How having a high level of emotional intelligence will help you with leadership

Credit: Kalawin

Leadership skills are, in most places, reasonably recognizable. Whether it be in the workplace, schools and classrooms, politics, volunteer organizations, or even within families, they always remain fairly constant. People who take initiative, who have a vision, and who can strategize, plan, and accomplish goals to achieve their vision are considered good leaders. They display those skills when working in a team setting and, hopefully, their team members are appreciative of those skills.

But these aren’t the only traits that will help you with leadership. That’s where emotional intelligence comes into the equation. Emotional intelligence leadership reaps greater rewards. This has been defined as “the ability to accurately perceive your own and others’ emotions; to understand the signals that emotions send about relationships; and to manage your own and others’ emotions” by Christopher Dollard, and plays a key role in being a good leader. Dollard discusses examples of this in an article.

“Think about a great manager that you’ve had in the past. You likely felt comfortable going to that person with your questions, concerns, and needs, and they were likely receptive to you and worked to address them and make sure that you felt supported. And if (or when) you both had disagreements, they were likely respectful and productive exchanges.

That kind of dynamic between employee and manager is similar to what we encourage couples to create in their own relationships—keeping a positive perspective, validating each other’s positions despite disagreement, and being intentionally respectful, even during difficult times. It’s a dynamic that works. It helps everyone involved feel supported and valued.

And let’s be honest: teamwork, especially when attempting to achieve difficult, long-term, and even lofty goals, can lead to intense emotions, such as (if things aren’t going well) frustration, anger, worry, or disappointment, or (if things are going well) excitement, anticipation, enthusiasm, and shared celebration. For example, look at the vivid displays of emotion from players on cohesive sports teams. They celebrate each other when things go well. They lift each other up when things don’t. Emotions, even on the field, play a huge role in working with others to succeed.”

Yet all of those emotions, even the good ones, can lead to immense stress under challenging circumstances at work. And understanding and managing both your and others’ emotions in that team setting, just like in a relationship, is an important trait of all good leaders.

Daniel Goleman, an authority on emotional intelligence in the workplace, notes that “[n]o matter what leaders set out to do—whether it’s creating a strategy or mobilizing teams to action—their success depends on how they do it. Even if they get everything else just right, if leaders fail in this primal task of driving emotions in the right direction, nothing they do will work as well as it could or should.”

Many of us have likely been in this situation before. Think back on, maybe, the job you had in high school with a manager that had a negative attitude. They might have had excellent skills in their role, but how they did the job and communicated to their employees was a problem. Think about how you and your co-workers may have felt around that manager—undervalued, disrespected, and not driven to accomplish team goals. It’s a simple formula- you have to get on well with the people you lead or they won’t enjoy being under your leadership.

In that kind of workplace, it’s easier to simply keep your head down, do the minimum, and get that paycheck at the end of the week. And when employees feel that way, they won’t necessarily be happy in their roles, productivity will likely decline, and work will stall. It will be more challenging for that team to do what needs to be done.

On the flip side, appreciation, respect, and enthusiasm, coupled with emotional support and validation, can be contagious. Positivity begets positivity. Because emotions are strongly correlated with performance and productivity, teams whose members feel emotionally supported and appreciated through their challenges and successes will likely be happier and more productive. They will want to celebrate their successes, so they will work harder and more effectively together to be successful.

According to the Harvard Business Review, emotional intelligence is a key leadership skill—and for a leader to truly be effective, they must be masterful at managing their relationships in a positive way. Being a leader of a group of people is to have a very important relationship with those people. In the HBR, Goleman writes:

“The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: they all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but…they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions. My research, along with other recent studies, clearly shows that emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.”

This isn’t to say that emotional intelligence is enough to get you to that leadership position in your job—you will still need the professional knowledge and experience—but it means that if you take a leadership role and have a higher degree of emotional intelligence, you will likely be more effective and more successful. Because emotions are always in flux, adaptability is key to being an outstanding leader.

The facts and research point towards the fact that emotional intelligence really helps improve your leadership skills. You will be a more likeable and relatable leader, and people will be more willing to work for you. It will feel more like they are your equal, rather than being looked down upon. You have to cater to your audience (in this case your workforce) and perhaps even bend your own rules and values in order to be a good leader.

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