Wednesday, February 28, 2024

The Strength of Emotional Intelligence in leadership

Technical knowledge and expertise.

These are two characteristics you need to become a leader. But one trait in particular that transforms a manger into someone who understands their team, motivates them to action and inspires them to do their best is emotional intelligence.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence refers to the ability of a leader to recognize and manage their own emotions, whilst also doing the same of others.

Workers typically associate leaders as individuals with prolific technical skill and strong industry knowledge – and while this is true – a good leader will also display emotional intelligence. This perplexing mix of psychological abilities enable leaders to be conscious and sympathetic to other’s feelings.

Think about it from a non-business perspective, the people which usually display an active effort of considering your feelings will make you feel respected. When leaders bring this same considerate aptitude to the workplace, employees feel valued.

But at the same time, emotional intelligence requires a certain degree of mastery to ensure that a leader doesn’t make decisions that negatively impact their organization by being too sensitive to emotions.

A ‘curse of emotions’

We would assume that research firmly supports the notion of emotional intelligence being a powerful factor in leadership, but to our surprise it’s not that simple.

Peer-review studies have argued that emotional intelligence isn’t kindred to managing a team’s emotions, and that smarts can suffice. Having basic cognitive understanding of social interactions is enough in certain situations, such as:

An employee is having difficulty with a task, and therefore the leader responds in a kind, empathetic manner.

Responding in a negative way, such as laughing at them will produce a bad outcome- this doesn’t require strong emotional intelligence and nor is it a complex situation. Of course, there is the alternative where the leader may be too responsive to emotions and be overly-sensitive.

This can be just as harmful as reacting negatively to people or being oblivious to emotions, because sensitivity as a leader can fog your decision making skills and prevent you from doing what’s necessary for the organization.

So where exactly does emotional intelligence shine in leadership?

There’s at least four categories where this trait excels in business according to research:

  • Showing your appreciation in others and their work
  • Creating collective goals
  • Developing confidence, optimism and maintaining enthusiasm
  • High stress work environment

Can these categories be managed only with smarts? Yes, but the results produced by a leader using emotional intelligence will be greater.

 Let’s use the example of a high stress environment where an employee is facing an insurmountable problem, however they haven’t expressed this to anyone else.

A leader with emotional intelligence is able to analyze the employee and judge through their work quality, verbal responses or even non-verbal cues to determine that something is wrong.

What follows this is a carefully thought approach on how the leader can address this with the employee without making them feel worse off. An emotionally intelligent leader will effortlessly perform this process and in doing so create a more trusting relationship.

There is also a clear behavioural difference between leaders with high or low emotional intelligence. According to Harvard, individuals or leaders with low emotional intelligence will easily become upset, struggle to be assertive, feel misunderstood frequently and emotions will easily overwhelm them.

On the other side, being calm during a stressful situation, recognising the link between emotions & behavior, dealing with difficult individuals through diplomacy and the ability to influence people towards a common goal are the characteristics of an emotionally intelligent person.

Can it be taught?

The good news is just like IQ, emotional intelligence is a trait which can improved upon.

Awareness and management:

The first step is to increase your awareness which should lead to self-management. Leaders need to be attuned with their own thoughts before being in a position to help manage their teams’ feelings.

However, this step is arguably the most difficult one.

Just because we’re aware that we need to act a certain way or be mindful of particular things, doesn’t mean it will happen – especially when under high stress levels. The development of this skill will take time, hence developing positive habits and mindfulness towards actively managing your feelings is the first step to emotional intelligence.

No words

Emotional intelligence is also applicable to our non-verbal communication and leaders which use these cues can greatly manage workplace relationships.

Every day, we subconsciously perform thousands of non-verbal cues through our facial muscles and each of these are able to convey a lot of emotion without speaking. As a leader in the workplace, mastering your non-verbal cues is a powerful form of communication and can have many positive implications.

Having control over your non-verbal communication also empowers leaders to dictate whether an interaction is positive or negative, regardless of the conversation. For example, if a stressed employee approaches their leader with concerns, then non-verbal communication can set the tone and the outcome of the conversation:

  • Having relaxed facial muscles and nodding to display a comforting environment
  • Having a partial frown with raised eyebrows to display concern – although it may come naturally with no harmful intent, this non-verbal communication will only increase stress because your face is inadvertently encouraging it.

Understanding others

Empathy is also under the umbrella of emotional intelligence skills.

Everyone has a certain level of empathy, with some having more than others. The key to utilising empathy as a leader in the workplace comes with a fine line of moderation. As discussed earlier, recognising your employees’ feelings and responding accordingly will greatly enhance relationships and trust – but being too sensitive will cloud your judgement and negatively affect the business.

Confident but approachable

When a leader uses assertive communication they create a power dynamic where they must be respected. But it’s important to not confuse assertive with aggressive communication.

Assertive communication involves direct communication and getting your opinion across succinctly.

Combine it

Combining all the aforementioned tips will be simple enough if you are inherently emotionally intelligent. But for leaders which are still building on these characteristics, accept that it will take time and it’s important to not be negligible towards this essential leadership skill which can greatly impact the workplace.

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