These past couple of years will always be remembered for their extraordinary degree of uncertainty. Leaders at the workplace had to face continuous pandemic outbreaks, constant geopolitical tensions, and economic difficulties, which severely impacted the workplace and the people in it.
Through those ashes, a new notion arose: emotional intelligence. The importance of emotions in leadership is no longer a nice skill to have but a fundamental aspect of a thriving business. A leader must not only know how to navigate their emotions but also the emotions of others.
In fact, when you think of a “perfect leader,” what crosses your mind? You might picture a person always making careful, well-thought decisions and working skillfully with their emotions no matter the severity of a problem. Someone easy to talk to, who creates an environment of safety and trust for everyone to speak up and give guidance even if there are tough decisions to make. All these are aspects of emotional intelligence.
In order for companies to survive the challenging times of the post-pandemic era, change is needed. Embracing change on an individual and collective level leads to a journey from self-leadership to co-leadership and transforms the work environment. In this article, we’ll take a deeper look into what is emotional intelligence and what are its benefits. Let’s dive in!
What Is Emotional Intelligence?
According to American psychologists Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, emotional intelligence is “the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, discriminate among them and use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”
In other words, being aware of what you feel at all times, what those feelings represent, and their impact on our lives and others. Another way of phrasing it is “the intelligent use of emotions”.
A true leader never suppresses their feelings but learns how to perceive and understand them. After all, who’s more prompt to success; a leader that shouts to their team under pressure or someone who stays composed and calmly assesses the situation? In fact, the World Economic Forum registers emotional intelligence as one of the top must-have skills in the 4th industrial revolution we’re experiencing today.
Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist who helped popularize emotional intelligence, highlights that there are 5 critical aspects to it:
- Social skills
The sooner a leader masters those aspects of emotional intelligence, the faster they’ll advance their business.
Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important?
According to the American Journal of Pharmaceutical Education, emotional intelligence is a valuable trait that helps make sound decisions, sustain collaborative relationships, and cope with changing environments. In other words, it creates a psychologically safe environment that encourages:
- Solidarity in times of unpredictability
- Courage to take risks
- Innovation & out of the box thinking
- Authenticity in co-creation
- Diversity & culture of mental health
In fact, emotional intelligence is used as a predictability factor of success. That’s because it affects performance at work while equipping individuals with the tools to manage stress and conflict.
This means that they’re able to work more effectively even in fewer hours, achieving quality work. Moreover, it increases job satisfaction through improved communication and goal completion in an environment where employees feel engaged and respected for their ideas.
But emotional intelligence is not just an elite quality of CEOs and senior managers. On the contrary, surveys show that 75% of hiring managers value an employee’s EQ more than their IQ. That’s because it serves them as a coping mechanism to listen, reflect, and respond to constructive criticism while avoiding passive-aggressive behaviors.
How to Become More Emotionally Intelligent
Emotional intelligence requires a lived culture of change in the business context. A culture
where emotions are not neglected but integrated into the growth journey. For this change to succeed, we need a high degree of trust in ourselves and our fellow human beings.
The good news is that it’s never too late to embark on the emotional intelligence journey. Thanks to our brain’s ability to change structure and function based on what we focus on, we’re able to change behavioral patterns and the way we respond to things. Therefore, emotional intelligence is trainable, no matter who you are or where you’re coming from.
Here are some aspects of emotional intelligence you can start working on today:
Self-awareness is the foundation of emotional intelligence and refers to being aware of your feelings as well as your strengths and weaknesses. Or, as Daniel Goleman quotes, “knowing one’s internal states, preferences, resources, and intuitions”. Here are some things you can do to improve your self-awareness:
- Keep a journal – Spend a few minutes to write your thoughts and feelings every day. This can help you recognize and navigate them.
- Slow down – If you’re experiencing stress or anger, take a step back and examine why. When the water is boiling, you don’t stick your hand in it. So, remember that no matter how challenging a situation is, you always get the final word on how you’ll respond to it.
- Remember, feelings are fleeting – Did you know that emotions only last about 90 seconds? Anything you feel after that is simply because you decide to hold on to it. What matters most is understanding the information behind those emotions and why you feel triggered. Maybe your boundaries are crossed, or you’re not feeling listened to. Only after specifying those triggers you’ll be able to respond from a place of wisdom instead of reacting at the moment.
