During the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and its aftermath, organizations have had to come face-to-face with the strengths and weaknesses of their leadership skills. Emotional intelligence (EI) has emerged as a crucial part of effective leadership.
Here's how you can approach, develop, and apply this skill going forward.
What is emotional intelligence (EI)?
EI is generally defined as the ability to understand and manage one’s own emotions, and to recognize and respond appropriately to the emotions of others. This includes several elements, such as:
- Self-awareness, including understanding one’s own strengths, weaknesses, needs, and values;
- Controlling one’s own emotions, responses, and behaviors to avoid inappropriate outbursts and encourage more constructive decisions;
- Empathy, or understanding others’ emotions and perspectives; and
- Relationship management, which encourages healthy and appropriate relationships, effective communication, and reduces conflict
These qualities are beneficial in all areas of life and can contribute to enormous leadership and workplace success.
Why is EI important for leadership?
According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, who literally wrote the book on emotional intelligence, emotional intelligence contributes to workplace success even more than other factors, including IQ. This makes it a crucial leadership skill for just about any role, in every industry.
Here are some ways that EI among leaders benefits the workplace:
How can leaders develop EI?
Because EI is so beneficial, it should become a priority for leadership at all levels. A willingness to improve is, in itself, an element of EI.
“Recognizing the huge influence emotional intelligence plays in their own leadership, they are open to the ongoing development of their existing capabilities,” writes Shadé Zahrai, leadership strategist and Director of Influenceo Global Inc., in Forbes.com. “They proactively seek out discomfort to challenge themselves and further develop their perspectives and approach.”
The first step in developing an emotionally intelligent workforce is understanding what emotional intelligence is and why it is valuable. After that, organizations should assess their existing workforces and leadership teams to understand their current strengths and where improvement is most needed.
From there, they can develop a more specific strategy for building emotional intelligence. Be aware that the type of strategy may vary depending on whether the organization and its leadership are remote or on-site.
Each organization is different, and so requires different strategies for developing EI. Some methods include:
- Invest in appropriate training programs, including leadership development courses that include emotional intelligence;
- Have leaders meet with colleagues and practice observing their emotions, including verbal and non-verbal language;
- Listen while withholding immediate judgment;
- Encourage leaders to practice observing their own emotions and thinking through hypothetical situations; and
- Solicit feedback from employees to understand their motivations and how they perceive leadership
Developing stronger EI can take time, and may be challenging for some individuals or workplaces. However, it can create significant benefits. Leading with EI can strengthen an organization’s culture by making communication more effective, increasing employee engagement, and creating more cohesive teams. This makes it a worthwhile investment, especially for those organizations looking to become more flexible in responding to change.