Emotional Intelligence Is Critical for Leaders — But Can It Be Learned?

Brian shares three ways you can develop a greater understanding of emotions and reactions for yourself and others.

Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman had it right when he said, “If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand,…then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”

Emotional intelligence or emotional quotient (EQ) is our ability to perceive and manage our own and others’ emotions.

In leadership, your EQ is more important than your IQ. 

Emotional abilities like self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy are critical for growing a team and scaling a business.

But what if understanding emotions doesn’t come naturally? Can you learn emotional intelligence?

I believe you can.

In fact, the most effective leaders I know continually work on developing awareness, empathy, and strong relationships.

In today’s newsletter, we’ll explore 3 ways you can develop your emotional intelligence.

Why does emotional intelligence matter?  

Leaders who lack emotional intelligence often focus solely on results and fail to value the humanity of team members. People pull back to protect themselves, morale is low, and turnover is high.

When leaders exhibit emotional intelligence, people tend to step up. When your team members feel cared about and know they can be honest about challenges, they’ll care more genuinely about the team and their goals.

Practice self-awareness.

You can’t flip a switch and suddenly have an acute awareness of why you show up the way you do.

But you can build awareness with regular reflection. 

This could be a journaling practice, or for better results, ask a trusted friend or mentor to help. Write or talk about: 

  • What happened during the week that triggered strong emotions?
  • Were you excited? Angry? Disappointed? Overwhelmed? 
  • How did you behave as a result? Why?
  • What would you do differently next time?

It’s okay to let your team know you’re working on this. Transparency and vulnerability let others know that it’s safe to be honest about mistakes and challenges. 

As Dr. Malik Muhammad says, “If you want honest feedback, go last. If you want vulnerability, go first.”

Create psychological safety.

How else can you show it’s safe to be your full, authentic self at work?

Show respect and empathy. We need to start with the fundamental belief that everyone on the team is doing the best they can given their circumstances.

Of course, having empathy toward others doesn’t mean letting the work go undone. Emotional intelligence also helps you and your team gain the capacity to face difficult situations and support each other.

Ask when something’s off — “Are you OK? Is there something I should know about so that I can work with you on a solution to get us back on track?” — and be ready to ask other team members to pitch in when needed.

Slow down and get curious.

Emotional intelligence is especially powerful during conflict. If you’re able to manage your own emotions, you can pull someone else out of a heated moment and get curious. 

“Let’s take a look at what’s going on. What are you feeling that is causing this? Why is this upsetting you so much?”

You can dissect the situation and uncover root causes. Often, individuals can resolve issues once they have your support to see what’s triggering them to react in an unproductive way.

Even better, you’re helping your team members develop their own emotional intelligence. 

Emotional intelligence can be learned.

  • Reflect regularly on your emotions and reactions, so that you can better manage them in future situations.
  • Lead with empathy and respect to create a psychologically safe work environment.
  • Facilitate understanding and reflection during times of conflict and challenge.

EQ is a key factor in understanding and adapting to the styles of the people you lead, creating a culture of trust and accountability, giving feedback, and maintaining positive relationships throughout your leadership journey — all topics we dig into in our Management Development Course

The way I see it, for effective team leadership and performance, the importance of emotional intelligence just can’t be overlooked in today’s business world. 

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