Emotional intelligence is one of the most crucial skills a leader can have. Here's how you can improve yours.
There's probably no better investment you can make for yourself and your organization than improving your emotional intelligence. Even though other skills are important, emotional intelligence will help you successfully coach your team, manage stress, provide feedback, and collaborate with others. The term was first coined in 1990 by researchers John Mayer and Peter Salovey, but was later popularized by psychologist Daniel Goleman. According to Goleman, emotional intelligence accounts for nearly 90 percent of what sets high performers apart from peers with similar technical skills and knowledge.
EQ essentially refers to how well you know yourself and respond to your own feelings and thoughts as well as how you interpret and respond to the feelings and thoughts of others. When leaders are emotionally intelligent, they can use emotions to drive the organization forward. Leaders often have the responsibility of effecting necessary changes in the organization (see our previous tip on how to drive successful change initiatives), and if they are aware of others’ possible emotional reactions to these changes they are better able to prepare the best ways to implement them.
Begin with yourself.
Responding well to others starts by knowing yourself. Emotional intelligence involves empathy and is about looking at the cues you're getting from others and putting them into a context, based on your own experiences. So, if you want to improve your emotional intelligence, start by becoming as self-aware as possible in order to recognize what triggers specific emotions or reactions in you.
Try this simple exercise to get you started with understanding your emotions. Consider these nine emotions (for the full range, check out the feelings wheel below): anger, sadness, energy, lack of energy, satisfaction, happiness, unfulfillment, anxiety, and excitement. For this exercise, just pick five emotions from the list above. Write them down. Then, for each one you've selected, try to list what triggers those feelings in you. Getting praise from a colleague or supervisor or friend might make you feel happy or proud, for example.
There are other techniques that can help you become self-aware, too. For example, mindfulness and journaling can help you reflect on patterns or notice more of the world around you. The main goal is to be willing to investigate further. Are there emotions or thoughts you have that won't go away? Set aside some time each day to get to the answers, and be patient with yourself. Learning about yourself is a constant, ongoing process.
After awareness comes management.
Emotional intelligence is a two-part "mission”. You first have to recognize what you personally think and feel, but self-management is then deciding what action to take. If you do it right, self-management helps you direct how you feel in whatever context you are in, improves how you interact with others, and leads to greater performance results.
Think back on some recent instances in your life. Did someone upset you? How did you handle it? Did it ruin the rest of your day because you couldn’t shake it off? Or were you able to keep moving towards your goals? If someone affected you negatively, what can you do to prevent that kind of situation from happening again? Good self-management usually focuses on minimizing "negative" emotions and maximizing "positive" emotions.
There is no guarantee that every day will run smoothly. But there are techniques you can build into your daily routine and repeat to yourself when needed. Mantras, for example, can help get you grounded and back in the right place. Here are some examples:
“Do not respond. Breathe out. Breathe in. Ignore the noise."
"Breathe. Ask for clarification. What do you mean by that?"
“Energy flows where your focus goes. Focus on the positive.”
Applying EQ to others.
There's a third aspect to emotional intelligence -- understanding what triggers others, how they think and feel, and how that all influences how everyone interacts. Use empathy and perceptiveness to watch for people's body language or tone of voice. Then, use your management skills to intentionally decide how to speak or behave so that you trigger the reaction you want in them. Fearless leaders learn to do this in a wide variety of settings, even under stress. If you can channel your own emotions properly, then you can have a powerfully positive influence on your friends, family members, colleagues, and even your entire community.
Be the buoy.
The ability to apply emotional intelligence to yourself and others is like being the life preserver in stormy waters. Practice your EQ skills as much as you can so that you can be the safe space others need, and you'll weather the storm together unto calmer waters. Remember, this too shall pass. (*Another great mantra*)
Want to know more about how you can make impact by leading with empathy? Join our Expert Insights workshop on December 9 to learn useful insights, techniques and tips on how to start building your empathetic leadership style to drive better engagement of those around you.