Leadership Development

Why Emotional Intelligence is a Leader’s Key to Success

Many debate the attributes needed to be a successful leader in today’s business landscape. Is it effective communication, empathy, or the right social skills that make you a good leader?

A common perception exists that high assertiveness is one of the keys to successful leadership. To a certain extent, this is true. Many positive outcomes can be produced by confidence, such as drive, risk-taking, and charisma. However, while confidence might help to put you in a leadership role, it certainly does not qualify you as a successful leader

Confidence is often interchanged with competence. However, the two are very different. Characteristics of confidence are those of charisma, poise, and firmness, and although competent leaders can be confident, confident leaders are not always effective. So what does it take to be a competent leader?

If your natural qualities did determine whether you’d make a successful leader, we would be left with a small pool of people who might not even want, or have the circumstances, to rise to such a role. If good leaders must possess a particular group of traits, and just the right amount of those traits (assertive, but only to a certain extent), selecting effective leaders would be a simple equation. Why, then, do we hear so much about poor management? While some traits are helpful and might help secure a leadership position, most skills necessary for effective leadership are learned.

Enter Emotional Intelligence

The true key to success is emotional intelligence, a skill that comes more naturally to some, but can be learned and practiced by emerging leaders. According to HBR, the elements ineffective leaders are missing most are strategic vision and the ability to motivate others. If you can discern your bosses, employees, and coworkers’ behaviors and preferences, and be able to reasonably adapt to the nuances of their personality and behavior makeup, you will be much more able to motivate those around you. While traits like empathy and emotional sensitivity help understand different people, open communication and taking the time to get to know your employees is important to create meaningful relationships. Truly understanding your team helps motivate your talent.

Additionally, if you clearly understand your personal preferences and communicate them to others, you will cut out misunderstandings and assumptions that arise from lack of clarity. Emotional intelligence increases your effectiveness most when you are acutely aware of the similarities and differences between yourself and others, and apply this awareness toward your verbal and nonverbal communications.

Inc. discusses the signs of emotionally intelligent leaders and what it looks like in everyday work-life. Let’s look at how some of these indicators can make a difference in the workplace.

You pause - Emotional intelligence stands on the understanding that there are different, equally correct, viewpoints on every topic. If you realize that personal biases and blind spots might filter your first thought, reaction, or mindset about a certain topic, it causes you to consider situations from various angles. This also makes you more likely to seek out different opinions when decision-making, ensuring you’ve heard viewpoints different than your own. This allows you to see situations more objectively, which is critical since most of your decisions are most likely far-reaching and impacting your employees, clients, or business—not just yourself.

You strive to control your thoughts - When someone does have a different viewpoint than you, some amount of disagreement is inevitable. The ability to control your thoughts is crucial to avoid brash decisions and responses that would hurt your business relationships. 

You benefit from criticism - Recognizing that not all of your views are universal or concrete will allow you to better handle being told just that. Having the awareness that others might see something that you don’t is key to accepting criticism, a necessity for good leadership.

You show authenticity - Because you are aware that others will not always see eye-to-eye with you, you can more openly express your feelings without fear of rejection. This creates a trust for others to be more open with you about their views, opening the door for stronger relationships and more innovative ideas.

Motivating Individuals

Emotional intelligence is the key to cognitive diversity, a necessity for innovation. If you are aware that different mindsets exist, and that cognitive diversity is the key to success, you can form, and direct teams, with members who possess various traits that complement each other and drive innovation. Emotional intelligence is key to recognizing the benefits of different personality types. For example, if you can pinpoint and appreciate the employee who thrives within a structured environment, but also value what a spontaneous employee brings to the group, both of these individuals can have an environment that allows them to be their most productive self, benefiting the team as a whole.

Emotional intelligence is also key when it comes to feedback discussions. If you can determine where people are strong and where they need to improve, and you understand their preference for receiving feedback, you have all of the tools necessary for a productive performance discussion. While adaptability is essential for one-on-one situations to meet individuals where they are and provide comfort and trust, consistency in important matters is crucial. When it comes to values, goals, and expectations, remain consistent. There is no quicker way to lose trust than to appear unpredictable or inconsistent about your standards and viewpoints. 

Emotionally Intelligent Leadership in the Future

Once your leadership has mastered emotional intelligence, the changes will infuse throughout the entire organization. A paper by Ivey Business Journal states, “Emotional intelligence is a valuable resource that can renew and re-ignite organizational purpose and inspire people to perform better. As clients will attest, the emotionally intelligent organization is in tune with its needs.” It is crucial to create purpose and meaning for your talent, especially as AI is being integrated into businesses. But it starts with you—the leader. Humanizing your business is key to motivating the workforce so they can perform at their best. When employee experience is dwindling, it is imperative more than ever to make work as personalized and engaging as possible. A boost in morale precedes an increase in productivity.

Emotional intelligence is a skill built through time, practice, and honest conversation. While we can interpret the behaviors and needs of those around us, we may not always be correct in interpreting —transparency matters. Birkman helps clients become more self-aware and see the value in how others are different to discuss strengths, interests, and areas for growth openly. Start the conversation to fast-track your EQ journey and motivate the individuals on your teams.