Emotional intelligence in leadership: how it helps businesses thrive
What is emotional intelligence and why is it so important for business leaders to recognise and develop it in themselves? In this guest post, HR consultant Archita Misra (MCIPD) explains the theory behind emotional intelligence in leadership and why business leaders should be using related skills to build diverse, cohesive teams who work well together.
What is emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is the art of perceiving and managing your own and others’ emotions. The term was first introduced by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer in 1990; however, psychologist and science writer Daniel Goleman did detailed research with his team of Harvard professors and published his book Emotional Intelligence in 1995, which made the term more widely popular.
Until a few years back, emotional intelligence was a topic of interest for specialists in the field of psychoanalysis. However, in the last few years it has become increasingly used in the corporate world and is now considered as one of the principal attributes for becoming a successful leader.
The four pillars of emotional intelligence
As per Daniel Goleman, the four pillars of emotional intelligence are:
- Social awareness
- Relationship management
Let’s have a look at each of these pillars in more detail…
Self-awareness is the art of understanding and being aware of who you are and how you connect with others. This helps people make fairer decisions at work through acknowledging their own behaviours, experiences, biases, and motivations.
To use an example: many of us may have come across a situation at work when there is a sudden emotional outburst from an individual, who otherwise is quite controlled. In this circumstance, the emotionally intelligent person will recognise that the outburst might not be job related and might have arisen from other issues like financial insecurity or personal issues.
By being more in touch with their own thoughts and emotions, the self-aware leader is better equipped to respond effectively to difficult situations by thinking rationally and acknowledging their similarities and differences to others.
Self-management is the next crucial pillar in the journey to being emotionally intelligent. It’s not about suppressing emotions, but it is about being aware of and managing emotions in a way that is not detrimental to others or your work environment. Self-management can help leaders respond to situations productively.
In the same example above, a person with a higher quotient of self-management will not immediately react to the situation, say putting an individual under any kind of performance management program as a first response.
An emotionally intelligent leader would try to get to the bottom of the situation and, if the person’s outburst is related to work, try to eliminate or reduce their concerns or worries by supporting them to find a resolution.
Social awareness is another important element in becoming more emotionally intelligent. In today’s world, where people from different cultures and backgrounds form diverse teams, it is important to know how different environments affect or influence people in different ways. Increased social awareness helps in communicating with people effectively.
A leader’s sensitivity to react accordingly to an individual’s background can reduce many workplace conflicts. For example, people from some cultural backgrounds find it derogatory to touch used dishes. Once I had a situation in my HR career where the new facilities admin was not happy about putting any used dishes left behind in the sink or in the dish washer. The management were not happy with this, as the previous facilities admin would do this willingly. Social awareness is about interpreting these subtle matters and reacting accordingly.
4. Relationship management
Lastly, relationship management highlights how a leader can build positive relationships, respond to others empathetically, and influence others in their team. This is one of the dominant attributes for a creative and successful leader. Without having strong relationships within the team, the leader cannot ensure the team work together, which eventually affects team performance.
The benefits of emotional intelligence for leadership
Emotional intelligence can be applied in different areas of work, but it is most effective when applied to the culture of the company. With workplaces becoming more global and diverse, it has become crucial now more than ever to have emotionally intelligent teams. They help to build a cohesive workforce, resolve workplace conflicts, communicate effectively, and adapt to changing circumstances.
An emotionally intelligent leader is also more empathetic towards their team members. This helps them in binding the team together and working for the team’s success. Global leadership development firm DDI reported empathy as the most important skill for a successful leader.
Even though the term emotional intelligence has only become popular in recent times, its relationship with business success is already proven. Sanofi, one of the pharmaceutical giants, focussed on emotional intelligence skills for their sales team and reported a 12% performance boost. Motorola introduced emotional intelligence training programs and saw a huge rise in performance for 93% of their employees.
Ways to improve emotional intelligence in the workplace via leadership
There are many ways to improve your emotional intelligence. It can start with keeping a record of your reactions in different scenarios, inviting feedback from colleagues, and self-reflection, among others. Leaders can adapt some of the below to improve emotional intelligence for their teams:
Create a culture of positive communication
Positive communication involves alleviating conflict by building a culture of listening, avoiding use of commanding words, and using constructive and assertive language that inspires action.
Conduct scenario-based training exercises
Conducting regular workshops based on different scenarios that would benefit from emotionally intelligent responses can create a safe space in which to explore diverse, challenging scenarios that may arise in your workplace. These training exercises can help expand the team’s self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management skills through continued learning and constructive feedback.
A good way to shape a culture of self-reflection is by openly discussing each member’s workshop outcome in open dialogue and letting people introspect on how they could have reacted differently in given scenarios, and learn from each other. It’s also important to regularly reflect on how you respond to your team as a leader, for example when running the workshop scenarios and giving feedback.