Emotional Intelligence for Musicians and Arts Leaders Part I: 4 Ways to Build Success Through Emotional Self-Awareness

Lately, there has been a lot of press about the importance of emotional intelligence for successful entrepreneurs and leaders.

So what is emotional intelligence and why should music entrepreneurs and arts leaders cultivate this skill?  

Emotional Intelligence (know as “EQ”, as opposed to “IQ”) is the ability to recognize and control your emotions and then pick up on the emotions of those with whom you are interacting in order to influence and work effectively with them. It’s the ability to express the appropriate emotions at the appropriate time.

This psychological model was introduced in 1990 by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer and popularized by  science writer Daniel Goleman in his groundbreaking work, Emotional Intelligence (1995).  Emotional Intelligence has been called ” a revolutionary, paradigm-shattering idea” (Harvard Business Review) since it is strongly correlated with success.

Having high EQ is the way to get buy-in from the people with whom you are dealing and get them to listen, be engaged and inspired to follow your lead.  The great thing about EQ is that it is a skill set that you can develop to make you a more effective musician and leader. Let’s take a closer look.

EQ involves four underlying sets of skills, two having to do with your own emotions and two having to do with the emotions of those around you:


YOU or Personal Competence:

1. SELF-AWARENESS: You are aware of your own emotions; and
2. SELF-MANAGEMENT: you effectively manage your emotions.

OTHERS or Social Competence:

3. SOCIAL AWARENESS: You are able to sense the emotions of and empathize with those around you; and
4. RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT; you know how to interact with, influence and work effectively with other people.

EQ and Musicians

Musicians and arts leaders deal with many situations and people that can trigger strong emotions. Think about how you react to the following:

• performances;
• rehearsals
• teaching;
• master classes
• public speaking;
• presentations;
• board meetings;
• meetings with donors; and
• staff and business meetings.

Which of these situations make you feel uncomfortable?

Musicians and arts leaders also interact with a wide variety of people including:

• ensemble members;
• artistic collaborators;
• administrators;
• audience members;
• donors;
• board members; and
• funders.

How do you react to these people?

For example, suppose that you are working closely with an artistic collaborator who makes a lot of demands about how a performance is supposed to run. You have just received an email from this person in which she has yet another requirement for the performance just when you thought that everything had been agreed upon.

What would your first impulse be upon receiving this email?

Rather than stewing over this email and sending an explosive response, people with high EQ slow down before reacting. So let’s learn some concrete strategies that will enable you to develop high EQ so that you can be on top of your game and know how to use and express your emotions in order to elicit the best possible results.

It starts with the first of two elements of EQ involving you: Self-Awareness.

Self-awareness is your ability to perceive your own emotions accurately in the moment and understand your tendencies across situations. Self-awareness also means that you are able to assess the impact of your emotions on those around you. Self-awareness is the first step in developing high EQ because it helps to make sense of your emotions in the moment so that you can formulate the appropriate response.

4 Strategies to Improve Your Emotional Self-Awareness

Here are some strategies that you can use to improve your self-awareness.

1. Notice Your Feelings

In order to become aware of your feelings, it helps to be able to label those emotions. One simple model involves 5 core emotions, with a range of intensity from high to medium to low:

  • Happiness (elation to cheerfulness to feeling mellow and content)
  • Sadness (depressed, somber, disappointed)
  • Anger (furious, agitated, irritated)
  • Fear (terrified, upset, worried)
  • Shame (remorseful, guilty, bashful)

How do you feel about the email from your artistic collaborator?  

A good way to develop self-awareness is to notice yourself when you are under stress since this is when you are likely to experience strong emotions. Start labeling those feelings. Notice any uncomfortable body symptoms. Pay attention to your behavior under stress. And keep track of the negative thoughts that accompany these strong emotions.

In order to develop self-awareness, keep track of your emotions and thoughts, as well as the situations or people that trigger strong emotions. You can do this by sending yourself a text message or an email, writing a post-it note or writing things down in a journal.

2. Accept your feelings

If this email has evoked strong emotions on your part, how do you feel about that?

A lot of people judge their feelings as good or bad. People with high EQ accept their emotions because your emotions give you important clues as to what is going on. For example, if you are angry, something has triggered you. If you are sad, something important may be missing. And of course, if you are happy, pay attention to what is working.

Moreover, by refraining from labeling your emotions and by allowing your emotions to surface, they will run their course and you can move on.

3. Be aware of the impact of your emotions on others

What do you feel like doing in the situation when you receive an email that might cause you to lose it?

Self-awareness also involves observing how your emotions affect others. For example, if you blow up at your fellow collaborator, that behavior will have an effect on the other person as well as everyone else who is present and those people will also be affected, perhaps with a pit their stomachs waiting for you to lash out at them. Over the long run, this will make it harder for people to trust you.

So spend some time reflecting on how your behavior is affecting others. Journaling about such experiences can help you to spot an unhelpful behavior and learn how to control it.

4. Check in with trusted mentor or friends

A great way to gain self-awareness is to solicit feedback from trusted friends, family members, colleagues or mentors about your behavior. This is especially helpful since we may have a hard time assessing the impact of our behavior on others. Ask for specific examples and situations and be sure to look for patterns. Yes this takes a lot of courage and by doing so, you are showing yourself and those around you that you are committed to being a trusted colleague and a valuable contributor and leader.

Next time, we will look at how to manage your emotions!