Leadership 101: How to build emotional intelligence

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What if emotions were driving our decisions more than we thought they would at work?

Emotional intelligence is one of the most fundamental skills of leaders – and we call it a skill, because while it can be a personality trait, one can also learn emotional intelligence. The skill is imperative as it helps leaders to recognize their own emotional state and its impact on those they lead, as well as the needs of their employees. 

What is emotional intelligence in the first place?

A person with emotional intelligence is an individual with a high level of self awareness. They understand their own emotions (and usually those of others too). They are able to foresee the implications of their emotions and can self-regulate and find solutions. They are able to reason, respect various perspectives and show empathy towards themselves and others. 

Emotional intelligence accounts for 67% of the abilities necessary for superior leadership performance, according to Daniel Goleman’s book ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ’.

How to build emotional intelligence

  • It helps leaders to make better decisions for themselves and their teams
  • Leaders can lead by example and reinforce the behaviours they’d like to see amongst their teams
  • And finally, overall, it can help leaders lead the direction of the company and organization

Become interested in your emotions 

The first step to becoming more aware of your feelings is being interested in your feelings and wanting to understand them. Leaders are human too and therefore experience emotion. It is a fact that emotions influence behaviours, no matter who you are. Even leaders can be influenced by their emotions which is why emotional intelligence is so important. Emotional intelligence allows leaders to take a step back and assess what they feel and why; how it’s influencing their behaviours and decisions, and how it’s impacting those around them. 

Seek to understand the emotions of those you lead

Great leaders with emotional intelligence know that they aren’t only responsible for understanding their own emotions, but are responsible for understanding what those around them feel, because:

  • This will help leaders to identify their shortfalls and where they can improve (this kind of responsibility and accountability takes emotional intelligence!)
  • It helps them to understand the needs of their people so that their needs don’t go unmet and problems like high staff turnover, absenteeism, low engagement etc can be avoided.
  • Leading human beings means emotions are always involved and a good leader knows that the human element of leadership should never be ignored

Practise showing empathy towards others

As a leader you need to be able to understand various perspectives and points of view, and show empathy for those you lead. Instead of waiting for people to come to you for help, asking your employees simple questions such as “how are you really doing?” or “how can I help you right now?” and letting them openly answer without any expectation or pressure, proves to be a powerful way to build a more empathetic and open communication, which will then become an inspiration for how the team communicates among each other. Pulse surveys are a great way of asking such questions and receiving honest feedback about how your people really feel and why.

Practise listening

Good leaders listen before they speak; they seek to understand before making assumptions, and are typically refer to data before making decisions. Good leaders know the power of listening to their people and are constantly looking for new and better ways to listen and communicate with those they lead. Practise listening to what your people say, need and want and try to understand things from their point of view. This is how teams become better aligned, your people become more engaged, and how to achieve success in all areas of leadership and business. 

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