Why emotional intelligence matters in leadership, and how to develop it.

When was the last time you asked a team member to do something for you and you got ‘that look’?

Have you ever been in a meeting where a colleague has rolled their eyes in response to something someone else said?

Have you noticed that when you are about to deliver an important presentation your heart beats that little bit faster?

Then you have spotted an indicator of an emotion. But what do you do with this?

Leaders who actively develop their emotional intelligence about themselves and others are more able to have strong and effective working relationships.

Being aware of our own emotions and the emotions of others is key to truly effective, authentic leadership. You may be aware of this being labelled Emotional Intelligence.

“Emotional intelligence is the practice of managing one’s own personality to be both personally and interpersonally effective. It is achieved through the habitual practice of thinking about feeling and feeling about thinking, to guide behaviour.” (Tim Sparrow & Jolyon Maddox, 1998).

Further to this, Lombardo and Eichinger’s leadership success factors (2004) included: intelligence, motivation, technical/operational knowledge, experience, learning agility and emotional intelligence.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

A helpful way to understand the parts of emotional intelligence is Tim Sparrow and Jolyon Maddox’s model of emotional intelligence:

At its simplest level, the extent to which you love yourself and are aware of your feelings and how they impact your behaviour, is a fundamental part of how you conduct your relationships with others.

Why does it matter?

For example, bullying behaviour in the workplace often comes from a place of insecurity. A leader may seek to feel better about themselves by putting other people down and treating them like they are beneath them. It is often labelled as ‘I’m okay, you’re not okay’ type behaviour (Eric Berne Transactional Analysis).

Plus, it can also be seen as victim type behaviour, where a leader claims to be disempowered and self-critical, pointing out how they can’t or won’t do something, as they might fail. We tend to label this as ‘You’re okay, I’m not okay’ behaviour.

Interestingly, I often observe leaders dance between these two types of behaviour as they are both coming from a place of insecurity and low positive self-regard. If a leader struggles to accept and embrace who they are and how they are wired, then they are constantly comparing themselves to others to try to make themselves feel better. They can oscillate between victim and bullying type behaviour, depending on context. It can appear incredibly inconsistent to those around them who may feel, “I never know what to expect!”

You may spot this in yourself, or you may know a leader who is like this. So what do you do about it?

  • Develop self-awareness.

Principally, you need to focus on developing self-awareness as the first step.

By this, I mean, how can you find out more about yourself and your impact on others?

And if we’re talking about trying to help someone else in this regard, how could you provide very specific, behaviourally-based feedback to help them become aware of their impact on others?

You could choose a more formal route, such as a 360-degree assessment, to gather feedback from peers , those who work for you and your line manager using a structured question approach.

You could use a psychometric questionnaire to measure how you are wired and how others see you, such as StrengthscopeLeader™.

You could simply ask five people you know the following questions:

  1. If you were describing me to someone else, which words would you use?
  2. What do you really appreciate about my contribution to the organisation?
  3. What one idea or recommendation would help me use my strengths more effectively?

You are seeking to develop an understanding of your personal needs and preferences. By understanding these you can start to identify your impact on yourself and others.

  • Develop unconditional positive regard for yourself.

The second step is to understand how you regard yourself, as that impacts how you treat others.

What is your self-talk?

You know, those voices in your head saying, “You idiot! You don’t belong here”, versus, “Well done me!”

We need a healthy self-respect in order to have a stronger mental state and better relationships with others.

A good place to start is to accept compliments gracefully rather than feeling embarrassed and brushing them aside.

  • Develop unconditional positive regard for others.

The third step is to look at how you show others positive regard.

Check yourself when tempted to judge, reject or attack someone for who they are, rather than for what they do or say.

Reframe your thoughts from: “Jo is a liar” to: “Jo shared incorrect information about X deliberately”.

Then stretch to understand. Attempt to put yourself in their shoes and understand things from their point of view, with their history, their limitations and their desires.

You might not like what they have done, but you will now be better placed to deal with it by having a conversation about their behaviour and the impact it has had.

When having this conversation, practise just listening.

Let them know you have heard and understood, and try to understand how they are feeling.

You don’t need to agree. You don’t need to argue or give advice. You just need to listen with unconditional positive regard for them as a person who is a human being in this world with their own challenges, no matter how different they are to you.

You don’t need to agree with them. But you do need to respect that they can have their own opinion.

Taking the time to develop your regard for others enables you to move into building more functional working relationships, particularly with people who think, feel and act differently to you.

It creates a stronger platform for diverse leadership teams to work better together.

  • What you feel, see and hear, and why that matters.

The fourth step is to work on your self-awareness.

We are not robots. Sometimes we forget this about ourselves; especially as a leader through the pandemic, you may have significantly pushed yourself, worked long hours, not taken a break, asked others on your team to do the same.

We have a powerful capacity to do this for a sustained time but not forever. We can have the will but our bodies also have a say in this. Leaders ignore this at their peril as the side effects can be burn-out, stress, sickness and worse.

Therefore, we need to check in with ourselves and others.

For example, close your eyes and tune in to your body. Ask yourself what you feel, e.g. my heart is beating quite fast, my back is tense, I’m clenching my teeth, etc. Look for the physiological clues, as well as those in your heart and head.

Identify what that feeling might be and get specific!

You can use a feelings wheel to help you,

 working from the inner feelings to the outer to help you get there.

For example: my heart is beating quite fast as I feel ‘Fearful’. Indeed, I feel fearful as I’ve got an important presentation later today and I feel a bit ‘Threatened’. What if it goes wrong? What if I make a mistake? What if I look stupid? Get really specific with this feeling – I feel ‘Exposed’. If I make a mistake in this presentation, the CEO may think I don’t know my stuff and that could impact my career.

Once you have pinned down the exact feeling (the outer circle of the feelings wheel) you can then be much clearer about what action you could take to help you address this feeling.

  • Pay attention to how others feel and why that matters.

The fifth step is to work on your awareness of how others feel.

In your meeting, did you spot the eye-roll? Did you see who looked at their watch? Did you see who shuffled their papers? What might be going on here? Boredom? Frustration? Late to something else?

It’s easy to assume what someone else might be feeling. For example, anger can be fear disguised.

Listen with your eyes as well as your ears.

Practise paying attention to others’ body language.

Focus consciously on what you think others are feeling and check out your assumptions.

E.g. “I notice you looking at your watch, did you need to be somewhere else?”, and you may get: “Yes, I’m late for a meeting”, or you could get: “I’m keen to move onto the next agenda item as I’ve something important to say”, or: “You’ve been talking a long time without asking what anyone else thinks”, and so on.

Do not assume you know what they are feeling. Check it out.

Why great leaders focus on developing their EI.

Relationships: Leaders who actively develop their emotional intelligence about themselves and others are more able to have strong and effective working relationships because their relationships will be deeper and have more trust.

Impact and Gravitas: They will be more impactful as they will come across to others as authentic in how they behave and what they say. They are more likely to speak with sincerity and be taken seriously by others.

Difficult Conversations: They will approach difficult conversations with a strong approach and feel more comfortable using radical candour appropriately, with positive effect.

Resilience: They are also likely to be more resilient as they will spot the signs in themselves and others when they need to slow down or speed up in their work focus.

If you want to know more about how to develop your leadership approach and emotional intelligence, drop us a line at info@co-creation.group.