When people think of a perfect leader, they picture someone trustworthy, inspiring, and easy to talk to…someone who listens to all team members, motivates them, and never lets their temper cloud their judgment.
All of these are characteristics of emotionally intelligent people.
As Psychologist Daniel Goleman said, “IQ and technical skills matter…they are crucial threshold abilities, what you need to get the job done. But everyone you compete with at work has those same skill sets.”
It’s safe to say that emotional intelligence is the distinguishing factor between a good leader and a great one.
Those who lack emotional intelligence unknowingly cause a lot of damage to the organization. They set poor examples of how to work, treat others, and use emotions to guide thoughts and actions. Trickling down throughout the company, these problematic behaviors translate into low employee productivity, high turnover, and an overall toxic work environment.
Needless to say, people don’t like working with leaders with low emotional intelligence.
The good news is that emotional intelligence can be improved with practice.
5 Ways to Improve Your Emotional Intelligence
Whether you have a team of two or 22, understanding and managing your own emotions and those of others can accelerate organizational success and put you in a position to better motivate and inspire your team.
Below are some tried and tested ways of improving your emotional intelligence as a leader.
- Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of your thoughts, feelings, and emotions and how they influence your words, decisions, and behavior. It involves being in the moment and acknowledging what goes on within yourself mentally and emotionally in a non-judgmental way, so you can better understand how outside influences affect you.
When practiced regularly, mindfulness can help improve your self-awareness, allowing you to respond to situations more effectively and in a more meaningful way. It cultivates empathy and encourages you to respond to the world from another perspective.
Mindfulness will change the way you typically respond to a situation. For example, when most people would get furious and lash out in response to criticism, you, as a mindful person, will hear what the other person is saying, acknowledge your feelings of anger/frustration, and let yourself cool down before saying something like, “I hear you, but this is what I think….”
This simple shift from emotional reactions to conscious responses will take your leadership from good to great.
To assess where you stand right now, ask yourself questions like:
- Am I in tune with my feelings?
- Do I use my emotions to guide my decisions?
- Do I recognize when someone is using their emotions as a tool?
- Do I look at situations from different perspectives to better understand why people act the way they do?
Take some time every day to reflect; think about how different situations affected you and how you interacted/responded to others.
Meditation also helps clear your mind, focus on the present, and connect with your emotions and thoughts. It makes you comfortable with the space where you can pause and take a deep breath before responding to a situation.
- Confront What Makes You Uncomfortable
Confronting and dealing with the things that make you uncomfortable is essential for improving your emotional intelligence.
Minor problems can become big challenges if you keep pushing them away to avoid conflict. You may be able to overcome an obstacle you identified today, but tomorrow, it might get so worse that you might not have the tools and resources to tackle it.
Emotionally intelligent leaders like to recognize the early signs of issues at work so they can nip things in the bud. They aren’t afraid to have difficult conversations or make tough decisions while maintaining a culture of trust and respect—and this is what allows their teams to come out stronger on the other side.
This attitude also instills faith in leadership among the team members. Upon getting the idea that their leader is in it for the long run, they use their newfound resilience to tolerate adversity and improve what needs to be improved.
Here’s what you can do to prepare yourself to confront various uncomfortable situations as a leader:
- Make a list of things that make you uncomfortable or imaginary situations that you may confront as a leader, and write them down in the order in which they occur to you.
- Read this in a calm, controlled tone, as if you’re talking to yourself.
- Choose one thing on your list, and write down why it makes you uncomfortable (you don’t have to use all of your reasons).
- Write out how you would handle this in an ideal world—without emotion or judgment in your voice or body language—and then give yourself permission to do it.
In addition, tell yourself it’s okay to take risks every chance you get – taking risks helps you grow and develop as a leader, so never let the fear of uncertainty or discomfort hold you back.
- Take Responsibility for All You Do
Low EQ leaders are notorious for playing the blame game when things go south. They’re quick to shame others and go out of their way to find a scapegoat to cover up their own mistakes.
