The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

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Strength and decisiveness are oft-cited qualities of effective leaders, but what about emotional intelligence? It might sound surprising, especially in business management, but emotional intelligence - or EI - is an essential attribute of successful leaders. In fact, a leader’s level of EI actually affects their ability to be strong and decisive.

Emotional intelligence is defined as “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others,” according to Psychology Today. People who are emotionally intelligent are aware of their emotions, and can harness, apply and manage them (as well as those of other people).

So, EI is about knowing yourself as much as it is about understanding other people — and you really can’t have one without the other.

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Emotional intelligence and you

Some people are naturally emotionally intelligent. Others need to develop EI. Whichever camp you fall into, reflecting on your emotions is one key to great leadership.

Do you understand your emotions and how they affect your decisions? Can you take a step back and recognise when your feelings are distorting your judgment? EI isn’t about suppressing or ignoring those feelings, but acknowledging that your emotions do affect you and your work — even if you’re not aware of it.

It’s also important to note that emotional intelligence is not the same thing as agreeableness, optimism, happiness, calmness or motivation, as Psychology Today have pointed out.

If you’re curious about your level of EI, a quiz from the Harvard Business Review offers self-assessment on five core competencies:

  • Emotional self-awareness
  • Positive outlook
  • Emotional self-control
  • Adaptability
  • Empathy

If you don’t score as highly as you’d like, don’t worry, the results include resources that can help you improve.

Emotional intelligence and your employees

When it comes to management, one of the most important applications of EI is listening to and communicating with your employees. If you have EI, it’s easier for you to understand their feelings and the implications of those feelings.

For example, if someone is dealing with a family crisis, the stress felt in their personal life might spill over into their work. Understanding this, you might talk to them about how their duties could be adjusted, and perhaps reassign important, time-sensitive projects until they’re ready to come back fully engaged.

If someone else is dealing with serious mental health issues like grief, depression and anxiety, you can better recognise when they need in-work support and professional help.

Beyond these more serious issues, EI is also valuable when it comes to general leadership and everyday interactions. When you understand your employees’ personalities and their feelings about each other, you’ll be able to anticipate conflict and better group people for projects. You can also adjust your management style to get the best performance out of your employees.

Although management is often seen as a particularly unfeeling strand of business, emotions and emotional intelligence are linchpins of great leadership. When building and running an exceptional team, your efforts to display self-awareness, positivity, self-control, adaptiveness and empathy won’t go unnoticed. It will build their confidence, help them treat customers well and encourage them to stick around even when things get rocky. Business is all about balance. If you can strike the balance between feeling and function, you’ll have a strong foundation to build on.

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