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Revisiting the Emotional Intelligence of Leaders

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Thomas Quine // cc by 2.0 //

Is it Time to Revisit Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (or EI) often gets a bad rap, so let’s simply define it as how a leader successfully handles relationships. Of course, the “emotion” part refers to feelings; while the intelligence part refers to the capacity to reason.

So why is this emotional capacity so important for leaders? Leadership is all about relationships. It’s not just about being nice, likable, or supportive…. although that helps; it’s about the self-awareness and intentionality of effective leaders that “earns” influence; inspiring and bringing out the best in others. It’s about the type of relationship management that gets others on board, making wise and tough decisions and delivering feedback to move strategy and grow others.

The bottom-line is this: leaders who have a well-tuned emotional capacity, have teams with higher engagement and retention. Leaders who hone this capability, drive change through collaboration and collective motivation.

These leaders with high emotional intelligence have at their core the ability to read and manage their own emotions as well as accurately read the emotions in others. But beyond empathy understanding and support, effective leaders do other things in this emotional realm—they achieve through a positive outlook, they have organizational awareness, and they enhance teamwork through influence, conflict management, and coaching.

The good news about emotional intelligence is that it is learnable with practice.

Here are some tips for leaders who want to increase their emotional intelligence:

“Desire” feedback

This may seem like a leadership essential, yet many leaders are feedback aversive. Don’t just ask others for feedback about the decisions that were made, but about how you as a leader facilitated the decision. Ask about your behavior, and inquire about what you said and how you said it. Take a leadership behavior 360-degree assessment or one specifically focused on the 12 emotional competencies. Who wants to stay in the dark, if you can have greater influence by knowing how you impact others!

Do an attitude check

Do you have a vision for yourself that is positive and forward looking? It’s not surprising that leaders who are passionate about their work, are perceived as more credible and have teams that share in the excitement of possibilities. If you find that it’s difficult to manage your emotions, seek some support. Others are watching and your outlook is contagious.

Take an “objective view” of your organization

Make space to reflect on the overall organizational culture. Walk around, ask questions, engage others. You will make better decisions when you are not just aware, but understand the organizational roadblocks that may impact the good work of others. Initiate pulse surveys to round out your understanding of the engagement of employees.

Get conflict savvy

Individual and team performance is at the foundation of organizational success. Leaders earn influence and respect when they manage conflict and give needed difficult and considerate feedback in a way that drives change and moves initiates forward. Start with assessing, and understanding your own conflict style. There are several assessments that can help you learn to manage and facilitate conflict for greater teamwork and positive change.

Coach and Mentor

Coaching is a relationship management master skill. It’s about bringing out the best in others through safe, honest, and forward looking conversations. It’s more about listening, asking and inquiry than about telling. Start by finding out how your constituents want to be supported with your coaching conversations. Challenge yourself to be a more effective coach by taking coaching seminars or try out group and peer coaching with your team. Mentoring is about sharing your experience and expertise with others. It’s not about just sharing your world view, but facilitating conversations that have relevance to others for their growth. Make yourself open to mentor at least one other person in your organization or community.

One of the best predictors of your leadership effectiveness and success is a continuous development of your emotional capacity. Daniel Goleman, a leader in EI, stresses the need for leaders to have a balance of strengths in their emotional capabilities that spans self-awareness and empathy to driving change and inspirational leadership. Business results are built on this important leadership arena, so it is worth your attention to this leadership scaffolding.


The Leadership Challenge Workshop in Sonoma California

Holly Seaton, Ph.D.

Holly Seaton, Ph.D. is a consultant for FlashPoint. Holly is an executive coach who appreciates the privilege of helping organizations and individuals build their leadership capacity by moving from intent to action.

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