Topic 17. EQ for Entrepreneurs

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is one of the most important soft skills for an entrepreneur to develop. The ability to manage one’s emotions and those around you is a powerful tool that can impact the success of your business. Anna Barber, Managing Director of Techstars LA and a certified executive coach, has served as an advisor, strategy consultant and coach to many entrepreneurs for over ten years, with a focus on the personal qualities that make great leaders and teams. As a former founder herself, she understands the strains, stress and emotional impact of building a business. Within this module, she’ll share how to build and leverage emotional intelligence that can help you connect with your team, become a better leader and grow your business for the future.


What's Included in this Guide:

Introduction to Emotional Intelligence

Build Self Awareness

Be Present

Manage Your Fears

Use Flexible Thinking

Embrace Feedback

Become a Strong Coach

Let's get started
Part 1.

Introduction to Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence (EQ) has shown to be 4x more important than IQ when building a business. In this video, you’ll learn about how EQ impacts leadership and communication skills and drives company growth.

Hello everyone, I’m Anna Barber, Managing Director of Techstars LA and executive coach. Today we are talking about emotional intelligence (EQ) and the role it plays in your success as a founder.

The emotional quotient, or EQ, is sometimes referred to as emotional intelligence. Throughout this module, I’ll use EQ and emotional intelligence interchangeably. 

EQ is the ability to recognize, understand and manage your own emotions, and recognize, understand and influence the emotions of everyone around you. 

Research suggests that EQ maybe twice, even four times, as important as intelligence (IQ) defined as hard skills in your success in the startup community. In the tech world, we place an inordinate value on hard skills, where you went to school and your role in a company. 

However, soft skills are harder to train, and even more important in your overall success, than the hard skills, but they're difficult to identify and develop. This talk will focus on identifying soft skills and how to build them. 

I believe that emotional intelligence is something that you can practice. Truthfully, we’re never done practicing and we're constantly working on the soft skills. Let's look at some of the different tools:

  1.     Self-awareness 
  2.     Being present in work and life
  3.     How to recognize and manage fear
  4.     Using flexible thinking 
  5.     Getting and giving feedback 
  6.     Becoming a strong coach

We’re going to take these skills and apply them to situations where problems seem to show up, mainly in communication.

I believe that personal growth drives company growth, and the more you can develop these skills, the more effective and productive everyone will be. Let’s dive into EQ… 

The definition of emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize, understand, and manage your emotions, and recognize, understand, and influence the emotions of others. 

In practical terms, this means being aware that emotions drive behavior and impact people both positively and negatively, and learning how to manage them both others and ourselves is key - especially when we're under pressure.

Through his research, psychologist Daniel Goldman divided EQ into four quadrants. 


Self-awareness is the ability to understand your own strengths and weaknesses and understand your core values. I ask you, what do you care about, what really drives you, what's your why, and what are the things that set you off? 

It’s important to identify what triggers send you to the emotional part of your brain that inhibits the ability to think clearly. To be self-aware means you understand your triggers. 

Self Management

This quadrant includes being able to stay calm and positive during an inner crisis and the ability to recognize and detach from feelings rather than letting them drive your behavior.

Good self-management allows us to focus under pressure, be adaptable, be in a state of continuous improvement, set high goals and reach for them. 

Social Awareness

This quadrant starts with empathy and the ability to understand and share the feelings with someone else, including your team and customers. The next level of social awareness is being able to read a room. For example, when you walk into a room, you have the ability to understand the dynamics and see how people are relating to each other – this skill will help you improve communication. 

Social Skills

The last quadrant is the Ninja-level EQ skill set that includes everything from being able to give and accept feedback, ability to build and inspire trust, and being an inspiring leader to understanding someone else's perspective and influence them.

This might surprise you, but many investors, myself included, ask questions around EQ before making an investment. When I evaluate a CEO and their EQ, I ask myself, is this someone I would work for and would be a good and inspiring leader? Sure, a founder’s pitch, deck, and product could be great, but is this someone I could follow?

Investing in your EQ is going to make you a more impactful leader and improve your investor and customer interactions.

