Why Emotional Intelligence is vital for leaders

What makes a good leader?

It might be someone who always knows what to do and is able to show the way.

It could be somebody with experience, who knows their job and their team inside out.

It can also be someone with excellent planning and organisational skills.

These traits are all important when leading people. However, they are rendered next to useless if they cannot be effectively communicated to a team.

To do so, any leader needs a degree of Emotional Intelligence.

Why is Emotional Intelligence important for a leader?

In the not too distant past, managers used to be expected to take an authoritarian stance when it came to leadership.

The idea was “what I say goes” and any sense of nuance or tailoring their message for the team was practically non-existent.

When working in a highly regimented workplace such as a production line or coal mine, this makes sense. After all, a routine would need to be adhered to and health and safety could be compromised if people disobeyed.

However, many modern workplaces are no longer like this.

In workplaces where creativity and flexibility is required, a leader can’t get away with barking instructions and retreating into their office.

They need to be mentors, coaches and motivators. To do this, they need the ability to monitor their own emotions and reactions.

This is where Emotional Intelligence comes in.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Also referred to as EQ, Emotional Intelligence is the measure of how emotionally in-tune you are with yourself and other people. It’s a person’s ability to perceive, control, evaluate, and express emotions. According to Daniel Goleman, the American psychologist who helped popularise it, Emotional Intelligence is made up of five key elements:

  1. self-awareness;
  2. self-regulation;
  3. motivation;
  4. empathy, and;
  5. social skills.

EQ is often compared to the concept of IQ (intelligence quotient). Whereas IQ is a measurement of general intelligence such as problem solving skills, knowledge of the world and quantitative reasoning, EQ can broadly be described as to how a person regulates their own emotional state and communicates with other people.

Leaders with high levels of Emotional Intelligence are able to empathise with their team and are more likely to know what motivates them.

Not everyone is gifted when it comes to Emotional Intelligence, unfortunately. Luckily though, it can be improved through practice.

How does Emotional Intelligence help a leader motivate their team?

Emotional Intelligence allows a manager to understand their own emotions and the effect it’ll have on their performance. They will know what they are feeling and why, and how other people will perceive those actions – for better or worse.

With this level of self-awareness, the manager will know their own strengths, weaknesses, and how their actions impact on other people; namely their team. This shows a level of empathy.

To motivate someone, it’s vital to be able to empathise. A manager with a strong sense of empathy is able to listen, take on board what employees are saying, and then tweak any strategy they have towards the team’s needs.

Empathy and social awareness is the ability to ‘read the room’. There’s an extreme example in the BBC sitcom The Office where the manager, David Brent, needs to inform his team that there may be redundancies at their branch. He eventually does so, but at the same time tells them that he might be in line for a promotion as a result, much to their annoyance.

Whereas this scenario is exaggerated for comic effect, it shows how leaders need to be in tune with their team and understand what should be said in any given situation.

What happens if a leader has low Emotional Intelligence?

Leaders with low Emotional Intelligence are typically difficult to maintain a relationship with. They tend to be easily offended, and their inability to understand emotions means that they frequently offend others.

They can be obsessed with being right without considering the feelings of the other party. They may struggle to accept blame and try to point out others’ mistakes before their own, leading to a lack of accountability.

This is largely because people with low EQ struggle to empathise. As a result, they often come off as callous and dismissive. As a result, employees may walk on eggshells around them and feel unable to be themselves.

This also leads to team members withholding ideas and suggestions out of fear of how the leader will react to them. Overall, this takes up a lot of the team members’ time and energy, harming productivity and creating a very stressful environment to work in.

A leader lacking Emotional Intelligence isn’t always abrasive and rude, however. Sometimes their lack of Emotional Intelligence simply leaves them unable to react to changes in circumstance. If they can’t recognise when something is wrong, then they’re automatically unable to resolve the problem.

The skills any leader needs

Self-awareness: The ability to recognise their own emotions and feelings. Without this ability, they will struggle to recognise how other people are feeling. What’s more, a leader needs to understand their own strengths and weaknesses. This allows them to see where they can push themselves to improve.

Self-regulation: In addition to being aware of their emotions, a leader should be able to acknowledge those feelings and then choose how they react to them. A leader with high EQ will be able to choose the ‘intelligent’ response that leads to the best outcome for themselves and their team.

Motivation: Understanding emotions will help a leader know what motivates their team. They’ll also be self-motivated, so they can set goals, targets, and work towards a standard of excellence. Their knowledge of their own strengths and weaknesses means the leader will remain optimistic of meeting these goals even in the face of adversity.

Empathy: Understanding other people’s feelings, wants and needs shows a high level of empathy and social awareness. It allows a leader to be good at ‘people management’, such as setting targets for each team member. Leaders with empathy are good at building trust and are supportive of their team during tough times.

Social skills: Team building, collaboration, communication and influencing are all boosted through Emotional Intelligence. A leader who is liked by their team will find that their job becomes a lot easier.

What next?

These are all skills that can be learned through Emotional Intelligence. BounceBack’s eLearning course begins by exploring why emotional intelligence can help us in our lives.

We move on to how you can recognise emotions, and then how to choose your own ‘intelligent’ reaction and actively avoid a negative outcome. The course also contains the EQ-i self-assessment tool, so you can see where and how to improve.

Try it here: https://www.bounce-back.com/emotional-intelligence-elearning/

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