Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Lean Six Sigma Professional Part 1

This is the first in a series of postings I’m going to share related to what I’ve been teaching my clients in relation to increasing their emotional intelligence to become a better Lean Six Sigma professional. Much has been written on the impact emotional intelligence has on performance in general, but little has been discussed related directly to Lean Six Sigma performance. I would argue that success in the area of process improvement is 80-90% related to an individual’s “people” skills, and only 10-20% related to technical abilities.

To test my theory think about someone you’ve worked with on a process improvement project, who, if you could replicate throughout your business, would lead your organization to becoming a leader in how to use process improvement methods, such as Lean Six Sigma; that others in the industry would look to as a case study, perhaps even a prestigious award such as the Baldrige or Shingo.

Now, with that person in mind, write down characteristics, abilities, etc. that you believe make that person successful.

With your list complete, label each item you wrote down as falling into one of two skills / abilities categories of either people (P) or technical (T). Count the total number of items you have for each and determine a percentage of P and T.

If you’re like most people I’ve done this exercise with you likely have a greater percentage P than T. What I’m getting at here is that it’s usually not someone’s ability to master conducting a DOE or using Minitab or Excel that makes them successful in Lean Six Sigma, rather it’s their ability to work well with others, tap into the power of their team member’s abilities, and being able to sense when a team can be pushed harder or needs to be backed off from.

Emotional Intelligence and Lean Six Sigma

One component of working well with others in Lean Six Sigma is your emotional intelligence. There are a number of practitioners and academicians who have proposed models of emotional intelligence, each differing to some degree, but what most have in common is that emotional intelligence begins with self-awareness and the ability to perceive the emotions of others.

As Lean Six Sigma professionals we know the importance of having data to measure performance and improvement. Without data we have no basis to understand the current state nor the improvements that have been implemented. I like to use the analogy of a sporting event and relate data to a scoreboard we use to answer the question-are we winning or losing? Without data we can’t answer the question.

It’s no different with emotional intelligence. Emotions are simply data related to people. Without data we can’t make good decisions. Research suggests that good decisions are based in not only logic, but also in emotion. We need both to be effective with Lean Six Sigma! So then where do we start to become emotionally intelligent Lean Six Sigma professionals? The answer is we start with understanding our own emotions and the emotions of those around us.

Whether we want to or not we use emotions every day. Think about the first thing you do when you wake up each day such as eating breakfast. Is the decision you make on what to eat based purely in logic? If you’re like me you look at your options and make a decision on what’s available and what you “feel” like eating; in other words, we base the decision on logic (what’s available) and emotions (what you feel like eating). Throughout a typical day we make hundreds, perhaps even thousands, of similar decisions using both logic and emotion.

Improving Emotional Awareness

To begin the process of improving your ability to be aware of your emotions we need a baseline to start from. In a sense we can use the Lean Six Sigma DMAIC framework for this process to make it relevant to what most of us already know and apply to our work space. In Define we have established the problem as not being and / or improving our ability to become more aware of our emotions and those around us. The Measure phase begins with establishing a baseline to improve upon, which can be done using a myriad of tools such as taking an EI assessment (i.e. MSCEIT, EQ-i) or something less complex such as an emotional journal.

I like to use both tools as the assessment gives you a quantifiable measure, whereas the journal gives you qualitative data that is easier to act upon. When creating an emotions journal I find it’s easier to collect information if you consistently start with a standard set of questions such as:

1. How am I feeling both physically (where the emotion is located in my body) and emotionally? 2. Has anything happened to make me feel this way? 3. When I feel this way, what do I need? 4. When have I felt this way in the past? 5. When is the first time I remember feeling this way?

To start the process of improving your self-awareness I suggest setting a reminder on your phone or computer to spend 5 – 10 minutes a few times each day adding an entry into your emotional journal. Complete this process for a few weeks and you’re bound to discover some answers to help you become more aware of your emotions and why you feel the way you do. An additional suggestion is to complete your journal after each Lean Six Sigma team meeting to capture your feelings right after working with your team to better tap into your ability to become aware of your emotions in relation to project activities.

Another element to increasing emotional awareness is improving your ability to be aware of other people’s emotions. The quickest and most accurate way to assess someone’s emotional state is through their facial expressions. While engaged with someone in a conversation make sure to pay special attention to their facial expressions to gauge their emotional state. I find this is an incredibly valuable method to finding out how people feel about certain things that come up in Lean Six Sigma project activities such as action items and solution ideas. When you assign action items or suggest an improvement idea watch for the facial expressions of those you are talking to. You can usually tell how likely they are to engage in completing the action item or are bought into the solution just through their facial expressions.

Another simple way to assess the emotional state of another person is to simply ask them how they are feeling. To test your ability to gauge the emotions of others make an assessment about how you believe someone else is feeling, then ask them how they are feeling to validate your assessment. As you become better at assessing the emotions of others you will see your correct percentage increase.

Improving your ability to become aware of your emotions and the emotions of others takes time and practice. The benefit of better understanding your own and others emotions is that with this knowledge you will be better equipped to tap into those emotions to work toward positive outcomes related to your Lean Six Sigma activities.

In my next installment we’ll dig deeper into how to utilize this knowledge, but until then go to work on improving your ability to assess your emotions and the emotions of those around you for the next few weeks and see what it feels like to get to know your own feelings and the feelings of those you work with each day. I promise it will be an eye-opening experience when you start to ask yourself why you feel the way you do and you begin the process of self-discovery.

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The research on emotional intelligence continues to build a case that individuals who have the ability to work well with others tend to be more successful. Over the years I have been working with Lea