Physical energy is the raw fuel for igniting our emotional skills and talents. In order to perform at our best we must access pleasant and positive emotions: enjoyment, challenge, adventure, and opportunity. Emotions that arise out of threat or deficit — fear, frustration, anger, sadness — have a decidedly toxic feel to them and are associated with the release of specific stress hormones, most notably cortisol. From our perspective, emotional intelligence is simply the capacity to manage emotions skillfully in the service of high positive energy and full engagement. In practical terms, the key “muscles” or competencies that fuel positive emotion are self-confidence, self-control (self-regulation), social skills (interpersonal effectiveness) and empathy. Smaller, supportive “muscles” include patience, openness, trust and enjoyment.
Access to the emotional muscles that best serve performance depends on creating a balance between exercising them regularly and intermittently seeking recovery. Much the way that we deplete cardiovascular capacity or exhaust a bicep by exposing it to stress, so we run down emotionally if we are constantly spending emotional energy without recovery. When our emotional muscles are weak or insufficient to meet demand — if we have a lack of confidence or too little patience, for example — we must systematically build capacity by devising rituals to push past our current capacity and then recover.
Physical and emotional energy capacity are inextricably connected. When demand begins to deplete our physical energy reserves, one of the consequences is that we begin to feel a sense of emergency. We move into the high negative energy quadrant, which alerts us that some need isn’t being met.
From an energy perspective, negative emotions are costly and inefficient. Much like a gas guzzling car, they draw down our energy stores at a rapid rate. For leaders and managers, negative emotions are doubly insidious, because they are so infectious. If we are prompting fear, anger and defensiveness in others, we progressively undermine their ability to perform effectively. Chronic negative emotions — most especially anger and depression — have also been…