James River Capital emotional intelligence

Tips on Boosting Emotional Intelligence by Paul Saunders, Founder of James River Capital Corp.


If you had to name the top characteristics of successful business people, emotional intelligence (EI) might not be high on your list. In fact, it might not even make the list—but it certainly should.

Emotional intelligence has 12 competencies:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-control
  • Adaptability
  • Achievement orientation
  • Positive outlook
  • Empathy
  • Organizational awareness
  • Influence
  • Coaching/mentorship
  • Conflict management
  • Teamwork
  • Inspirational leadership

Now that you know what emotional intelligence entails, it likely makes sense that EI is a core ingredient for career success. High EI is associated with better job performance, entrepreneurship, leadership potential, and employability. It also makes you happier, healthier, and more successful in relationships.

Concerned that your EI might be on the lower end? Don’t worry—emotional intelligence is not set in stone, and it can improve over time. In this article, Paul Saunders, the founder and CEO of James River Capital Corp., will share his tips for boosting emotional intelligence (and bettering your business).

Paul Saunders and James River Capital Corp.

Paul Saunders is the founder, chairman, and Chief Executive Officer of James River Capital Corp. and affiliated companies. Paul’s lifelong passion for finance led him to earn a B.A. from the University of Virginia and an M.B.A. from the University of Chicago.

Paul began his career in investment banking but eventually transitioned to investment and trading, which he felt was more meritocracy-based. His career started with positions in the Corporate Finance Department at Warburg Paribas Becker, then in the Commodity Department of A.G. Becker.

Paul Saunders later worked at Kidder, Peabody, and Co. as Director of Managed Accounts and Commodity Funds before becoming President of KP Futures Management Corp. When Paul acquired the firm, he changed the name to James River Capital Corp, and he has held his current position since 1995.

Both Paul and his wife of nearly four decades, Vicki, have a passion for philanthropy. The couple regularly supports charitable organizations and recently launched the Saunders Family Foundation.

James River Capital Corp. was founded in 1986 as the alternative investment department of Kidder, Peabody, & Co. In 1995, Paul Saunders and Kevin Brandt acquired the firm from Kidder, and it became an independent investment firm.

Located in Richmond, Virginia, James River advises accounts using asset classes including corporate credit, equity strategies, global macroeconomic strategies, fixed income arbitrage, multi-strategy investing, managed futures, and asset-backed securities.

How to Boost Emotional Intelligence

For Paul Saunders, emotional intelligence has played a key role in growing his business. Below, we share Saunders’ tips for boosting your own EI and, ultimately, the success of your career and/or business.

Develop self-awareness

Often, there’s a difference between how others view us (reputation) and how we view ourselves (identity). It’s important to have a true understanding of our strengths and weaknesses, especially in business. This way, we can work to improve our weaknesses or to balance them with the strengths of other people on our team.

For example, many of us think we are great listeners when this is not the case. We can gain honest feedback through anonymous surveys or reliable personality tests. Be willing to seek unbiased and helpful information about your strengths and weaknesses.

Build intrinsic motivation

Another aspect of self-awareness is understanding your goals and why you want to achieve them. Saunders explains that you will be at a disadvantage if you’re only interested in doing something because someone else says you should.

What do you want? What matters to you? Once you have a clear view of your weaknesses, consider which ones could potentially stand between you and your goals. These are the weaknesses you will address first.

Consider the perspectives of others

james river capital perspectives of othersOf course, focusing on what you want doesn’t mean you should completely disregard other perspectives. Especially in business, the ability to pay attention to, motivate, and influence others is crucial.

Take a team-oriented approach to tackling problems at work. Even if you will have the final say, gathering opinions from others can help you find creative solutions or interesting perspectives you hadn’t considered. It also motivates employees when they feel that their voices are heard and their ideas are valued at work.

Communicate with your team and develop an understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. Only when you understand what each individual brings to the table can you maximize the effectiveness of your team.

Consider holding division meetings where each team member can share what they contribute and what they view as their strengths, as well as any problems or difficulties they’ve encountered. Then your team can work together to solve these problems, improving communication and collaboration.

Balance confidence and humility

Climbing the corporate ladder requires confidence, but you don’t want to come across as arrogant. Be willing to listen to feedback, admit when you’re wrong, and recognize the achievements of others. Share your knowledge and resources, focusing on the betterment of your team and not just yourself.

People who succeed in business are people that others want to work with (and work for). Even if you aren’t particularly humble, “fake it ‘till you make it,” just as others do with confidence. A gracious attitude and a willingness to listen to others can go a long way.

Manage your emotions

In a high-pressure work environment, it’s easy to get irritated, frustrated, or even angry. But temper tantrums are not appealing in the corporate world (or in most scenarios). It’s important to build a reputation as someone who is cool under pressure and able to handle difficult situations with dignity. A reputation as a hothead or crybaby can cause you to be overlooked for promotions and other opportunities.

Think about the situations that typically trigger your anger or irritation. Try to avoid these triggers. If you can’t avoid them, create a plan for how you will handle them. For example, if you tend to send frustrated responses to emails, wait to reply until you feel sufficiently calm. If you feel yourself getting angry, you can also practice taking deep breaths, mentally counting as you calm down, or even using the “5-4-3-2-1” mindfulness trick.

The “5-4-3-2-1” exercise can distract you from emotions like anger or anxiety. Note five things you can see, four you can hear, three you can feel, two you can smell, and one you can taste. These tricks may not all work for you, but experiment until you find one that does. Then, any time you encounter one of your triggers or feel irritation building, use the exercise until you’re calm enough to respond effectively, rather than reacting negatively.

Plan and practice

Once you’ve determined what areas of emotional intelligence you need to work on, develop a plan. For example, if you are a poor listener, it may be helpful to take pauses and concentrate on what the other person is saying before considering how you will reply when having a conversation. You may also plan to work on eye contact and focusing fully on the other person.

After making a plan, practice putting it into action as often as possible. The concept of neuroplasticity says that the more we practice a skill, the easier it becomes. If you practice often enough, your new skill will become second nature. And once you’ve mastered that one, you can work on another skill as needed.

In Conclusion

Like any other skill, emotional intelligence can be improved with practice. Start by honestly evaluating your strengths and weaknesses and considering your personal goals. Based on your goals and your current weaknesses, decide what aspects of emotional intelligence you need to work on.

These skills may include listening, practicing humility, collaborating with others, or managing emotions like frustration and anger. Once you’ve decided what to work on, decide how you will work on it, then put your plan into practice. It may seem difficult or unnatural at first, but continued practice will lead to positive results.

By strengthening his emotional intelligence, Paul Saunders also strengthened the success of his business, James River Capital Corp. With commitment, planning, and practice, you can do the same.

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