Do you know your own dominance?

For the title of director and above, [emotional intelligence] scores descend faster than a snowboarder on a black diamond. CEOs, on average, have the lowest EQ scores in the workplace. ~Travis Bradberry

Photo by Chris Sabor on Unsplash

This week I’ve read a number of social media posts that are of a similar theme. I’ve seen these posts before. However, I would have thought (or hoped) with the intensity of recent events that some of these individuals, who I know personally, would not take such a definitive stance.

The perspective in these posts is a refute to white privilege with statements like “I’m white and I had to work really hard to get where I’m at.” When I hear or read statements like that, I can’t help but think, that is really missing the point. And it’s exactly because you are a part of the dominant group that you can’t see what privileges you really have, or that in fact, you are exerting your dominance.

How dominance can go unrecognized.

Here’s an analogy. Years ago I moderated many focus groups using a traditional focus group set-up with the participants in one room and the client in another room viewing through a one-way mirror. The participants would speak their minds, knowing that the client was on the other side of the window, but because they couldn’t see or hear them (no interaction allowed), the participants said exactly what they thought without holding back. They were intentionally put in a position of dominance.

In a similar way, we are also put in positions of dominance, even without our choosing. It may be our upbringing, our gender, the color of our skin, or even our job title. It may be nothing we did, but simply the position we hold that causes us to have dominance.

I see this played out in organizations every day with job titles. Travis Bradberry describes it this way. “Once leaders get promoted, they enter an environment that tends to erode their emotional intelligence. They spend less time in meaningful interactions with their staff and lose sight of how their emotional states affect those around them. It’s so easy to get out of touch that leaders’ EQ levels sink further.”

Seeing our own dominance and lack of EQ is hard work.

One way to avoid playing the role of the emperor with no clothes when it comes to dominance and EQ is to intentionally spend time in meaningful interactions with those who are different from you. That may be people of different backgrounds, upbringing, etc. For organizational leaders, that will also mean stepping away from your computer, getting out of the C-Suite, and having truly meaningful interactions with employees at all levels in the organization.

Like my focus group participants, it’s easy to play the dominant role when there are no meaningful interactions with someone in a different role. And if there are no meaningful interactions, you will be unaware of the dominance you wield.

Where are you dominant, really? How can you have meaningful interactions with those people? Meaningful interactions with people different from yourself is another way to lead with bold grace.

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