If you look at the Cognitive Triangle from a leadership perspective, your actions impact what you think and what you do. Being self-aware can help you become more connected to what you’re feeling because your thoughts are driving your feelings and your actions. 

As it relates to EQ, the idea that you could remove the emotion out of the equation, as some of us would like to do, and just be completely data-driven, it’s absolutely not realistic. 

As a leader, you should not ignore your feelings, instead understand how thoughts, feelings, and actions work together and enhance your EQ skill set. By doing so, you have the tools to build better teams to have a greater impact on your customers and everyone around you. 

Part 2.

Develop Self Awareness

High self-awareness can help entrepreneurs make better decisions in situations and be open to more feedback. In this video, you’ll learn about the qualities people with high and low self-awareness possess and tools to unveil your awareness of blind spots.

Do you think you have high self-awareness? Let’s see…

According to Harvard Business Review, 95% of us report having high self-awareness, but actually only 10 to 15% do. That means the majority of people don't know what their strengths and weaknesses are or how their words and behavior affect other people. 

People with LOW self-awareness

  • Cannot accept feedback
  • May be unaware of their strengths and weaknesses 
  • Don’t understand their goals and values 
  • May not know what things or people trigger an emotional reaction
  • May have an inflated opinion of their own performance 
  • May hurt others without realizing it 
  • May make the same mistakes over and over 

People with HIGH self-awareness

  • Know what they are feeling and why 
  • Understand their strengths and weaknesses
  • Know what their values and goals are  
  • Understand their own triggers 
  • Can accept feedback and learn from it  
  • Can present themselves with humility 
  • Can make decisions with confidence 

There are plenty of people in this world who are high achieving but lack in self-awareness and look at the world through a transactional or data-driven lens. The difference is that EQ and self-awareness play a role in your ability to inspire people, convince them to follow you, work for you, buy your product, and invest in your company. 

How to build self-awareness

Building self-awareness means that you need to open the door to self, and that can feel scary. I will tell you that entrepreneurs who really know themselves, there’s real learning and growth, and they’ve been able to improve every area of their life. 

The first step to building self-awareness is to establish a baseline and identify all the things you know about yourself. 

Try the Self-Awareness exercise in the EQ for Entrepreneurs Worksheet section.

Once you’ve completed the exercise and you have the list, share it with someone that knows you really well so you can learn about what is missing from your list and what surprised your friend/family member most about your qualities.

Other methods to learn more about yourself is to take personality tests that can provide an assessment of your preferences, biases, and tendencies. By itself, these tests don’t create self-awareness, it’s just a tool.

PLEASE NOTE that some of these tests do carry a cost. You’ll find a list of assessments in the Additional Resource section of the EQ for Entrepreneurs Worksheet.

Johari Window

The Johari Window was named for the two psychologists who created it in 1955 - Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham - the Johari window is a self-awareness exercise that helps organize information about oneself into four quadrants:


Open self: Qualities that are known to you that are known to others

Hidden Self: Qualities you know about you, but maybe other people don't know

Unknown: Qualities we don’t even know are there, but hidden deep down

Blind Spots: Qualities others see in us 

One of the goals of the Johari Window is to reduce the Hidden Self quadrant. Meaning, the more you reveal and share about yourself, the better your communication and your relationships are going to be. The other goal is to move the Blind Spots into the open box. 

Both of these goals can be scary because it forces us to open up more and become more vulnerable. The main thing to remember is that by becoming more self-aware of our qualities and traits that impact others, the better we’ll be able to connect with people in an authentic way.

We’ve put together a Johari Window team exercise to help build self-awareness in the EQ for Entrepreneurs Worksheet.

Part 3.

Be Present

The simple act of being present during a meeting can reduce miscommunication and wasted efforts. This video will discuss the positive impact of mindfulness at work and how it can bring about higher creativity, connection, and production with your team.

The cornerstone of self-management is being present. There’s presence of physically being in a room where we have various degrees of actual focus and mental presence. However, mindful presence is being aware and attuned to where you are and what's happening with your feelings and the feelings of everyone around you. 

When we think about mindfulness, meditation may come to mind, but it’s not the only tool that you have in your toolbox to be present. 

