using their natural style.
  • Paraphrasing: Repeat the important content back to them so they know you are listening and getting the heart of the issues. Try to mention the feelings they must be dealing with based on the facts. Study a feeling word list to become more proficient at this skill.
  • Discovery: Open-ended questioning around their opinion, need, feelings and beliefs. For example, "Can you tell me more about that point?"
  • Spotlighting: These are meant to eliminate misinterpretations. The listener has a narrow set of response options. Pat could have narrowed the range of options for the team. He could have stated, "So what you are saying is that if we do not have the art changes for the labels by Monday, we will delay the production date by one month. Is that correct?"
  • Sharing: To articulate your empathy, share your own brief story that relates directly to theirs and tie it back with compassionate statements. Be careful not to offend others. Pat could have said, "I know that our label changes inside the frozen time period have lead to some schedule attainment issues. Has anyone else observed this as an issue? (Check for acceptance.) If you all agree this is a concern, I volunteer to lead a sub-team to address label development timelines to promote development in accordance with the overall project timelines."

Ask yourself:

  • When in a conversation, do I visualize their story and feel their intensity?
  • Can I respond to their story without giving advice?
  • Do I take on an achievement orientation and adapt to change?

Q4 — Relationship Management

An old Paradigm states that emotion is weakness. This is false. A strong EQ gives us insight and energy. It provides the basis for reliable decision-making. EQ allows us to be as impulsive as we want to be, but still enables us to delay gratification when the consequences are undesirable and/or painful. Consequential thinking is key to evaluating our thoughts and re-choosing our actions. One key mechanism to develop and monitor consequential thinking is our self-talk. Self-talk is the very powerful voice in our head that can either help or hinder our actions. Critical moments are situations loaded with emotion during which we are challenged to make a pivotal choice. We can respond with any of the four response choices, but each has a consequence.

There are many reasons why executives sometimes go passive and avoid confrontation. They fail to deal with a performance issue because of fear of lawsuits, reluctance to hurt another's feelings, time-consuming documentation and fear of retaliation.

Ask yourself:

  • Can I handle risks?
  • Can I manage through disruptions and tense moments?
  • Do I know when I am in "critical moment"?

Commit to Worthy Goals

Worthy goals activate all of the other elements of EQ. Through our goals, our missions and our acts of human kindness, the commitment to emotional intelligence gains relevance and power for improving the world today and tomorrow. Just as our personal priorities shape our daily choices, our goals shape our long-term choices. A worthy goal provides a measure for your daily actions and invites your best self to step forward.

Lean is about seeking to deliver new value-added products, differentiation and innovation. In the process of doing so, we can encounter unmanageable stock-keeping unit (SKU) proliferation. This is one area in business that can highlight a disconnect between Marketing and Operations. Adding without deleting from the mix can result in lower product distinctiveness and differentiation and lead to lost market share. In addition, we expend additional efforts and incur costs to develop, produce, inspect, release and store these products. In developing our business goals we need to add statements about alignment, balance, SKU rationalization and responsible risk taking.

In the EQ Blunder, Pat should have approached his team with what I call an "attitude of gratitude." If he displayed optimism, humility and open-mindedness, he could have emotionally navigated through the meeting. He wanted to be seen as the "problem solver" but instead became the impulsive side tracker.

Ask yourself:

  • Do I know my social limitations?
  • Do I know when not to interject opinions?
  • Do I have a strategy for selecting short, medium and long-term goals?
  • Can I manage through disruptions and tense moments?
  • Do I review my goals regularly?
  • Do I know how my customers feel about my service and character?

EQ and Leadership

Great leadership requires both strong intellectual ability and strong EQ skills. Managers may find themselves winning battles but losing the war. To be a strong business leader, one should know how to articulate emotions and not be threatened by differing opinions. EQ leaders invite feedback from everyone, never hide the truth, acknowledge the realities, commit 100 percent to the tasks, own their circumstances and avoid traps to spiral into negativity. They tend to show compassion, rather than to be demanding and intolerant. Their staff is treated with respect and they inspire others to do the same. Leaders know what motivates their staff and will adjust their management style to the unique values and motivations of others. Leaders are aware of their own feelings and go beyond logic and intellect when making decisions.

Organizations increasingly are providing training and development that is explicitly labeled as "emotional intelligence" or "emotional competence" training. This would include most management and executive development efforts as well as training in supervisory skills, diversity, teamwork, leadership, conflict management, stress management, sales, customer relations, etc. Skills in this area specifically include how to be a change catalyst and how to manage conflict. Momentum toward successful EQ changes can be sustained with the following efforts:

  • Training everyone at every level.
  • Coaching on EQ and accountability
  • Asking higher-order questions
  • Rewarding those who demonstrate a EQ skills and accountability
  • Holding people accountable for progress

Cary Cherniss, Ph.D. of the Consortium For Research On Emotional Intelligence In Organizations has developed an approach for improving EQ performance involving the steps of Preparation, Training, Knowledge Transfer, and Evaluation (See Figure 3). Many organizations use 360-degree assessments that include boss, peer and subordinate ratings. However, the principles for developing this type of competence differ greatly from those that have guided much training and development practice in the past. Developing emotional competence requires that we unlearn old habits of thought, feeling and action that are deeply ingrained and grow new ones. Such a process takes motivation, effort, time, support and sustained practice. The approach also suggests that the preparation and transfer-and-maintenance phases of the training process are especially important. Yet often these phases are neglected in practice.

Figure 2— The Optimal Process for Developing Emotional Intelligence in Organizations (by Cary Cherniss, PhD. From Consortium For Research On Emotional Intelligence In Organizations).

  • Preparation

Professionals are more likely to respond positively to feedback when they trust and respect the person who gives it. People also are more likely to be motivated to change when they believe that the feedback is constructive and accurate. If we help them identify the specific steps they can take to improve, leaders can take the time they need to think about the information and its implications. It is especially important that the feedback occur in an atmosphere of safety.

  • Training

Professionals will be most motivated to learn and change if they believe that doing so will help them achieve goals that they value. Using more active, concrete, experiential methods, such as role-plays, group discussions and simulations, usually works better than lecturing or assigned reading for social and emotional learning. In order to reprogram neural circuits, people need to actually engage in the desired pattern of thought, feeling and action. A lecture is fine for increasing understanding of emotional intelligence, but experiential methods usually are necessary for real behavior change.

  • Transfer

Reinforcement is a particularly good way to encourage trainees to apply their new skills on the job. Supervisors can reinforce the use of new skills on the job in non-drastic ways. For instance, a follow-up assessment of skills learned during training can make the trainees feel more accountable and increase transfer of learning. The best methods involve either reminding people to use the skills or reinforcing them when they do so.

  • Evaluation

Evaluation is essential for promoting effective training. When an evaluation suggests that a program falls short in achieving its goals, it should not be used to punish an individual or group. Rather, it should be used as a guide for improving the training. Evaluations should be linked to learning and the continual pursuit of quality. Many companies use a control group and pre- and post-measures. The program's impact on the competency skills can be measured through subordinate ratings, and the study may also assess the program's impact on absenteeism, turnover, and productivity.


In today's business culture of real-time forecast changes, SKU rationalizations done quarterly, shrinking inventory levels, asset reductions, flexible factories, shorter cycle times, global supply (of RMs or FGs), and efficiency or die attitudes, business leaders must build up a thick skin and enhance their EQ skills to survive and thrive. EQ benefits include a stronger persistence, increased optimism, improved problem solving, heightened creativity, curiosity and cooperation, intensified trustworthiness and dependability.


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