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Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

By Jennifer A. Williams May 22, 2017

"Emotional intelligence is a powerful tool critical for exceeding goals, improving critical work relationships, and creating a healthy, productive workplace and organizational culture." says Brent Gleeson in his article, "5 Aspects of Emotional Intelligence Required for Effective Leadership.

The very essence of leadership is to lead oneself effectively, which then influences others in a positive and inspiring way. Without the ability to modulate our emotions and understand what we want to achieve at any given moment, it's hard to lead competently.

Authentic leadership requires congruencyTo succeed, we must be able to look at the big picture while also taking practical actions and learning from past mistakes. And even when we can effectively govern ourselves, we then must be able to communicate and give direction to our team in a way that empowers instead of undermining their efforts or discouraging through micromanagement.

Although we greatly value intelligence and academic excellence in business, emotional fitness skills have been found to be even more vital to leadership. It turns out that if we can't govern ourselves, we cannot lead others.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Is Essential to Personal and Professional Success

You can think of EQ as a staircase to personal and professional success. Why? Because all interpersonal skills depend on emotional intelligence. If we can't control knee-jerk reactions in our relationships at home and work, emotional landmines break down trust and deflate our positive influence. If we are unaware of how we affect others, we cannot learn to respond in more respectful ways.

The good news is that emotional fitness competencies can be learned. These skills are worth pursuing; they are critical in the varied and many responsibilities a leader faces daily. Even the ability to envision is one of these compentencies.

Daniel Goleman speaks to its importance: 

"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."

So how do you learn emotional intelligence?

The first step in all learning and growth is awareness. And learning to be emotionally intelligent is no different. Becoming aware of how we think, make decisions, manage our emotions, talk to ourselves, and communicate with others are necessary building blocks.

Awareness Exercise

Leading a team requires varied emotional fitness skillsTry the following exercise and discover how your ability to lead depends on how aware you are and how well you govern yourself internally. Mindfulness is only
one small slice of emotional intelligence, yet a mindfulness practice helps to develop emotional fitness. If you can learn to redirect yourself masterfully, this habit will impact how well you guide others.

WEEK 1:  Observe your thoughts carefully without judgment for one week.

WEEK 2:  Continue to observe your inner dialogue and begin to replace any negative thoughts with more positive ones.

WEEK 3:  Now add ten minutes of conscious daily practice. Every time the mind tries to discourage you, quiet the chatter and focus only on your breath instead. (Or you can put your attention on the light rays hitting the tree leaves outside your office.)

WEEK 4:  Continue to practice quieting your mental chatter. Now raise your awareness and listen to your inner guidance. Your intuition is there if you listen; turn up the volume! Whenever you hear it, act on its guidance.

WEEK 5:  Reserve twenty minutes in your work day as a regular time to calm your mind and listen. Make it a ritual you never miss.

Authentic Leadership Requires Awareness

Another key in learning to lead from within is to observe how well your actions match your words. When words and actions match, authenticity is the result.

As Goleman stated in a Harvard Business Review:

"To be authentic is to be the same person to others as you are to yourself."

The first step toward more authenticity is observation. Keep a mental log noting the gaps in authentic actions. For example, ask questions such as:

Authentic leadership means becoming our words and actions matchDo I make commitments and then show up half-heartedly? If so, did I really want to do what I agreed to?

Do I agree with someone but secretly disagree? What am I avoiding?

Do I tell someone I feel great while covering up anger or resentment?

Do I say one thing and do another?

Paying attention to wherever your words are incongruent with your actions will give you valuable information. You'll learn what you are making important. By watching for incongruencies, you can close the gap and be more authentic.

Sample scenarios:

Incongruency #1:  An employee spontaneously walks into your office with a complaint. You spend forty-five minutes helping him or her calm their upset and solve their problem. However, you end up giving away crucial time that you needed for a timely project.
Emotionally Fit Solution #1:  Find a way to be firm and kind when boundaries are needed for priority work. Let him or her know that you would like to support them but need the morning time to finish an important project. Then you schedule a meeting in the afternoon to discuss the work challenges at a more convenient time.

Incongruency #2:  You deeply value honesty but find yourself watering down constructive feedback when evaluating an underperforming employee.
Emotionally Fit Solution #2:  Time to increase courage. Motivate yourself to be candid by focusing on the long-term beneifts of giving vital feedback to help your employee grow and excel. Envision how he or she will be empowered by your experience and input, then speak your truth honestly.

Incongruency #3:  You spend inordinate time with an employee that is ill-equipped to do the job that he or she was hired for. They make excuses when they miss timelines and you give extensions repeatedly but fail to shift this ongoing pattern. 
Emotionally Fit Solution #3:  You have a meeting with the employee and point out the pattern of missed timelines. Together you assess their time management skills and the need to break projects down more effectively. Then you set up reasonable check-ins to ensure that they stay on schedule. 

By practicing self-awareness and striving to align what you value with your actions, you'll already be on the path to greater emotional intelligence. By taking the time to discern if your actions match your highest version of yourself, you'll be a more authentic leader and have the added bonus of leading from the heart.

To learn more about emotional intelligence in leadership and the four main components of EQ, read "What Is Emotional Intelligence?"  

Posted in Leadership and Business, Communication & Interpersonal Skills, Brain Fitness, Mindfulness and Perspective, Emotional Intelligence & Fitness