One of the exercises I like to use for myself or before meetings is called Feet on the Floor Exercise. The basis of this exercise is to take 30 seconds to close my eyes, ease my mind and prepare for the moment. This exercise has been particularly helpful when you have a highly stressful or tension meeting ahead and preparing your mind and body.

Check out the full version of Feet on the Floor Exercise at the EQ for Entrepreneurs Worksheet.

Team check-in

Another exercise that can help the team become more present is called the Red, Yellow, Green exercise developed by Jerry Colonna of Reboot.io

How it works: Before you start a meeting, go around the room and have everyone check-in and identify if they’re feeling red, yellow, or green. 

Green means I'm in the flow, I'm calm, I'm rested, nothing bothering me, I'm fully ready to be present and be creative. 

Yellow means there might be some anxiety fluttering around the edges, something's a little off, not quite right. Maybe they’re distracted about something that's happening at home or bothered by something at work.

Red means there is something that is really upsetting them and they are in a full emotional high alert state right now. During the meeting, the person doesn’t have to say why they’re in the red because It might be something they don't feel comfortable sharing, but it is really important that the team knows that they’re red. When a person checks in red, just ask them if they need to have a conversation about it or what they need right now. If you have someone in red or if you're the one in red, deal with that first.

For complete instructions on how to conduct the Red, Yellow, Green exercise, visit the EQ for Entrepreneurs Worksheet.

Many entrepreneurs live in the future and worry about things that haven’t happened yet, and not focusing on what’s on the table today. As you build your self-awareness and become fully present in the moment you’ll notice more of what is happening in the room, people’s body language, you’ll engage in higher levels of active listening, have less miscommunication, read the room much better, it’ll activate your creative brain and more.  

Part 4.

Managing Your Fears

Fear can inhibit creativity, production, impact decisions, and more when building a business. In this video, you’ll learn how to embrace and manage your fear and return to a balanced state.

I don't believe a great company can be built on fear, I do believe that a great company, in fact, most great companies, are built by people that felt fear and worked through it. 

Where do entrepreneurs feel the most fear? Harvard Business Review actually did a study where they identified seven specific and repeated buckets of fear that are experienced by entrepreneurs. 

  • Financial security
  • Ability to fund the venture
  • Personal ability/ self-esteem
  • Potential of the idea
  • Threats to social esteem
  • The venture's ability to execute
  • Opportunity costs

It's incredibly damaging when you experience fear as a physical sensation; it stops you from being effective. Physical symptoms could include: increased heart rate and breathing, blood vessels contract, and your body enters fight or flight. When you do have a fear response, how do you think that is going to affect your ability to make good decisions? The fact is you cannot build a great team or company or have a good day when you're feeling fear.

Going back to self-awareness, when you do notice your body is going into fear mode and experiencing physical sensations, just stop, and slow everything down. Most importantly, don’t make any decisions. You’re probably in the red now! Instead, go back to your “Be Present” tools, or go for a walk, get outside, do something physical, talk to your team/mentor/someone, or journal – just do anything to help reduce your fear response. 

When I have a fear response and need to coach myself, I think to myself, what is the one thing that matters right now? And then I write it down. This act of simplifying everything down to one thing helps me reset. The point is not to stop feeling fear or to pretend it’s never going to happen, As an entrepreneur, you're going to feel more fear probably than even the average person. The skillset is to recognize when it shifts from working for you to working against you and then manage it.

I love to say, “feel the fear and do it anyway.” The most powerful leaders are those who acknowledge and embrace their fear and then turn it into an asset.

Part 5.

Use Flexible Thinking

Asking questions that generate new thinking is one trait of flexible thinking. In this video, you’ll learn how flexible versus fixed thinking strategies affect decision making, adaptability, and problem-solving.

Mike Tyson said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” 

You probably have a plan right now for your company, but the one thing we know for sure about your plan is that it is wrong. Whether things turn out great for your company or blows up, it's not going to be what you thought. The fact is, what you know about your business is a tiny fraction of everything that there is to know about growing a business. If you know 5% about your industry, business, competitors, customers, company, etc., there's another 95% out there that you don't know. If everything were known, somebody would have already done what you're doing right now. You’re living and growing in a new territory.

