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Blog: Emotional Intelligence - Is It the Foundation of Great Leadership?

Leadership Journey Levels:

Decades ago, this concept of Emotional Intelligence in leadership would not have appeared in many writings about what makes great leadership. There are plenty critics of the concept and its relationship to successful leaders. My intent is not to defend nor prove any research that has been done. Rather, I want to share my years of observation and study of leaders and the impact of EQ.  Let's start with the definition of Emotional Intelligence - skill in perceiving, understanding, and managing emotions and feelings.  There are more expanded and varying versions but this one captures the essence of the definition.

How does Emotional Intelligence show up in the workplace?  I will use Daniel Goleman's list:
  • Self-awareness - appears to be self-confident, seeks feedback, and has a "realistic" view of self
  • Self-regulation -  resists personal urge to yell and accuse, chooses to trust people, and will look for clarity in ambiguity
  • Motivation - has a passion for the work, good energy, optimistic
  • Empathy -  has ability to understand other's emotional make-up, sensitive to cultural differences, and can read body language
  • Social Skill - can build rapport quickly, persuasive, and good at building networks

And how does possessing or lacking these abilities impact the workplace? More, importantly (some would say) how do they impact the bottom line.  

Leaders who possess a good dose of self-awareness understand how their feelings affect them, others, and job performance. They are aware of their limitations and strengths and are comfortable talking about them. These leaders are less likely to "blow-up" when challenged about their decisions or a perceived fail.  At the same time if there is not an environment of transparency and honesty, these leaders can be looked upon "not tough enough for what it takes to go to the next level".  Their candor about themselves can be perceived as a weakness instead of being realistic.

We are all susceptible to biological impulses and they often can derail us and our intentions. Self-regulation is the skill that keeps us from being a "prisoner" to our thoughts and feelings. Leaders who do not self-regulate are seen as unreasonable, explosive and untrustworthy. Those who do self-regulate can create an environment of trust and openness. Leaders who understand and practice self-regulation have the opportunity to create the "trickle down" effect that can positively impact productivity and stop in-fighting and office politics. 

Motivation is a key driver of great leaders.  That desire to achieve gives them passion about their work and the constant pursuit of excellence. Their optimism can be contagious and supports employee engagement. Organization can "de-motivate" these leaders by not appropriately recognizing them and giving them opportunity to grow and achieve.

When leaders have empathy it can help with employee retention, cross-cultural dialogue, and encourage collaboration. Lack of empathy can be a huge de-motivator for everyone...people feel uncared for and in turn are uncaring. Empathy can produce a safe environment where employees can share failures and concerns that could ultimately impact the organization. When leaders can sense the tension and frustration and then encourage employees to talk about it in a non-confrontational way, the result will be a stronger, more collaborative team.

Leaders who are socially skilled are good at finding common ground and building rapport among diverse groups of people. Being highly socially skilled is the culmination of the other components of emotional intelligence. The more self-aware, self-regulated, motivated and empathic a leader is, the more socially skilled she will be.  A leader lacking in social skills are poor relationship builders and can ostracize herself from her employees. This can create a non-collaborative, un-trusting team.

No one will argue the importance of IQ and technical ability and their importance to the bottom line.  You could argue that some companies have survived without a high level of emotional intelligence. My suggestion is that if leaders want to do more than survive, growing their emotional intelligence will help them and their organization thrive. A thriving organization with thriving leaders will produce great results with highly motivated, engaged employees. It is worth the commitment because the ROI will be measurable and impactful. A great leader is an Emotionally Intelligent leader.


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