What are the characteristics of a good leader? Our initial thoughts divert to stereotypical traits such as assertiveness, intelligence and decisiveness.
However, what if we told you that there was another trait which was just as important, if not more so?
Emotional intelligence is this very trait — it is quite simply a critical component of effective leadership.
In this article, we will delve into emotional intelligence and get a firm grasp of its importance in leadership.
We will also look at the benefits of having a high emotional IQ as a leader, and discuss tips on how to improve your own emotional intelligence.
Let’s get started!
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional intelligence (EI) is the capacity to be aware of and manage one’s own emotions, and the emotions of others. It is a critical ability for leaders, as they are often required to manage multiple stakeholders with diverse opinions and needs.
A leader with high emotional intelligence is able to put themselves in other people’s shoes, understand their perspective, and respond accordingly. They are also better equipped to handle difficult conversations and conflict resolution.
In contrast, a leader with low emotional intelligence may have difficulty managing their own emotions, let alone those of others.
They may come across as insensitive or unsympathetic, and find it hard to build trustful relationships with their team members.
The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Leadership
Let’s take a deeper dive into the importance of emotional intelligence, and why it is a key characteristic of a great leader.
Emotional intelligence is essential for building trustful relationships
A leader with high emotional intelligence understands the importance of building trustful relationships with their team members.
They know that trust is the foundation upon which all successful teams are built, and work hard to create an environment of mutual respect and understanding.
Leaders with high emotional intelligence understand that they set the tone at the top, so they adhere to the highest standards of respect and understanding so this tone trickles down all the way to the ground floor of the company.
Emotional intelligence enables leaders to better understand and manage their own emotions
Being self-aware and having the ability to control their emotions, even in challenging situations — is an invaluable trait for leaders in the business world.
Emotionally intelligent leaders are less likely to let their emotions get the better of them, and as a result, are more effective at managing difficult conversations and conflict resolution.
This is a priceless characteristic when the going gets tough, and means these leaders can keep a clear head when everyone around them is losing theirs.
Emotional intelligence allows leaders to better understand and relate to others
Emotionally intelligent people are able to see things from other people’s perspectives and respond accordingly. They know how to build rapport and create an environment where everyone feels valued and heard.
As a result, they are more effective at motivating and inspiring their team members.
If we look at some of the greatest leaders in the past — take Nelson Mandela as an example. He was able to relate to the whole country, and built a rapport with the South African people through this very characteristic.
Emotional intelligence enhances leadership decision-making skills
A leader who is emotionally intelligent knows how to weigh up all the options before making a decision.
They take into account not only the logical reasoning behind each option, but also the potential emotional impact of each decision on their team members.
As a result, they are able to make more informed decisions that consider both the head and the heart.
Emotional intelligence contributes to overall success in leadership roles
From a holistic point of view, we can assume that a leader with high emotional intelligence is more likely to be successful in their role.
This is because they have the ability to build trustful relationships, understand and manage their own emotions, relate to others, and make informed decisions.
All of these factors contribute to overall success in leadership roles.
5 ways to improve your emotional intelligence
Now that we have understood why emotional intelligence is important, let’s examine some actionable ways leaders can improve this key characteristic.
1. Be self-aware
The first step to improving your emotional intelligence is to become more aware of your own emotions. Start paying attention to how you feel in different situations, and what triggers certain emotions.
Once you have a better understanding of your own emotions, you will be better equipped to manage them.
2. Manage your reactions
It is important to remember that we always have a choice in how we react to things. When something happens that gets us worked up, take a step back and pause before reacting.
This will give you time to think about the situation logically, and respond in a way that is constructive and helpful, rather than emotionally charged.
3. Communicate effectively
One of the key skills of emotional intelligence is effective communication. This involves being able to express yourself clearly, as well as active listening — hearing what others are saying and trying to understand their perspective.
When communicating with others, always aim to be respectful and open-minded, even if you don’t agree with them.
4. Develop empathy
Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. As a leader, it is important to be able to empathize with your team members, so that you can better understand their needs and motivations.
To develop empathy, try to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and see things from their perspective. This can be difficult to do at first, but you need to make a conscious effort to start with — and then it will slowly start coming to you as you make more and more of an effort.
5. Practice stress management
Leadership can be a stressful job, so it is important to have effective stress management skills. This includes knowing how to relax and rejuvenate both physically and mentally.
When you are feeling overwhelmed, take a few minutes to yourself to breathe deeply and center yourself. You might also want to try some relaxation techniques such as yoga or meditation.
What about your employees’ emotional intelligence?
Although it is important for leaders to have a high level of emotional intelligence, it is also a crucial trait for your employees to have as well.
Here are some simple methods to improve your employees’ emotional intelligence:
Encourage open communication
Create an environment where employees feel comfortable communicating their thoughts and feelings openly. This will help them to better understand their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.
This can be achieved through having regular team meetings, and encouraging employees to share their thoughts and feelings freely.
One of the key components of emotional intelligence is empathy. Help your employees to develop their empathy by encouraging them to see things from other people’s perspectives.
We discussed this before from the perspective of a leader, but now with employees — the firm can introduce more specific training programmes, such as role-playing exercises, or by discussing real-life scenarios that require empathy.
Teach emotional regulation techniques
There will be times when employees feel overwhelmed by their emotions. It is important to teach them techniques for managing and regulating their emotions, such as deep breathing or visualization.
These techniques can help to prevent emotionally charged reactions, and can be used in both personal and professional situations.
Consider having some team days or expert-led training sessions where emotional regulation techniques are taught to your employees.
Encourage positive thinking
It is important to encourage your employees to think positively, even in challenging situations. As employers, you should provide regular feedback, and highlight your employees successes, rather than their failures.
You can also encourage positive thinking by creating a vision board or goal setting exercise for your team. Having a target to shoot for can motivate your team to work harder.
Model emotional intelligence
As a leader, you should model the behavior that you want to see in your employees. If you want them to be more emotionally intelligent, then lead by example and show them how it’s done.
Be aware of your own emotions, and manage them in a healthy way. Be open to feedback, and show empathy towards others. Your employees will take their cue from you, so make sure that you are setting a good example.
The bottom line
Now that we have considered the importance of emotional intelligence in leadership, we must acknowledge that it is the crucial puzzle piece that makes a good leader a great one.
Leaders’ emotional intelligence can be improved through a number of different ways as discussed, but we must not forget about those of us who aren’t leaders.
For employees, emotional intelligence is an equally important trait to ensure a cohesive work environment. As discussed above, firms can take a number of steps to improve their employees emotional intelligence.
We all know that intelligence is important — so it is about time we realized the importance of emotional intelligence!