In reality, you’ve made your plan with only 5% of the available information. This doesn’t mean that your plan is a bad plan or you aren’t smart. The number one thing that highly intelligent people have in common is that they're wrong, a lot. 

You can call being willing to be wrong and learn from it as a growth mindset, or learning mindset, but today we're calling it flexible thinking. 

I Was Wrong

What are the elements of flexible thinking? The cliché phrase “strong opinions loosely held” is made fun of on social media, but I still think it’s useful. 

Strong opinions mean that you have a point of view and you're moving in a direction. If you're not moving in a direction and you haven't made a commitment, you're circling the drain.

Loosely held means you're willing to abandon your strong opinions in the face of evidence to the contrary. You are taking a hypothesis-driven approach. You have beliefs about your business; you are moving in a direction, testing your beliefs, talking to customers, and getting data. And if the data shows that your hypothesis was wrong, you don't go looking for better data. You say “thank you,” change your plan and go test the next thing. This involves a total detachment from needing to be right. 

As an entrepreneur, you have to stand in the mirror and practice saying, “I was wrong, I was wrong, I was wrong, I was wrong.” And you need to do this over and over and over and over again until it's just as comfortable for you as saying hello. The core skill early in your company is being okay in an uncomfortable state of not knowing and continuing to learn.

Powerful Questions 

How do we get out of these feelings of not knowing? Learn to ask better questions. 

These “better” questions are sometimes called Powerful Questions because they generate thinking as opposed to generating a simple answer. They can't be answered yes or no, and they may have many possible answers. A powerful question invites creative thinking and questioning of assumptions. 

For example, you could ask your team, who thinks we should start charging our beta customers? This is not a very powerful question because it's just asking for a yes or no answer and not prompting a discussion. Whereas, a better question would be: What might happen if we start charging our customers? This question will invite creative thinking and would be considered a Powerful Question. When you get really good at flexible thinking, these questions will become second nature to you. 

TIP: When you’re developing powerful questions, frame it in the positive. For example, what’s working and how can we do more of it? That’s a better question than, what’s not working and how can we get rid of it?” 

Fixed vs. Flexible Thinking

Another state of being is in a fixed mindset. This is more of an unwillingness to look at other perspectives, avoiding feedback, being reactive, judgmental and inflexible, and asking questions to reinforce one’s own position. It is possible to fall into a fixed mindset if we’re fatigued, fearful of something, or protecting our ego. However, it’s really important to get back to a flexible mindset for the good of the company. 

Leaders who can spend most of the time in the flexible mindset become effective leaders, build loyalty and trust, are able to show humility, engender cooperation, and create a safe space for their teams to thrive. 

Part 6.

Embrace Feedback

If you look at feedback as a good thing, it’s an opportunity for growth and learning that can positively impact your business. In this video, you’ll learn about the three types of feedback for growth, and how to give and receive feedback.

Feedback has gotten a pretty bad rap. People tend to think that if they get a lot of feedback it’s because they did something wrong. In the spirit of entrepreneurship, we need to flip this perspective around and look at feedback as a positive. Here is your new mantra:

Feedback is positive. Feedback is learning. Feedback is growth. 

You don't have to agree with everything that's being offered to you. However, flexible thinkers are open to feedback and look for the learning opportunity. One of the reasons why we don't love feedback is because it feels like evaluation, but the evaluation is only one of the three kinds of feedback.

The three kinds of feedback include: 

Appreciation – As a leader, you should just hand appreciation out like candy. In fact, give it out more than candy. It's better for you than candy. When people are doing things around you that are helpful, then notice and say something appreciative. In a culture where everyone is working really hard, it’s important to take a minute to just thank each other.

Evaluation – This type of feedback is meant for growth. It's not evaluative and it's not pure appreciation. It's coaching and growth feedback. When you’re seeking out feedback make sure you’re in the right frame of mind. If you’re feeling triggered or upset, then it’s not a great time to receive feedback that you asked from others. 

When you are ready to receive feedback, it’s best to ask for it in the moment. Once you’ve received the feedback, say thank you, accept it and move on. You can decide later what you're going to do about it, and how you're going to address it. 

