How Emotional Intelligence Can Make You a Better Leader
April 14, 2017
Emotional intelligence has been the subject of increasing discussion in recent decades, evolving from a psychological concept to a highly relevant interpersonal skill. Psychology professors John D. Mayer and Peter Salovey first coined the term in a 1990 research paper, describing the collective ability to recognize, manage, and make inferences from the emotions of oneself and others. Nearly a decade later, author and psychologist Daniel Goleman presented evidence suggesting that emotional intelligence is a crucial trait for professional success. Goleman found that IQ has little to no bearing on professional success beyond a certain threshold, and suggested that, in a professional playing field where IQ and technical skill levels are equal, emotional intelligence serves as an important factor in distinguishing those who will advance within an organization. Based on this research into otherwise equal workplace environments, the Harvard Business Review estimated that emotional intelligence makes up 90 percent of the factors driving professional upward mobility.
Individuals with developed emotional intelligence are likely to enjoy healthier relationships and higher levels of fulfillment in their personal lives, but it is becoming increasingly clear that emotional intelligence can also be a vital professional skill as well. By developing their capacity for self-reflection and social awareness, individuals can better cope with stress, relate to others, and harness their own potential for leadership and innovation in the workplace.
Emotionally intelligent leaders benefit from the ability to honestly reflect upon and assess their feelings and behaviors. They are able to understand the causes of their thoughts and actions and are aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. This knowledge, gleaned through self-reflection as well as the welcoming acceptance of outside criticism, often can allow leaders to bolster their existing attributes, as they are able to think innovatively about how to use their unique skills to solve problems and unlock new opportunities for their organizations.
When confronted with negative feelings, many people follow the instinct to shut them out and ignore them. However, emotional intelligence involves accepting and understanding all emotions—even those that may seem counterproductive to progress or success. Rather than suppressing negative emotions or knowledge of one’s own shortcomings, emotionally intelligent leaders strive to understand and overcome these realities, leveraging their strengths to improve upon their weaknesses.
Individuals with highly developed emotional intelligence understand the distinction between thoughts and feelings, as well as how both influence their own actions. This can assist business leaders in making decisions confidently, thereby granting leaders the ability to surpass one of the biggest barriers to creativity and innovation: self-doubt.
Responding to Change
Emotionally intelligent leaders have a healthy relationship with change, whether reacting to unexpected occurrences in the business sphere or leading innovative initiatives to blaze new trails in a given sector. Their self-awareness often grants them the motivation and confidence to take intelligent risks while facilitating a stable working environment even in the midst of change.
Self-regulation, another marker of emotional intelligence, can greatly enhance a leader’s ability to guide a team in a variety of situations. Emotional restraint is an important skill in both change management and conflict resolution, and leaders who can effectively manage their emotional reactions to difficult situations, refusing to let stress or anger heavily influence their decisions, can help ensure the development of a unified company culture.
Relating to Others
Fostering healthy professional relationships is vital to success in the workplace, and emotionally intelligence business leaders are capable of maintaining positive connections with both business partners and employees. They accomplish this partially through a highly developed sense of empathy. By understanding how others might feel, think, or react in a given situation, leaders can act with compassionate and, in instances of conflict, work to develop solutions that benefit as many people as possible.
Emotionally intelligent leaders are able to compartmentalize their thoughts and obligations to give their relationships the thought, time, and attention that they deserve. Often, they are able to find common ground with others and are aware of how social cues such as tone or body language may change how they are perceived. These skills support the ability to communicate effectively, which allows emotionally intelligent leaders to resolve problems and, in many cases, prevent them from arising. Effective communication in the workplace, a hallmark of strong and effective teams, is key to curbing the disagreements and confusion that can stem from misunderstandings.
On an operational level, the capacity to communicate with emotional intelligence can help leaders clearly define employee roles, as well as the strategy and direction of their companies. Emotionally intelligent leaders are adept at conveying individual responsibilities alongside their larger vision for the company, which helps inspire teams to work toward a common goal with a driving sense of purpose.