Emotional Intelligence and why it’s important for you as a leader


How Great Leaders Work on Their Emotional Intelligence

Great leaders are often lauded for their decisiveness, confidence and ability to delegate effectively. Yet, there is another key aspect of great leadership that is increasingly recognised – emotional intelligence.

Why Exactly is Emotional Intelligence A Key Part of Great Leadership?

Emotional intelligence is a key leadership skill because it enables a person in authority to manage interpersonal relationships in a positive and motivating way. “No matter what leaders set out to do—whether it’s creating a strategy or mobilising teams to action—their success depends on how they do it,” states Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist who pioneered the study of emotional intelligence. “Even if they get everything else just right if leaders fail in this primal task of driving emotions in the right direction, nothing they do will work as well as it could or should.”

Working in a high-pressure team environment can understandably generate forceful emotions, whether it be frustration at perceived hold-ups in a project, disappointment that an idea was rebuffed or mounting anticipation ahead of an important meeting. Understanding and managing this emotional rollercoaster is what will enable a true leader to stay in control and guide their team to overall success, despite any difficulties that might be encountered along the way.

How Great Leaders Work on Their Emotional Intelligence

Studies in the area of emotional intelligence have defined five main competencies that should be considered essential skills for anyone in a position of leadership. These include motivation, social skills, empathy, self-awareness and self-regulation, and collectively they form the nucleus of positive leadership. A person can develop their emotional intelligence by understanding and applying these five key competencies, using the following tips for leaders.

  1. Motivation: A self-motivated leader will hold their own work to high standards and work tirelessly towards achieving their goals. This kind of attitude, in turn, motivates others. To have (and inspire) this kind of motivation you, first of all, need to know where you currently stand and where you want to be headed. Conduct a self-evaluation and ask yourself why it is that you accepted this job in the first place? What were you hoping to achieve? Then use this reminder to set clearly defined goals that you can systematically work towards. Another important part of cultivating motivation is to develop a positive mindset. Try and stay optimistic about potential outcomes and when faced with a challenge, look for something good that you can take away from the situation – perhaps a learning opportunity, a new industry contact or even just a greater understanding of how a team member operates.
  2. Social Skills: To develop this aspect of emotional intelligence you need to become an excellent communicator. This doesn’t just mean conveying information, it also means understanding what others are trying to tell you. Listen carefully when someone is speaking to you and ask clarifying questions to ensure you’ve understood the point they’re trying to make. Another vital communication skill involves effective conflict resolution, so practice addressing issues quickly and respectfully before they have a chance to escalate. Once an issue has been acknowledged, try and help all parties to get a clear and factual understanding of the situation and then reach an agreement that is satisfying to all involved.
  3. Empathy: The key to showing empathy is to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Try and view things from their perspective as this will help you to understand why they’re feeling and acting in a certain way. This knowledge will, in turn, allow you to motivate, re-adjust or give feedback in a way that will be understood and accepted. Be alert to signs of how a person is feeling (often conveyed by tone or body language) and aim to respond accordingly. For example, if a team member agrees to work overtime in order to meet a deadline but sounds understandably disappointed to be giving up their Friday night, offer them some well-deserved commendation. Let them know you appreciate the extra effort they’re putting in and that you value their assistance on this part of the project.
  4. Self-Awareness: Being self-aware means that you are mindful of how your actions and emotions impact others who are working around you. This can be a particularly difficult element of emotional intelligence for leaders to work on, as it requires self-control and a measure of humility. It means that when things go wrong, you don’t yell and scream and take it out on others. To cultivate this quality start by slowing down and taking deep breaths when confronted with an emotionally charged situation. Consider what has led you to feel angry or frustrated and how acting on your emotional impulses will affect both yourself and the rest of the team. Some find it helpful to jot down these kinds of observations in a journal, as putting the emotions into words can help you to stand back and look at a situation more objectively.
  5. Self-Regulation: Closely linked to self-awareness, a leader who is self-regulating will refrain from making hasty decisions or judging others on first appearances. They will be measured in their responses, relying on fact and good judgement rather than a sudden swell of emotion. To practice self-regulation, you need to start by holding yourself accountable and avoid blaming others for your mistakes. Additionally, train yourself to remain calm in difficult scenarios. If you feel tempted to vent your anger at someone then write it all down instead (be sure to delete the content after you’ve finished). This approach will help you to express your pent-up feelings without any damaging consequences.

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