Coaching - Coaching is designed to help someone improve, and it's non-judgmental.  We are using the term “coaching” here in TWO ways - one to refer to feedback given with the goal of helping someone see their blind spots or how their behavior affects others, and the other to refer to a specific way of helping people make a change. The important thing is that coaching feedback is future-looking, positive, aspirational and is requested and welcomed by the person who’s getting the feedback.  

Asking for Feedback

Getting started with asking for feedback, I would recommend picking something lightweight that doesn’t cause any triggers and ask someone that has an interest in your growth. If there are certain people you don't want to get feedback from because they just trigger you, that is totally fine. If there are certain topics that are off the table that is also totally fine, and you can work to expand on those topics another time – think of reducing your blind spot.

Giving Feedback

And then on the flip side, before you give feedback, make sure the person actually wants the feedback. Feedback is an exchange, a conversation, and it’s important to check for understanding to make sure the other person heard what you intended to say.

Some tips on giving feedback: 

  • No judgment
  •  Stick to sharing observations
  • Don’t make it personal 
  • Talk about what you noticed
  •  Don’t frame the feedback with a “you should be more like this or that” message

I’ve found that successful entrepreneurs, teams, and cultures embrace feedback and it helps them grow. If you're leading a team, the first step for you to model feedback behavior is by asking for feedback, then responding to feedback in a positive and thankful way. I often ask a colleague as we are leaving a meeting what they think I could have done better in the meeting. This builds a habit of exchanging feedback regularly and it feels like less of a big deal.  

Part 7.

Become a Strong Coach

Founders can’t do and solve everything; they need a strong team to move the company forward. In this video, you’ll learn how to growth coach your team to develop better solutions while improving efficiency.

Growth coaching is focused on questions and the future. It is definitely not therapy, consulting or mentoring. Coaching is future-focused and question-based. 

If you're just starting to grow your company and expand your team, it’s important for you to coach your team to become better problem solvers and more efficient and have them own workflow and decision making so you can do more of the higher-level tasks your company needs. To be an effective coach for your team, you have to unlearn that skill of just telling people what to do and get into a position where you can really lean back and let them find solutions.

Coaching is a relationship between two people, where the coach supports the coachee to make a meaningful change. This process is future-looking, aspirational and most importantly, it is owned and directed by the person who is receiving the coaching. 

Spot Coaching

Spot Coaching is a short conversation that addresses something that feels urgent to the person seeking coaching. It can be anything from time management, email management, communication skills, co-worker relationships, leadership style, etc. 

These progression of questions are from The Coaching Mindset to help you have a deeper conversation when Spot Coaching someone: 

  • What's on your mind?
  •  And what else? – I ask this follow up because the first thing someone says isn't actually the issue. 
  • What’s the real challenge for you? – This helps them think about what they need help with for personal growth.
  • Asking what you do want? - This question might feel obvious, but sometimes by asking this question, you can help people discover what they really want, which they might not even be aware of. They might be looking at a problem from the outside and not really know where they're even coming from until they hear you ask that question. 
  • If you're saying yes to this, what are you saying no to? - This is helping people understand their choices and how they value different things. So you're not telling them what choice to make. You're helping them uncover the unconscious decisions when they're choosing one thing over another.
  • What was most useful to you? - Here you're asking, what did I do that helped you, and how can I do more of that.

When you are coaching, remember to resist jumping in with advice and solutions or share your own experience – just lean back and listen. 

Other tips include: be fully present, have an empathetic stance, hold each person in an unconditional positive regard, manage your emotional engagement and boundaries to the appropriate circumstance, and have the courage to respectfully challenge when someone says something that doesn't ring true or where you feel like they're not being honest with themselves. Having the courage to call a timeout and say, Hmm, that doesn't sound quite right, can be really, really powerful. Sometimes people need that. They need you to challenge them.

For you entrepreneurs out there, your job as a leader is not to have all the answers. Your job is to have powerful questions. Your legacy might not be creating the next unicorn company, but what will definitely happen is that you are going to have an impact on everyone you work with and everyone around you. And so developing your EQ will help ensure that that impact is a positive one.