After self-awareness comes the ability to understand your emotions and learn to respond authentically. Self-management refers to managing one’s internal states, impulses, and resources without suppressing or denying them. In other words, monitoring your responses to different situations without hiding your true feelings. Here are some ways to improve it:
- Know your boundaries, needs & responsibilities – Know where you draw your limits line and where there’s room for compromise. Then, spend some time exploring your code of ethics, and you won’t think twice next time a moral dilemma arises.
- Find techniques to release stress – Whether it’s deep breathing or hobbies outside of work, this is an excellent way of externalizing your emotions without sentimentally harming your colleagues.
- Feel before you think – Allow yourself to experience your emotions, hold space for them and then make a healthy decision.
- Hold yourself accountable – Learn to recognize your responsibilities. Avoid playing the victim or blaming others for your mistakes. This way, you’ll earn people’s respect.
The role of emotional intelligence in leadership is to understand what motivates you and then support your co-workers to be motivated as well. This is the only way to live to our highest potential and face even the greatest challenges.
Individuals with high EQ tend to be more motivated to achieve goals and fulfill their inner needs. Of course, fame, money, and recognition can be great, but a true leader is passionate about what they do and seek internal rewards. Here are some ways to improve motivation at the workplace:
- Know your values – Specifying your beliefs and ethics is vital to avoid burnout. In addition, understanding your intrinsic motivators will only support your flow.
- Focus on what you love – Take a moment to remind yourself of what you really love about your job. It could be a sense of fulfillment, helping other people, or simply the joy of accomplishing projects. This will help you find reasons to be motivated.
- Be hopeful and optimistic – Notice how great leaders are usually optimistic no matter how many challenges they face every day? This inspires and motivates others as well to keep pushing toward their goals.
How do you respond when you sense that someone is stressed or disheartened? According to Evan Thompson, writer, and professor of philosophy, empathy is “the ability to experience and understand what others feel while maintaining a clear discernment about your own and the other person’s feelings and perspectives”.
The essence of empathy is to create authentic connections. This comes down to understanding what the other person is feeling from an honest human connection and not from an agreeing head understanding.
Learning to step into other people’s shoes at the workplace helps leaders understand the different dynamics between colleagues and supervisors and influence their behaviors. Here are some things you can do to nurture empathy:
- Understand other people’s points of view – Take the time to look at situations from other people’s perspectives. Pay attention to their body language and give them the time and space to share their input, while you connect with your own emotions that come up listening deeply.
- Respond accordingly to their feelings – Let’s say you ask your employee to work late nights again, and although they agree, you can hear the disappointment in their voice. Empathy allows you to externalize your thoughts by sharing words of appreciation for their kind help and figuring out solutions to avoid such repeating patterns.
- Spot the similarities – As human beings, we all face challenges. Offering kindness and respecting other people’s emotions is an excellent base for healthier relationships.
5. Social Skills
The role of emotional intelligence in leadership is also building good communication. You might see leaders always willing to hear both good and bad news and knowing how to resolve conflicts diplomatically. They also set an example with their own behavior and balance the managers vs. colleagues dynamics. Here are ways to improve social skills:
- Listen to what others have to say – Active listening is all about paying attention when others share their concerns, ask questions, search for solutions, and share feedback. After all, good communication starts with a base of great listening.
- Praise employees – Earned praise can inspire people to continue doing their best. Learning how and when to give it is a fine art.
- Avoid workplace drama – Although conflicts are not always avoidable, minimizing tensions and avoiding poor office politics will save your business in the long run.
- Set the example – Be the example, show yourself honestly, be vulnerable and skillful, this will create trust and increase your influence.
The Mindful Nation UK Report quotes that mindfulness is “paying attention to what’s happening in the present moment in the mind, body and external environment, with an attitude of curiosity and kindness.
Through mindfulness, we gain insight into our behavioral patterns and understand our choices. Now that you know what is emotional intelligence and its importance for growing a company, we invite you to consider what actions you take to create a trusting and open workplace for your colleagues, and start the journey from “I” to “We”.