During my career I have worked for a handful of leaders, a couple have been standout great and one or two were little short of terrible. So when helping my clients grow their people capabilities, I am often giving advice on how to effectively evaluate candidates for leadership roles and I am lead to consider what it is that makes a leader a good one. If asked to describe this I would say someone who never lets their temper get out of control, no matter what problems they’re facing, someone who has the complete trust of their people, listens to their team, is easy to talk to, and always makes careful, informed decisions.
What I’ve just described are the qualities of someone with a high degree of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is so important for leaders, however the fact remains that it’s rarely measured in hiring practices and existing leaders are not commonly evaluated against it as a critical behaviour. So I find myself pondering why this is and considering how companies can better understand emotional intelligence and adopt it as a critical component of their leadership team capabilities to be hired for, measured and developed.
Let’s explore what it is and how can we ensure leaders have it?
What Is Emotional Intelligence?
In the simplest terms Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, and those of the people around you. People with a high degree of emotional intelligence know what they’re feeling, what their emotions mean, and how these emotions can affect other people.
For leaders, having emotional intelligence is essential for success. Who is more likely to succeed — a leader who shouts at their team when under stress, or a leader who stays in control, and calmly assesses the situation?
Daniel Goleman is the American psychologist who authored worldwide bestseller Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, which explains there are five key elements to Emotional Intelligence:
- Social skills
The more that a leader manages each of these areas, the higher their emotional intelligence.
Let’s examine each element in more detail:
Emotional Intelligence in Leadership
When a leader is self-aware, they always know how they feel and they know how their emotions and actions can affect the people around them. Being self-aware when you’re in a leadership position also means having a clear understanding of your strengths and weaknesses, and it means behaving with humility.
When a leader experiences anger or other strong emotions, slowing down to examine why gives them perspective and the ability to choose how they react. Bear in mind that no matter what the situation, a person can always choose how they react to their emotions.
Leaders who regulate themselves effectively rarely verbally attack others, make rushed or emotional decisions, stereotype people, or compromise their values. Self-regulation is all about staying in control.
According to Goleman this element of emotional intelligence also covers a leader’s flexibility and commitment to personal accountability.
Values — A good leader will know their values and won’t have to think twice when they face a moral or ethical decision.
Accountability — Rather than blame others when something goes wrong, great leaders admit their mistakes and face the consequences, whatever they are and by doing this they earn the respect of those around them.
Remaining Calm — In challenging situations, leaders need to be very aware of how they act and not relieve their stress by becoming angry, shouting or intimidating someone else.
Self-motivated leaders work consistently toward their goals, and they have high standards for the quality of their work.
It’s easy for a high-level leader to forget what they really love about the career they’ve chosen so it’s important they consider whether they’re unhappy in their role. The Five Whys technique can be really helpful in finding the root of the problem like this and can help a leader look at their situation in a new way.
Motivated leaders are usually optimistic, no matter what problems they face and should be able to find at least one good thing about every challenge or situation, even a failure.
For leaders, having empathy is critical to managing a successful team or organisation. Leaders with empathy have the ability to put themselves in someone else’s situation. They help develop the people on their team, challenge others who are acting unfairly, give constructive feedback, and listen to those who need it.
If you want to earn the respect and loyalty of your team, then show them you care by being empathic.
“Before you criticise others, walk a mile in their shoes”
5. Social Skills
Leaders who do well in the social skills element of emotional intelligence are great communicators. They’re just as open to hearing bad news as good news, and they’re experts at getting their team to support them and be excited about a new mission or project.
Leaders who have good social skills are also good at managing change and resolving conflicts diplomatically. They’re rarely satisfied with leaving things as they are, but they don’t sit back and make everyone else do the work: They set an example with their own behavior and practice inclusivity, bringing their team along on the journey. These social skills include;
Conflict resolution — Leaders must know how to resolve conflicts between their team members, customers, or vendors. Learning conflict resolution skills is vital for a leader to succeed.
Communication skills — Great leaders are strong communicators in all settings and across all mediums. Leaders who are poor communicators will be limiting their development.
Praise others — A leader can inspire the loyalty of their team simply by giving praise when it’s earned. Learning how to praise others is a fine art, but well worth the effort.
To be effective, leaders must have a solid understanding of how their emotions and actions affect the people around them. The better a leader relates to and works with others, the more successful he or she will be.
Take the following three actions;
- Evaluate your current leaders on self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills. How do they stack up? Look for evidence in employee engagement surveys of where leaders need development as their teams will not be happy or performing as well as they should.
- Make sure your leaders receive coaching and development in all the dimensions of emotional intelligence to continually improve their leadership performance.
- Put clear measures of candidates’ emotional quotient (EQ) into your hiring practices when recruiting for new leadership roles to ensure you are engaging leaders who possess this from the outset and to give you the insights into where they may need development.