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, but emotional intelligence, or EI, is actually 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, can harness and apply them, and can manage their own emotions (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, you need to do some reflection.

Do you understand your emotions and how they affect your decisions? Can you take a step back and recognize when your feelings are distorting your judgment? EI isn’t about tamping down or ignoring those feelings, but acknowledging that your emotions do affect you and your work — whether you like it or not.

(It is also important to note that EI is not the same thing as agreeableness, optimism, happiness, calmness, or motivation, according to Psychology Today.)

A quiz offered by the Harvard Business Review allows you to assess yourself on five core competencies. If you don’t score as highly as you would like, don’t worry: There are exercises you can complete and work you can do to improve your emotional self-awareness, develop a more positive outlook, and become more empathetic.

Emotional intelligence and your employees

When it comes to your business, 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 one of your employees is dealing with a family member who has a serious illness, the stress they’re feeling in their personal life might spill over into their work. Understanding this, you might talk to them about how you can adjust their duties and perhaps reassign important, time-sensitive projects until they’re ready to come back fully engaged.

Also, if your employees are dealing with serious mental health issues like grief, depression, and anxiety, you can better recognize when they need support and professional help.

Beyond the 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 can anticipate conflict and better group people for projects since you know who will work well together. You can also adjust your management style to get the best performance out of your employees.

Emotional intelligence is also incredibly important when it comes to hiring, because you need to gauge how well each applicant will interact with the rest of your employees (especially if you have a small team).

It’s also a good idea to involve your employees in the interview process if they are going to be working directly with the new hire. That way, they will feel that you value them enough to get their help in building the team. (And that shows a lot of emotional intelligence, too.)

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