Being able to step back and evaluate your emotions and reactions while regulating your responses are signs of emotional intelligence in a leader. The capacity to recognize and effectively manage personal emotions in ourselves and others are all critical abilities in business and leadership. However, emotional intelligence skills are generally not taught when gaining degrees for the business world, such as architecture school. Emotional intelligence (or EQ for Emotional Quotient) can be learned, though, which my husband found out as a business owner.
My husband owns an architecture firm with his best friend and business partner. They are a deliberately small team of four. Managing a group this size has many benefits, but it also comes with some challenges. They all wear many hats, yet each of them has unique strengths. As a young business owner, it was challenging for him to cultivate those strengths and not expect everyone to do things his way. As a result, there were moments of frustration that impeded his ability to be an effective leader.
As the business grew, he stepped back and evaluated what he could do to make the growing pains easier. He realized that the company produced better results by accepting everyone’s strengths rather than trying to control them. He will now say that by letting people tackle challenges their way, with positive results, he gained trust. Trust builds relationships, and now the team feels like a family.
Related reading: "Emotional Intelligence and Empathy in Leadership."
What Makes a Leader: Why Emotional Intelligence Matters
Emotionally intelligent leaders are linked to higher job satisfaction, lead higher performing teams, and know their customers better.
There are five components of EQ: self-awareness, self-regulation, internal motivation, empathy, and social skills. Emotionally intelligent leaders have strong self-awareness. They understand their emotions and the impact of their behavior and can be open and honest about their mistakes. They also have an awareness of others and can adjust their style for others to feel appreciated. An emotionally intelligent leader looks at the big picture and can inspire performance through a positive work environment, which uses all of the five components named above.
Deep Dive: "What Is Emotional Intelligence?"
Examples of these skills in action include:
- Identifying when someone is upset
- Offering compassion and understanding
- Listening to others during meetings
- Allowing for open communication
- Having the ability to handle change and be flexible and agile
- Encouraging creativity and utilizing employees’ strengths.
Why Empathy Is Important in Leadership
Empathy is one component of EQ, but it’s a big one. Empathetic leadership means being aware of other people’s perspectives and feelings and having the ability to understand and respond to employees’ needs.
The value of empathy in leadership is undeniable. By understanding your feelings as a leader, it becomes easier to understand others’ perspectives. This ability also allows you to have more open and productive conversations without being overtaken by emotion. And, empathy helps you develop compassion, which in turn, focuses your attention on being helpful instead of judgmental.
In a study about empathy in the workplace, the Center for Creative Leadership reports, “To determine if empathy influences a manager’s job performance, we analyzed data from 6,731 managers in 38 countries. We found that empathy in the workplace is positively related to job performance. Managers who practice empathetic leadership toward direct reports are viewed as better performers in their job by their bosses. The findings were consistent across the sample: those managers who were rated as empathetic by subordinates were also rated as high performing by their boss.”
One way of increasing emotional intelligence, including empathy, is through mindfulness.
Mindfulness in Leadership
Mindfulness is described as focusing your awareness on the present moment while calmly acknowledging and accepting your feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. It is a tool to become more thoughtful and deliberate while understanding your strengths, shortcomings, triggers, and motivations.
Mindfulness can help you adopt a more supportive style without feeling the need to jump in and control situations. A study by Matthew Lippincott at the University of Pennsylvania found that mindful leaders have:
- Stronger relationships with superiors, peers, and subordinates
- Heightened output
- Better project outcomes
- Improved crisis management
- Increased budgets and team headcount
- Trust with sensitive organizational information
- Positive performance reviews
- More promotions
When it comes to leadership effectiveness, Harvard Business Review Research found that mindful leaders have two ways of processing things. First, they can separate themselves from the current events and observe what is happening from a neutral position. Two, they can control their reactions to threats to process options rather than react without thinking.
Developing mindfulness is a practice, something that builds over time. It’s not about getting rid of your thoughts but rather noticing them in a nonjudgmental way and then letting them pass. A mindfulness practice is about remaining in the current moment and accepting it for what it is.
There are many ways to start incorporating mindfulness into your day. There are simple ways, such as sitting at your desk, placing your feet on the floor, and focusing on your breath. Or, there are more structured ways such as mediation, deep breathing exercises, or online courses.
One way to bring your awareness back to center is to engage your senses. A simple technique called 5-4-3-2-1 can help learn to exercise this mental muscle.
When you find yourself in a stressful moment, first take some deep breaths, focusing on the inhalation and exhalation. Then, when you feel more centered, identify five things you can see around you; this can be anything, focus on each object, and only that object. Next, find four things you can touch. This can be your arms and legs, or if you’re lucky, a furry pet! Next, listen for three things you can hear—birds, the hum of the refrigerator, or music in the background. Finally, find two things you can smell, and if possible, one thing you can taste. This grounding exercise allows you to focus on the moment and not allow anxious thoughts to interfere with your inner peace.
Mindfulness requires consistent practice and is only as effective as you make it. But, as you get better at mindfulness and incorporate it into your workplace, it has the trickle-down effect of increased positivity and efficiency within the organization. As a leader, it’s well worth the effort!
As for my husband, his morning routine now includes a stop along the creek on his way to work. The earlier he leaves, the longer he stays, quietly practicing mindfulness before jumping into the buzz of the day ahead.
Related reading: “Making Mindfulness Practical in Business.”
One of Heartmanity's specialties is training leaders and teams in emotional intelligence. If you'd like support or emotional intelligence training, email support@heartmanity or visit Heartmanity for Business to learn more.