The 4 Pillars of Emotional Intelligence for Startup Leaders

December 7, 2021 | Stefan Palios


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Emotional intelligence (or emotional quotient - EQ) isn’t about being the nicest person in the room, it’s about being the most effective person in the room. EQ is what allows us to get our intellectual and emotional resources working in concert so that we can be at our best, and in turn help others be at theirs. Dr. Leeno Karumanchery knows this conundrum well as co-founder and head of behavioural science at MESH/diversity. Speaking with PACT News, he shared the four pillars of emotional intelligence for startup leaders.

Key takeaways:

  • Emotional intelligence is a set of skills. It is absolutely learnable.
  • EQ is what allows us to get the best out of ourselves so we can get the best out of the people around us.
  • MESH/diversity’s four pillars of emotional intelligence are the personal baseline, performance keys, communication baseline, and leadership keys.
  • Anyone can improve their emotional intelligence, but it starts by recognizing there can often be a gap between your intent and your impact. Emotional intelligence can fill that gap.
  • Good EQ skills are at the heart of what has people around us feeling comfortable, validated and collaborative.

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Every time you think about how others might perceive your words or actions, that’s emotional intelligence. Whenever you manage to control your emotions when you’re under stress, that’s emotional intelligence. If you are someone who speaks to be understood and not just to be heard, that’s an example of emotional intelligence. Turns out it’s incredibly important for getting things done in the workplace, especially in innovative and fast-moving work environments that require everyone to be at their mental peak.

As co-founder and head of behavioural science at MESH/diversity, a software company that helps develop inclusive leadership through emotional intelligence, Dr. Leeno Karumanchery has devoted his life’s work to helping leaders and their teams leverage Emotional Intelligence to drive workplace cultures that are healthy and inclusive. He says EQ might just be the lynchpin of all healthy social interactions.

Speaking with PACT News, Leeno explained the origins of emotional intelligence and how any startup leader can implement the four pillars of emotional intelligence in their workplaces to drive healthy, inclusive cultures.



Historically, intelligence had been framed along two main lines::

  1. How innately smart you were (defined by Intelligence Quotient, or IQ).
  2. How much you knew (signalled by your education and noted professional experiences).

However, focusing on this duality opened up massive questions about why smart people could still fail in both their personal and professional lives. It would seem that raw intelligence alone was not a guarantee of success.

“Many smart people just crash and burn,” said Leeno. “For example, we all know smart people who come across as rude, and that rudeness impacts their ability to reach their own potential or empower other people to reach theirs. The problem is that they judge themselves by their intent (likely seeing themselves as simply forthright or honest), while everyone else judges them by their impact.”

In the 1990s, a third concept was popularized by psychologist and author Daniel Goleman. He called it Emotional Intelligence, or emotional quotient (EQ).

The idea behind this emotional quotient, said Leeno, was to explain how we’re wired to connect as social creatures. We don’t just process things intellectually. On the contrary, our emotional process is deeply connected to every choice we make; everything from what restaurant we choose, to what stocks we might purchase. Emotions drive our behaviour. When they get the better of us, they can drive us to self-defeating, even dangerous behaviour. But when recognized, understood and managed well, they can help us reach our potential even under stress or duress.

The latest research suggests that the evolution of the brain’s emotional centres have their origin some 150 million years ago.In essence, we evolved an emotional system because it could induce quick responses to danger. It evolved to keep us safe.

In contrast, our neo cortex, the area of the brain where IQ is anchored, is really quite young. It’s only about 2-7 million years old. Leeno explained our emotional centres receive and process information about a hundred times faster than our cognitive brains. That’s because we’re designed to feel before we think, to make split second decisions as to whether we should “fly” or “fight”.

The problem for us today is that this structure worked really well in primitive environments where threats were commonly a matter of life and death. It’s not always so conducive in today’s complex social circumstances.



The pillars of emotional intelligence

In a workplace context, having an emotional process before an intellectual one helps to explain why some people are smart but awful to work with - the so-called ‘brilliant jerk’ problem - and explain why others who may not have the highest IQ are able to be well-liked and climb significant career heights.

At MESH/diversity, Leeno’s research built upon the foundations of emotional intelligence and framed four different pillars of how it manifests in the workplace and how it is fundamental to strong leadership.

1. Your Personal Baseline: Your personal baseline starts with how well you know your strengths and weaknesses. While it’s not necessarily a prerequisite for personal and professional success, a strong personal baseline certainly helps to set the tone. The personal baseline is all about how we know why, when and how we feel what we feel, our ability to self-reflect with objectivity, and our willingness to strive towards personal growth and development.

2. Your Performance Keys: Once you have a personal baseline, the next pillar is how you work with yourself. More specifically, if you can still get the most out of yourself under stress or duress and how you can process, control, or compartmentalize your emotional responses enough to not let them harm your work abilities. This pillar also considers your problem solving capability and your resilience in the face of stress and setbacks.

3. Your Communication Baseline: This pillar explores how you communicate with others and the lasting impacts of that communication. This pillar really details how effectively we negotiate the complexities of our everyday social environments. People with strong skill sets in this area are able to tune into what others are thinking and feeling, make connections and build rapport with them.

4. Your Leadership Keys: From an emotional intelligence standpoint, being put in a position of power and using that power to force action is not leadership. Real leaders don’t push or pull anyone to take action, but instead they instill trust. They are willingly followed. Research on tens of thousands of people across the globe show us that leading by example is the only way to lead. In this pillar, the focus is on the key indicators of integrity, role modeling and climate setting.

Emotional intelligence is the gap between intent and impact

If you’re hoping to improve your own emotional intelligence, there’s good news: emotional intelligence is not innate. It’s not baked in like personality. It’s a set of skills. No one is born with it, which means everyone is capable of learning it. The key is your awareness of how you experience your emotions in the moment and how you then manage them.

Throughout the journey though, Leeno said it’s critical to maintain as much self-awareness as possible.

“Realize there’s a dance at play whenever you interact with someone else,” said Leeno. “There’s your intent and then there’s the impact. You have to recognize your role in that dance.”


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