“Emotional intelligence” is a buzzword that’s been floating around the business world for the past couple of years. The idea is that the more attuned you are to your emotional processes and tendencies, the better you can evaluate often unspoken emotional reactions when working with others.
From a leadership standpoint, emotional intelligence (sometimes referred to as EI or EQ) may be seen as a trendy way to be recognized as an effective leader, but without the practice of managing emotions, employees will see right through you. Emotionally intelligent leaders are authentic, empathetic, thoughtful, and giving—characteristics employees generally love. Happy employees boost productivity by 31 percent and sales by 37 percent when they feel leadership has high emotional emotional intelligence. Knowing this, we can conclude that being more emotionally intelligent can prevent employee turnover and increase the bottom line—and that goes far beyond just a trend.
Here’s a closer look at what leaders can do to embrace and practice emotional intelligence and increase their EQ:
The Many Paths of Leadership
In The 8 Dimensions of Leadership: DiSC Strategies for Becoming a Better Leader, authors Jeffrey Sugerman, Mark Scullard, and Emma Wilhelm identify eight types of leadership styles based on the popular DiSC personality test that was devised almost a century ago. These eight dimensions are:
Pioneering: Bold, passionate, and inspirational, but possibly impulsive and overconfident
Energizing: Upbeat and eager, but possibly scattered and erratic
Affirming: Kind, supportive, and respectful, but possibly indirect and conflict-averse
Inclusive: Sincere, collaborative, and accommodating, but possibly passive and overly trusting
Humble: Modest, fair-minded, and reliable, but possibly rigid and overly cautious
Deliberate: Conscientious, disciplined, and analytical, but possibly risk-averse and perfectionist
Resolute: Questioning and independent, but possibly cynical, negative, and insensitive
Commanding: Powerful, decisive, and ambitious, but possibly forceful and egotistical
You’ll notice each leadership dimension offers not only strengths that serve organizations well, but also weaknesses that can be easy traps to fall into. Emotionally intelligent leaders recognize that the negative sides of their styles can either enhance or interfere with the relationships they build with their teams and the success of their organization. With a stronger self-awareness of the traits they are exhibiting in any given interaction or decision, emotionally intelligent leaders can better manage and articulate how their emotions influence their work, as well as take a temperature check of those around them. This self-awareness affects not only the leader, but also the organization, because leaning too far into the negative traits veers dangerously close toward the pervasive and detrimental phenomenon of leadership and self-deception.
Perhaps most importantly, The 8 Dimensions of Leadership emphasizes the potential of leaders subscribing to more than one dimension. The authors write, “The multidimensional leader … knows that great leadership requires a wide range of competencies and relationship skills. No person manifests all of these dimensions all of the time; however, every effective leader will need to be able to use each dimension at various points in his or her career.” Being a versatile leader means practicing high emotional intelligence. There’s a common assumption that effective leaders need to be good at everything, which is impossible for anyone! Instead, emotional intelligence enables leaders to seek out the styles they need to work on and lean into the styles they do well.
Humility and Emotional Intelligence
Humble leadership is one of the dimensions described in the last section, but it can be more than just a style—it’s an emotionally intelligent philosophy leaders of any kind can adopt. As an expert in this field, internationally renowned best-selling author Edgar H. Schein has written dozens books on this framework. His newest release, coauthored with his son, Peter A. Schein, is entitled Humble Leadership: The Power of Relationships, Openness, and Trust. In it, the Scheins describe how humble leadership shifts focus from transactional role relationships to personal relationships. The authors write, “Bosses, direct reports, team members, and resources from other teams are making it a point to get to know each other at a more personal level, fostering more openness and, in time, more trust and the psychological safety to speak up and be heard.”
Nurturing personal connections requires that relationships be built on an ability to articulate emotions in a clear and precise way. When our judgment is clouded by our inability to know what we’re feeling and how our emotions affect what we do in the workplace, we tend to put our guards up, causing miscommunication, undermining trust, and making problem-solving even harder. If employees feel like they can’t be honest with their emotions because leadership isn’t, the result is a counterproductive culture that is closed off and not conducive to practicing humility. It’s no surprise at this point that at the root of humility is emotional intelligence.
Moreover, when you combine emotional intelligence and humility, you can apply the same assessment of your emotions and actions to the people you work for and with. This can ultimately help you come to more insightful conclusions and better problem-solving strategies.
A Plan of Action
Practicing emotional intelligence is an everyday decision. Leaders aren’t automatically imbued with emotional intelligence, but leaders with high EQ are better positioned to serve the people they work with. Emotional intelligence, at its core, is about closing the gap between what you say and what you do by identifying what emotional state you’re in. Making the decision to match intention to behavior not only benefits yourself (and your sanity!), but it also affects the people you lead. Think about it—have you ever worked for someone who was so out of touch with their emotions that it impacted the way you could do your job?
Here are some ideas to get you started on the path to increasing your EQ:
Building self-awareness: Take a (maybe first) look at the emotions, biases, and expectations you bring to every interaction, and assess how they come across to others.
Awareness of others: Put yourself in the other person’s shoes during communication. As highlighted in Humble Leadership, putting your employees’ emotional intelligence first ultimately contributes to your own.
Work toward the result: Consider how relationships and each interaction will affect outcomes and the bottom line. Little changes early on can lead to bigger successes later.
Listen: Although this may seem trite, listening to your employees—instead of waiting to talk—goes a long way toward developing emotional intelligence.
When it comes down to it, emotional intelligence is a powerful strategy for developing the empathy needed to retain talent and ultimately drive productivity. As Ken Blanchard and Mark Miller write in The Secret, “Ultimate success always includes both people and performance.” Businesses can’t succeed without great talent behind them. And employees can’t thrive in an environment that isn’t conducive to building personal, trusting relationships grounded in humility.