This is what a lack of self-awareness and insecurity makes a person do.
It goes without saying that nobody enjoys working (or performs well) under a leader who is always ready to throw the team under the bus.
On the other hand, an emotionally intelligent leader has a sense of personal accountability. They’re secure in their knowledge and ability to turn things around. So, instead of playing victim to their circumstances, they show up and communicate with team members to find viable solutions.
Taking responsibility for your decisions and actions and staying accountable is one of the best ways to leverage your emotional intelligence to steer your team out of a crisis.
Staying accountable means acknowledging your mistakes and actively working to correct them. You must be willing to accept criticism when it is offered and learn from it. Likewise, you must also be able to recognize the positive impact of your actions and take credit for them.
Taking responsibility for your actions also means being willing to apologize when necessary. Apologizing does not mean you are weak. Instead, it shows you’re a strong leader willing to own up to your mistakes.
As an emotionally intelligent leader, you’ll be respected by your team and have the support of each member to face challenges head-on.
- Acknowledge the need for change—take some time to reflect on your current leadership style and its impact on your team. Acknowledge any areas where you need to make improvements, apologize to the members if needed, and make a plan to change your approach.
- Ask for feedback from your team members on a regular basis and call meetings to discuss how your plan has worked so far and what you can do to improve in the future.
- When things don’t go according to plan, sit with your team to determine why it happened. Accept if you made a mistake and be willing to change your approach to meet the target.
- Make a Conscious Effort to Be More Empathetic
Empathy refers to the ability to understand and share the feelings of another person. It is a key part of emotional intelligence, which can help you better understand what your team is feeling and thinking.
Leading empathetically makes you less likely to pronounce judgments or offer unwanted and untimely advice. Instead, you’ll take a step back and reflect on what the other person may be going through and need from you.
When you start seeing things from others’ perspectives, you improve at problem-solving. The overall working environment also becomes positive when your team members perceive you as more trustworthy and someone they can talk to without the fear of judgment.
- Listen actively: make sure you’re really listening to what your team is saying. Don’t just hear the words. Try to understand the feelings behind them.
- Ask questions: don’t be afraid to ask questions to gain more information about someone’s feelings and experiences.
- Put yourself in their shoes: imagine how someone else might feel in a given situation.
- Demonstrate understanding: show your team that you understand and appreciate their feelings and won’t pass judgment.
- Try One-on-One Mentoring with Employees
One-on-one mentoring with employees provides the opportunity to observe and understand how your behavior affects each individual. It also allows for honest and open conversations about difficult topics, giving you a chance to listen, ask questions, and offer advice in a personalized way.
Mentoring also helps cultivate an environment where employees feel safe and respected. This type of communication creates a collaborative, rather than a hierarchical relationship, encouraging team members to share their thoughts and feelings openly. As a result, your connection with them becomes stronger.
With one-on-one mentoring, you can improve the trust between you and your employees and build a sense of team spirit. By getting to know each other on a personal level, you can better understand how to work together and support each other.
- Schedule one-on-ones with each individual per their availability.
- Convey that these sessions are designed to pass on knowledge and support each member to help them grow.
- Make it clear that it’ll be a judgment-free space, and everything discussed will remain confidential if needed.
- Send reminders to ensure no team member misses out on the opportunity to connect with you on a personal level.
A leader’s emotional intelligence starts with self-awareness, which means understanding how you feel on a moment-to-moment basis. To be an effective leader, you must hone your ability to recognize your emotions, understand why you feel them, and what those emotions might mean for the people around you.
From there, it’s about learning how to manage your feelings so that you can make good decisions even when times are rough.
Improving your emotional intelligence will enable you to remain calm instead of getting defensive and stay focused on what matters most: the needs of your employees and organizational outcomes.
If you can harness your emotions in this way and use them as tools for growth instead of letting them rule your life without considering others’ needs or concerns, you’ll become more than just a great leader.