For too long, organisations have viewed emotional intelligence (EI) as a soft skill, or a nice-to-have in the candidate who is being promoted into a leadership position. But there is a reason why some people are more influential than others. Once you acquire the education and training required for a particular career path, it’s not your IQ that will set you apart as successful. After all, everyone you are working with is at least as smart as you are. What will drive your career forward is your ability to manage yourself and those around you – and that means being as emotionally intelligent as you are technically smart.
Emotional intelligence creates successful leaders
Researchers in human behaviour generally agree that EI is the bedrock of a successful leader. Emotions are contagious. A person’s mood and behaviours have a significant impact on everyone in their orbit. A cranky and ruthless boss creates a toxic environment likely to result in negative responses from others. It’s no wonder that teams who are led by managers with low EI are often underachievers who tend to ignore opportunities.
Identify the leader with low EI by the following behaviours:
- Acts out in stressful situations because they’re not able to manage their own emotions.
- Prone to behaviours such as yelling, blaming, and being passive aggressive. This can create an even more stressful environment, where workers are always walking on eggshells trying to prevent the next outburst.
- There’s no collaboration between team members because employees are nervous about making suggestions.
- The inability to address situations that could be fraught with emotion. Most leaders deal with conflict, and a leader who isn’t tuned into others’ emotions may have a difficult time recognising conflict and dealing effectively with its resolution.
“The core of high EI is self-awareness: if you don’t understand your own motivations and behaviours, it’s nearly impossible to develop an understanding of others. A lack of self-awareness can also thwart your ability to think rationally and apply technical capabilities.”
Laura Wilcox, director of management programs at Harvard University
When your EI is honed, you will have an acute awareness of your own feelings as well as of those around you.
How to develop emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence starts with ‘me’: self-observation and practice, and many iterations of practice in self-observation until we are aware of ourselves in the moment. Emotional intelligence requires the kind of awareness where you recognise: ‘Ah! That’s what triggers me when I behave like that. Now I know the trigger, I can consciously choose to change my behaviour instead of a knee-jerk reaction.”
This is vital for making sound objective decisions that affect the organisation – even when it means your pride and self-esteem may take a knock. As a leader with emotional intelligence, you will recognise that your ideas might not always be the best, and sometimes it makes sense to let one of your team run with a better idea.
Leaders with emotional intelligence will transform the workplace into a place where employees want to work and excel in their roles. Watch Simon Sinek talk about the importance of empathy and perspective for leaders
What are emotionally intelligent leaders?
Emotionally Intelligent leaders:
- Foster safe environments, where employees feel comfortable to take calculated risks and to voice their opinions: working collaboratively isn’t just a goal, it is woven into the organisational culture
- Leverage emotions for the good of the organisation
- Are aware of how others will react emotionally to changes: they can anticipate this and plan the most appropriate ways to introduce and carry out the change
- Don’t take things personally and are able to forge ahead with plans without worrying about the impact on their egos.
Emotional intelligence is a trait that can be measured and developed – it grows with deliberate practice.
Try these few suggestions in becoming more in-tune with your emotions:
- Take time to notice how you are feeling – on the way to work, in the car or at a meeting.
- Note what your body telling you about how you feel – where in your body: head, heart or gut?
- Notice times when you took responsibility and made a positive difference in someone’s life.
- Try to stay in touch with uncomfortable feelings and notice what has caused them.
- Recognise patterns or connections with your present and your past.
- Notice when you are judgmental or critical and when you are withholding empathy.
- Keep a diary and write down events in your day and how you have felt about them. Reflect on how well you have been aware of self. Did you manage emotions well? What were you aware of in interactions with others? Did you manage relationship well today?
As we raise our own levels of emotional intelligence, we increase our circle of positive influence in our world, be it at work or at home. It’s not rocket science: with daily practice and attention, we can grow EI to bring well-being to ourselves and others.