What comes to mind when you think about the "perfect leader?" You most likely picture someone who never lets his or her temper get out of control, whatever the problem. You also may think of someone who has complete trust in his or her staff, always speaks kindly, listens to the team, is easy to talk to, and always makes informed decisions. These are the qualities of someone with a high degree of emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage both your own emotions, and those of the people around you. Individuals with a high degree of emotional intelligence usually know what they’re feeling, what this means, and how their emotions can affect other people.
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For leaders, having emotional intelligence is essential for success. After all, who is more likely to succeed: a leader who shouts at his or her team when stressed, or a leader who stays in control and calmly assesses the situation?
Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist, helped make the idea of emotional intelligence popular in the 21st century. According to Goleman, there are five main elements to emotional intelligence:
- Social skills
The more that you, as a leader, manage each of these areas, the higher your emotional intelligence will be. Let us examine each element in a little more detail.
Self-awareness. If you’re self-aware, you always know how you feel, and you know how your emotions and your actions, can affect the people around you. Being self-aware when you’re in a leadership position also means having a clear picture of your strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, it means that you have humility.
Now you ask – How can I improve on my self-awareness? It only takes two simple steps to improve. First, keep a journal. Spend a few minutes each day writing down your thoughts, or ask your intelligent assistant, (Siri), or whatever app you may have on your phone, to make the notes. This can move you to a higher degree of self-awareness. Second, just slow down. When you experience anger or other strong emotions, slow down and examine why. Remember, not matter what the situation, you can always choose how you react to it.
Self-regulation. Leaders who regulate themselves effectively rarely verbally attack others, make rushed or emotional decisions, stereotype people, or compromise their values. Self-regulation is all about staying in control. This element of emotional intelligence also covers a leader’s flexibility and commitment to personal accountability.
So how can you improve your ability to self-regulate? First, by knowing your values. Spend some time examining your “code of ethics.” If you know what’s most important to you, then you probably won’t have to think twice when you’re faced with a moral or ethical decision – you’ll make the right choice. Hold yourself accountable is the second step. If you tend to blame others when something goes wrong, stop. Make a commitment to admit to your mistakes and face the consequences, whatever they are. You will most likely sleep better at night, and you’ll quickly earn the respect of those around you. The third step is practice being calm. The next time you’re in a challenging situation, be very aware of how you act. Do you relieve your stress by shouting at someone else or slamming doors? Practice deep-breathing exercises to calm yourself. If you’re not into deep breathing, write down all of the negative things you want to say, and then rip it up and throw away. Expressing these emotions on paper is better than speaking them aloud to your subordinates or team.
Motivation. Self-motivated leaders consistently work toward their goals, and have extremely high standards for the quality of their work.
To improve your motivation you must first re-examine why you are doing your job. It’s easy to forget what you really love about your career. So, take some time to remember why you wanted this job. If you’re unhappy in your role, try the five (5) why’s technique to find the root of the problem. Starting at the root often helps you look at your situation in a new way. Secondly, know where you stand. Determine how motivated you are to lead. Thirdly, be hopeful and find something good. Motivated leaders are usually optimistic no matter what they face. Every time you face a challenge, or even a failure, try to find at least one good thing about the situation. There’s almost always something positive – you just have to look for it.
Empathy. For leaders, having empathy is critical to managing a successful team or organization. Leaders with empathy have the ability to put themselves in someone else’s situation. They help develop the people in their work group/team, challenge others who are acting unfairly, give constructive feedback, and listen to those who need it.
To improve your empathy in the workplace or in the social setting you need to put yourself in someone else’s position while they are talking or explaining the situation. The next thing is to pay close attention to body language, especially yours. Body language tells others how you really feel about a situation or vice versa. Finally, respond to feelings. If you ask someone to work late again, and they agree, but you hear disappointment in their voice. Respond by addressing their feelings. Tell them you appreciate how willing they are to work extra hours, and that you are just as frustrated about working late too. Possibly give them some flextime.
Social skills. Leaders who do well in this element of emotional intelligence are great communicators. They’re just as open to hearing bad news as good news, and they’re experts at getting their team to support them and be excited about a new mission or project.
Leaders who have good social skills are also good at managing change and resolving conflicts diplomatically. They’re rarely satisfied with leaving things as they are, but they’re also not willing to make everyone else do the work. They set the example with their own behavior.
So, how can you improve your leadership by building social skills? The three key points to improving your social skills are: learn conflict resolution, improve your communication skills, and learn how to praise others. Learning how to effectively praise others is a fine art, but well worth the effort.
Thanks to the many challenges and opportunities that arise when working with others, leaders must have a solid understanding of how their emotions and actions affect the people around them. The better a leader relates to and works with others, the more successful he or she will be.
So, do you have emotional intelligence to be a great leader?