What do the best leaders have in common? A high degree of emotional intelligence. Great leaders come in all shapes and sizes, and different business situations call for different leadership styles. What remains constant is the need to monitor your feelings, and those of others, and leverage them to guide your thinking and behavior.
Research has shown that Emotional Intelligence (EI) is twice as important for jobs at all levels. At the top tier, EI accounts for nearly 90% of the difference between average and star performers. Whether you’re currently leading a team or aspiring to do so, you can build EI through a pattern of focused effort.
What is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional Intelligence is a balance between the rational and emotional sides of our brain:
- The Prefrontal Cortex is the where rationality is processed and is the most advanced part of the human brain. Our rational portion of the brain facilitates the thought processes around planning, direction, and analysis.
- Our Limbic System serves as the center of our emotions. Believe it or not, this is the part of our brain that motivates and drives us to get things done – to execute on the plans our rational brain has developed.
These two parts of our brain work in concert with one another to regulate and process our emotions on a personal and social sphere.
What are the Components of Emotional Intelligence?
Within the personal sphere of EI we begin with Self–Awareness. The ability to recognize and understand your moods, emotions, and drives, as well as their impact on others is perhaps the most critical skill to hone as a leader. Self-aware leaders have the ability to see themselves with clear eyes. They are able to recognize and appreciate their strengths, and just as importantly, they are able to recognize their weaknesses or areas of opportunity.
Improving your self-awareness has a trickle-down effect, positively influencing all aspects of life that you seek fulfillment in. Self-awareness gives you a sense of control. You can hone your awareness through a pattern of focused effort by:
- Embracing curiosity – Going inward and focusing on yourself and your emotions can be uncomfortable, or it can be a journey you embrace. Choosing the latter perspective gives you permission to cultivate your inner observer – at the nucleus of a finely tuned self-awareness is an intimate knowledge and understanding of your inner workings.
- Shifting perspective – Examining your mindset and emotions should be done from multiple angles. Think of your mind as if it were a house. If you look through one window, you only see a portion of the inside, a cross-section of your thoughts and emotions. Walk around the house, peek in all the windows, open all the doors. Notice where the light hits, where it’s absent.
- Accept and acknowledge your strengths and areas of opportunity – Acknowledging your strengths is paramount to bolstering your confidence as a leader. Accepting your areas of opportunity gifts you skills to focus on building.
Once you’re aware of your emotions and understand which ones are worth paying attention to, you must release those that do not serve you personally and professionally. You do this by getting out of your head and into your body.
Self-Management is a conscious effort to channel your emotions. A productive movement of positive and negative energy through your body to gain headspace and clarity is the essence of self-management. Leaders who regulate their emotions create an atmosphere of fairness and trust. In order to do this, you must identify your reaction to triggers or stressful situations. For instance, if you know your stress comes to the surface during challenging situations and this tends to make you short with others then you are self-aware. What then do you do with those emotions and how do you calm yourself?
As leaders, we must choose our response to stress and challenges carefully so as not to react in a manner that conflicts with our values or erodes trust with our team. A thoughtful response is born of our ability to regulate our emotions and harness our energy as motivation and momentum. Your energy determines your impact.
Armed with the awareness of your emotions, strengths, and areas of opportunity and how to productively manage them, you can then turn outward and build your skills within the social sphere.
Empathy, also referred to as Social Awareness, is the ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people and the ability to treat people according to their emotional reactions. We don’t talk about empathy in business enough, however, research on workplace empathy performed by the Center for Creative Leadership found that empathetic emotion positively predicts job performance. Meaning: More empathy, better performance.
To intuit what others are feeling, empathetic people read between the lines of what’s said. This makes them especially good at understanding and supporting group dynamics. Leaders with a high level of empathy have the ability to pick up on the emotions of others and really understand what’s going on with them; even when their thinking and feelings are different.
As with the other components of Emotional Intelligence, managers and leaders who sense they may lack empathy can hone this skill. Building empathy involves:
- Looking at situations from alternate points of view. Try stepping out of the weeds at a meeting where you can simply observe and offer guidance from a place of neutrality. This enlightened place in which you can put yourself in other people’s shoes isn’t always comfortable, but it creates an awareness of the emotions within the group and heightens your empathy.
- Observance of team dynamics and individual emotions. Misunderstandings can flare up quickly when people’s basic assumptions differ. Empathy provides an antidote. Empathetic people gain understanding from body language and other cues, and they have a good feel for cultural differences.
- Active listening. For many, listening is synonymous with preparing to speak. When our listening is more like waiting than attuning, we don’t connect with the other person and what they are saying. To avoid this and build empathy, follow the model of Hear, Interpret, Evaluate, Respond.
Leaders who manage with empathy increase satisfaction and reduce turnover. Additionally, empathetic workplaces tend to enjoy stronger collaboration and greater morale, and their employees bounce back more quickly from challenging circumstances.
When you understand the emotions of others and can connect with them in a meaningful and genuine way, you can use those inputs to build trusting relationships.
The fourth component of Emotional Intelligence is Relationship Management, which is the ability to find common ground and build rapport. As a leader, when you know the emotional drivers of your team members (because of empathy) you are better equipped to facilitate collaboration, lead change, and resolve conflict. You become the architect of your high performing team and a leader that inspires. Strengthening your Relationship Management muscle is well worth the effort when it comes to building a great team.
As a leader, your ability to express and regulate your emotions is essential. Equally important is the ability to understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others. Investing the time to build your Emotional Intelligence pays dividends in the short and long term as you explore and grow in your leadership of others.