In today’s business climate, business owners and leaders alike are perplexed by and grappling with the challenge of keeping employees. They struggle with employee turnover, high hiring costs, employee drama, unresolved conflicts, and the growing complexity of the virtual workplace with employees working from home but unproductive. (And no, spying on employees is not the answer!)Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
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The one vital skill set company leadership needs to invest in is emotional intelligence, sometimes shortened to EQ (an abbreviation for emotional quotient). Only with the savvy that comes with authentic leadership will the mounting challenges be handled effectively in today's businesses.
How Do EQ Skills Support Effective Leadership Communication?
Bill George, an advocate of emotional intelligence, says emotional EQ is necessary for leaders’ success in the workplace. He includes the following reasons:
- Emotionally intelligent people know how to manage their emotions and recognize the feelings of others
- They make more effective leaders because they can empathize and relate well with employees and customers
- Leaders who connect with employees authentically and communicate effectively will create a safe, thriving culture.
However, it’s one thing to claim that emotional intelligence is vital to leadership, but it’s a whole different matter to know how to lead authentically and with emotional intelligence. EQ can often be invisible—not because it lacks power but because it’s so elegant! Employees don’t even realize how trust and respect are being woven.
Just like a master weaver, the colors, textures, and tightness of the weaves lay the foundation for a beautiful tapestry. Emotional intelligence blends many micro skills to create ease, effective communication, trustworthiness, and strong working relationships. Leaders with EQ resolve conflict quickly and masterfully. They build understanding and good communication through empathy, clarity, open-mindedness, and the ability to shift quickly when the situation requires it.
So what if your EQ skill sets are lacking as a leader? What do you do? You may be wondering like many leaders:
- Can I develop emotional intelligence?
- Is EQ something that can be learned?
- How do I cultivate emotional fitness?
- Can I succeed as a leader without emotional intelligence?
- What are the best ways to build emotional fitness?
Be assured: EQ can be learned. It’s not like intellect or IQ. Emotional intelligence gets better over time—especially when intentionally practiced. The only requirements are a growth mindset, effort, and focused attention.
Related reading: “Why Emotional Intelligence Is Crucial in Business Today.”
6 Practical Ways to Practice and Develop Emotional Intelligence as a Leader
Emotional intelligence is an inside job that begins with greater self-awareness. We can’t change what we’re unaware of, so here are six practical ways to flex your EQ muscles and raise awareness.
The best cue for discovering where we’re lacking emotional intelligence is to keep a lookout for these specific things:
- Do your actions match your words?
- Do you commit but fail to follow through?
- Do you give lip service and then forget you indicated the promise of something you’re unwilling to give?
Observe yourself for a couple of weeks. You’ll discover many things about yourself that you may not have known; some may shock and dismay you!
For example, you might find that you follow through only with certain people who are persistent and vocal while ignoring the request of others more patient. Or you may tell people what they want to hear to get them out of your office quickly but have no intention of doing what you said. And you may not even be aware that you've agreed to something!
I worked with a CEO years ago who regularly gave employees the sense that they were qualified and being considered for promotions, but he had no intention of putting them in the role that they discussed. This leader mistakenly thought it was encouraging to lead them to this conclusion. What he neglected to realize was just how discouraging it was to have no clear pathway to promotions and to be passed over repeatedly. Often, they hired from outside the company, which would cause resentment.
Of course, sometimes it’s the right decision to hire someone from a larger applicant pool with the exact skill sets needed for a position. However, be clear about your intentions. Allow qualified employees to prove themselves or help them to understand why they're not a fit for a position. Make sure your words, intentions, and actions match!
Related reading: “Why Companies Fail Without Leaders with Emotional Intelligence.”
It’s helpful to seek to understand what employees have to say, yet many leaders make the mistake of talking more than they listen. When we direct or react too quickly as leaders, we don’t have the full scoop of what the employee is trying to say.
Often, they begin with something minor but have more important things to discuss, and they are only warming up. The subject might be difficult or sensitive, and they’re testing the waters, or they may feel it’s necessary to chitchat a little before jumping in. Or they may be slower communicators than you and, if rushed, will never get to the heart of the actual topic.
Regardless of the reason, if you talk instead of genuinely listening, you’ll miss out on a tremendous opportunity not only to get to know your employee better but also you’ll be able to resolve problems quicker. You’ll build rapport and trust faster, too.
Employees need a leader who is confident but not cocky; who will listen without interrupting. (Interrupting even if you think you know what they’re going to say is disrespectful and a mood killer.)
They desire a leader who demonstrates being responsive, open-minded, and down-to-earth, yet vulnerable when appropriate. Pretending to listen as you continue typing on your computer doesn’t let the employee know they are valued. Stop what you’re doing and give your full attention. Be interested. Get curious and ask meaningful and relevant questions.
When a leader only tells employees what they think they want to hear, they’ve short-changed the relationship and weakened the trust.
In a rapidly changing and unpredictable world, it’s crucial to stay committed to company values and mission but also remain open-minded to the feedback of employees and key officers.
Being consistently faithful to brand standards is critical; yet, sometimes with a changing market, it can be time to freshen the look or completely overhaul the company’s brand or direction. Being open-minded assists leaders in being agile and attentive to the needs of their employees and the changing market.
Some leaders view asking for help as a weakness or a failure to live up to the responsibilities of their role. No one person has all the answers or necessary abilities to run a company. It takes a team.
Therefore, leaders should seek to empower others and delegate freely. Trying to do everything themselves is inefficient, ineffective, exhausting, and unsustainable.
Surround yourself with experienced and skilled employees and utilize their skill sets.
A leader needs to look to the future to make good decisions and keep an eye on changing trends to capture new opportunities. However, they must also be present to the practical aspects of the business, such as meeting with the company’s CFO to know when to tighten the budget, redirect resources, or prepare for a product release.
Making wise decisions on the use of resources or the timing of expansion and hiring of employees can only happen when a leader is both forward-thinking and practical.
In addition, it is also vital that as a leader, you wisely choose when to make announcements, such as changes in company direction, a new employee benefit, or an expansion or initiative. In their eagerness to share, many leaders make the mistake of introducing something that never happens. If this short-sightedness is a regular occurrence, it causes discouragement and undermines the excitement and support of employees in the future.
Remember: leadership begins with leading yourself.
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the foundation from which a leader gains self-awareness, impacts employees, and drives success for a company. EQ matters because it stimulates growth and inspires action that drives positive business results. Intelligence is only part of the equation. One must be able to regulate emotions, resolve conflict, connect with others, adapt to changes, and make difficult decisions, all of which require emotional intelligence.
Take heart as a leader. You are on your way to greater awareness just by pursuing ways to grow. Pick one of the above actions and practice it until it becomes second nature. Then pick another. You’ll
Related reading: "Why Emotional Intelligence Is Crucial in Business Today."
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