How to Become an Emotionally Intelligent Leader

Importance of Emotional Intelligence in combination of Leadership explained

A study of why CEOs fail found eleven prevalent reasons. Most of the eleven can be associated with a lack of emotional intelligence (EQ). EQ is a fundamental leadership ingredient, especially in today’s business world, in which cross-cultural interactions, the ability to attract, develop, and retain talent at all levels, teamwork, and increasing pace of change have become the new normal.

Various studies show the tenure and success rate of CEOs have greatly deteriorated in the past generation. In the past twenty years alone, a third of Fortune 500 CEOs have stayed in position for less than three years. Global CEOs’ longevity has dropped from 9.5 years in 1995 to 7.6 years today.

In their study of why CEOs fail, Dotlich & Cairo found eleven prevalent reasons, including arrogance, volatility, and aloofness. Most of the eleven can be associated with a lack of emotional intelligence (EQ). EQ is a fundamental leadership ingredient, especially in today’s business world, in which cross-cultural interactions, the ability to attract, develop, and retain talent at all levels, teamwork, and increasing pace of change have become the new normal.

Some argue that a certain level of EQ is present at birth, but it is possible to overcome old habits and become an emotionally intelligent leader. This process is deeply personal, and it requires you to be willing to learn and develop. But if you dedicate your time, energy, and resources toward the following practices, you’re much less likely to fall victim to a “failure to execute.”

In 1995, Goleman’s work raised interest in the importance that EQ plays. It is considered to be one of the most crucial components of great leadership. Consequently, a lack of EQ seriously harms leadership quality regardless of the prevalence of technical or analytical skills. According to Goleman, EQ consists of five components: self-awareness, self-regulation (containment), motivation, empathy, and social skills.

Be Self-Aware

Self-awareness builds the foundation of emotional intelligence. It is an invaluable tool that can break through narcissism’s negative aspects and help one better understand and manage one’s shadow side. It focuses on the process of getting to know oneself. If leaders become more aware of their emotions, feelings, behaviors, and drivers, they can become more effective. Self-awareness helps prevent the triggering of regressive or destructive behavior in extreme situations.

Ask yourself: What am I doing? Why am I doing it? How is it affecting others? Start a journal to learn about your internal landscape, and write down your positive and negative emotions, weighting them by intensity. These practices will help you understand your personal patterns better. A developed self-awareness and consciousness help leaders find the presence and behavior needed in a process of change.

Developing self-awareness does not happen overnight—it takes time to step back and self-reflect. Hence, self-awareness calls for introspection in order to uncover strengths and weaknesses. It is also important for leaders to ask for feedback on their leadership skills. This helps add new skills, hone existing ones, and make up for any deficiencies.

Be Self-Regulated

Self-regulation is the capacity to internally manage uncomfortable thoughts, emotions, feelings, and behavior that result from external pressure and stress. Strengthening this ability helps build both self-esteem and self-confidence so that people become more welcoming toward change and comfortable with ambiguity.

In order to develop self-regulation, reflect before you act. Try to think rather than act reflexively, especially if you are prone to being hotheaded and impatient. Pause and create mental space to assess options. When leaders manage to regulate themselves, they can refrain from making rash decisions and enacting irresponsible or even destructive behavior.

As you pause, recollect your values and beliefs. It is important that you know where you do not want to make compromises based on your value system. Self-regulation also requires you to hold yourself personally accountable for your behavior. If you make a mistake, stand up to it, bear the consequences, and do not blame others. Such behavior gains the respect of others.

Self-regulation improves with practice. Impulse control needs to be learned. It is like building muscles. Try to be aware of your behavior when you are in a conflict or under pressure. Write down all the negative statements you are about to say and then throw away the piece of paper. You will be surprised by how effective this simple exercise is.

Be Motivated

Being motivated is a mindset that all great leaders demonstrate. It is the passion that drives the answer to the question: “What gets you out of bed in the morning?” Leaders who are motivated show commitment to their organizations, pursue their aims, and have high levels of energy and persistence.

Unlike people who are motivated by money, power, ego, and status (all external factors and rewards), real leaders are motivated by a deeply embedded desire to achieve for the sake of achievement.  The question remains whether this is always a noble motivation, as achievements should have purposes other than personal validation.

According to Daniel Goleman, there are two main ways to improve your motivation. The first is to identify the passion for your work. Step back and reflect on why you accepted your role. Look for creative challenges and new approaches, and try to energize yourself to get better without becoming dogged.

The second way to improve your motivation is to be optimistic. Practice optimism even when things are against you. This can help conquer the frustration that often follows setbacks. If necessary, try to adjust your mindset and find something good even when problems arise.

Be Empathetic

Empathy is the ability to put oneself into others’ shoes in order to understand their feelings and behavior and respond accordingly. Empathy helps one develop others, challenge those who behave unfairly, and provide constructive feedback. It is nonjudgmental, whether one agrees or not with someone else.

Empathy often gets confused with sympathy. The latter focuses on the speaker so that statements often start with “I.” For example, “I’m sorry to hear about your accident,” or “My thoughts are with your family.” In contrast, empathetic statements start with “you,” as in the example, “You must be sad or happy to hear…”

One way to improve your empathy is to consider the subjective views of others and put yourself in their situations. The power of empathetic listening helps prevent projecting your own opinions and feelings, based on your personal past, onto someone else. It is the other person’s reality and therefore their truth that counts. To be empathetic does not mean to agree but to acknowledge another person’s perspective. The validity of another viewpoint is not judged, but its existence is admitted.

Become Socially Skilled

Social skills are learned in life and come in different phases, ranging from understanding others’ thoughts and feelings to being a good teammate, to showing strong negotiation skills. Strong social competencies help one not only to build and maintain relationships and networks but also to manage change.

Leaders need to understand people’s key interests so that they can influence them in positive ways. This is important because all internal and external stakeholders need to be aligned with what leaders are trying to achieve in order for it to happen. Being able to establish and maintain relationships with a wide range of people is crucial.

Improving social competence takes time, effort, and stamina.  Practice social skills whenever you see an opportunity at work, on the road, or in private life. For example, work to better understand others’ thoughts and feelings or to be a good teammate by asking for feedback. Other suggestions are to practice eye contact, practice role-plays, ask for and offer help, or practice negotiation.  A measurement for success could be the number and/or quality of one’s relationships/network or the way one deals with change.

The Keyword is Practice

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of emotional intelligence for successful leadership. Fernandez-Araoz from Egon Zehnder International discovered that CEOs who failed had been hired based on their IQ, business expertise, and drive but ended up being fired for lack of EQ; this followed the same pattern across the globe.

Turnovers in leadership often have less to do with decision-making or drive than with a lack of interpersonal skills. Self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills are the ingredients of emotional intelligence, which can be learned and/or improved. One simply needs to practice.

Chief Energizing Officer Isabelle Nüssli is a change, innovation and governance expert and performance coach. With personal experience in international business leadership, she supports executives & startups in navigating change and capitalizing on their full potential in today’s VUCA world. She is a two-time Amazon-bestselling author who has lived, worked and studied in many different parts of the world.

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