The Empathetic Leader: The Importance of Emotional Intelligence

Being a good leader requires many skills, but interpersonal skills are particularly important. That’s because you’re dealing with people and people have a wide range of thoughts, feelings, emotions, values, morals, opinions, and personality traits.

Recognising the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between your team members and learning how to manage them as individuals can help you get the best from everyone. This is where emotional intelligence comes in.

Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as those of the people around you.

The core EI competencies

The term Emotional Intelligence appears in publications dating back to the 1960s. However, the term became more widely used after 1995, following the publication of Daniel Goleman’s book, ‘Emotional Intelligence – Why it can matter more than IQ’.

Daniel Goleman’s original emotional intelligence theory outlined five components of emotional intelligence:

  • Self-awareness: recognising your own feelings and emotions and understanding the impact your moods have on others.
  • Self-regulation: controlling or redirecting your emotions and not simply acting on impulse.
  • Motivation: using emotional factors to achieve goals and overcome challenges.
  • Empathy: being able to sense or recognise other people’s emotions and see things from other people’s perspectives.
  • Social skills: managing relationships, inspiring people, and influencing the actions of others.

Over time this model was refined and emotional intelligence was divided into four core competencies:

  • Self-awareness: knowledge of yourself– the ability to identify your emotions and understand how they could influence your behaviour.
  • Self-management: actions toward yourself – the ability to control both positive and negative emotions and impulses and adapt as necessary.
  • Social awareness: knowledge of others – the ability to have empathy for others and see things from their perspective.
  • Relationship management: actions towards others – the ability to inspire, communicate, motivate, influence, and resolve conflict.

Other models break these skills down further, but these four competencies remain at the heart of emotional intelligence. Developing all four areas will make you a more effective leader.

How to develop your emotional intelligence

The good news is there are lots of opportunities to develop your emotional intelligence – not just at work, but in your personal life too. Below are just some of the many things you can do to improve each of the four competencies.

Developing self-awareness: Self-reflection can be a great way of developing self-awareness. Think about stressful situations or difficult conversations you have had recently. How did you feel? What made you feel that way? Did those emotions influence your behaviour? How could you have handled the situation more effectively? Answering these questions will help you become more aware of your emotions in future situations.   

Developing self-regulation: Practice regulating your emotions in stressful situations. Common techniques include changing your environment or removing yourself from the situation, counting to ten and taking deep breaths, or countering a negative emotion by thinking about something that makes you happy.

Developing social awareness: Practice active listening. Pay attention to both verbal and nonverbal cues to ensure a complete understanding of the speaker’s perspective and message. Not everyone expresses emotion through words – for example, some people might get quiet and withdrawn when they are annoyed by something. Learn to recognise how your colleagues act when they are happy, sad, angry, or worried.

Developing relationship management: Be more aware of how you communicate both verbally and nonverbally. The words we use are crucial, but our facial expressions and body language are just as important. When delivering news or feedback, pay attention to your colleague’s language and nonverbal cues, but be aware of your own as well.

When is EI important?

Being emotionally intelligent is beneficial in all areas of life, both business and personal, but there are some workplace situations where it is particularly advantageous.

Communicating with colleagues: Having high emotional intelligence enables you to communicate more effectively with your colleagues. You’ll be better at listening, empathising, and considering other people’s perspectives. You’ll also be able to adjust your communication style to suit individual colleagues.

Building strong relationships: Empathising with your colleagues and being able to recognise how they are feeling will help you build trust and rapport. You’ll also find it easier to create a positive and supportive work environment where team members feel valued and appreciated.

Motivating and inspiring your team: By improving communication, building trust, and creating a supportive environment, you’ll find it easier to motivate and inspire your team. This can lead to improved performance, productivity, and job satisfaction.

Managing change and uncertainty: Change and uncertainty can be unnerving. It can cause panic, anger, fear, stress, resistance, resentment or defiance. If not managed effectively, colleagues can start to argue between themselves, look for other jobs, spread misinformation, lose motivation, and even become ill. Having high emotional intelligence will enable you to help your colleagues navigate change and uncertainty more successfully. 

Handling successes and failures: Both success and failure can trigger intense emotions for individuals and the people around them. One person’s achievement may mean failure for someone else – for example, if two colleagues applied for the same promotion opportunity and only one was successful. In addition, too much success can result in overconfidence and complacency, while failure can have a huge impact on confidence and motivation. Having a high level of emotional intelligence will enable you to deal with the emotions surrounding the success and failure of both individuals and teams.

Managing conflict: Even the most cohesive teams can experience conflict or tension and a leader needs to manage it constructively and positively. Having high emotional intelligence will help you stay calm and composed during tense situations. You’ll be able to empathise with each team member, which can help you de-escalate conflict and find win-win solutions for all parties involved.

Making decisions: Decisions made on emotion and impulse can often backfire. Recognising how you are feeling and being able to regulate this will help you make more rational decisions using critical thinking. Understanding how other people’s emotions could be influencing their perspective is also crucial. You’ll recognise biases and be more respectful of other people’s beliefs, values, and attitudes.

Developing Emotionally Intelligent Leaders

As a manager or leader, there’s always something new to learn or a skill you can improve and develop. Organisations need to support managers and leaders in this development, but you also need to invest in yourself.

Getting formal leadership and management training will not only help you build your leadership skills, it will also help you grow in confidence, and increase your chances of career progression.  

Alternative Partnership delivers ILM-accredited Leadership and Management training programmes to support you and your teams in gaining formal, nationally recognised qualifications.

Find out more about our current ILM courses here or get in touch to discuss how our services could benefit you.

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