October 2018

Leadership and emotional intelligence

  • By Dr Ali Burston, Director, Metisphere Business Consulting

The secret to developing leaders of the future starts with a timeless scientific concept, emotional intelligence (EQ). This article outlines strategies for developing EQ competence.

What is the future of work? When we ask this question, we generally think of artificial intelligence and obsolete degrees, but when I think of the future of work, I think about developing leaders of the future. Leaders that are highly capable of leading teams remotely, flexibly and innovatively. How are we developing our leaders to practice agility to adapt to a changing workforce? How are we embracing human innovation and developing management teams that guide and mentor with decreasing face-time and fluid working hours? What does the future of work look like for leaders amid these ‘future of work’ challenges? The answer has been in front of us for a long time, and only now is it coming back to the forefront: emotional intelligence.

What is emotional intelligence?

‘As work becomes more complex and collaborative, companies where people work together best have a competitive edge.’

As an organisational psychologist I have seen, experienced and heard many people explain to me the same scenario repeatedly … ’They have the technical capability, but on a management level they really lack the people side of things.’ First, emotional intelligence does not mean merely ‘being nice’. Second, emotional intelligence does not mean giving free rein to feelings – ‘just let it all hang out’. Third, our emotional intelligence is not fixed genetically, and it continues to develop as we go through life and learn from our experiences.

Emotional intelligence (also known as EQ, as in IQ) is the ability to make healthy choices based on accurately identifying, understanding and managing your feelings and those of others. For success at the highest levels, in leadership positions, emotional competence accounts for virtually the entire advantage.

‘The ability to listen, influence, collaborate and get people motivated and working together well can produce greater productivity, job satisfaction and retention.’

The importance of EQ increases the higher you go in the organisation as technical competencies are utilised less and more time is spent practising strategy, making decisions, motivating, engaging and inspiring people. Studies have tracked people’s level of emotional intelligence through their life span and found that their level of emotional intelligence improves as they grow more adept at handling their own emotions and impulses, at motivating themselves, and at crafting their empathy and social dexterity (Goleman, 2004).

‘Analyses conducted by dozens of experts in over five hundred corporations, government agencies, and non-profit organisations worldwide have independently arrived at remarkably a similar conclusion: IQ takes second position to EQ in determining outstanding job performance’ (Goleman, 2004).

Improving EQ starts with understanding two primary terms: personal and social competences. Personal competence is made up of your self-awareness and self-management skills, which focuses more on you individually than on your interactions with other people. Personal competence is your ability to stay aware of your emotions and manage your tendencies (Bradberry and Greaves, 2009). People high in self-awareness are remarkably clear in their understanding of what they do well, what motivates and satisfies them, and which people and situations push their buttons. What are your triggers? How do you handle pressure? How do you self-regulate, or practise self-control?

Developing personal and social competence

Here are six strategies for developing your EQ personal competence:

  1. know who and what pushes your buttons
  2. stop and ask yourself why you do the things you do
  3. get to know yourself under stress
  4. visualise yourself succeeding
  5. breathe right
  6. set aside time in your day for problem solving.

Social competence is made up of your social awareness and relationship management skills. Social competence is your ability to understand other people’s moods, behaviour and motives to improve the quality of your relationships. Instead of looking inward to learn about and understand yourself, social awareness is looking outward to learn and appreciate others (Bradberry and Greaves, 2009). Do you accurately listen and observe others in meetings? How do you stay focused and absorb critical information?

Here are six strategies for developing your EQ social competence:

  1. greet people by name
  2. practise the art of listening
  3. step into their shoes
  4. take feedback well
  5. practice empathy and acknowledge the other person’s feelings
  6. explain your decisions; don’t just make them.

As we look to the future of work and seek to redefine what work is, we need to change the traits needed to excel. Creating high-performing and innovative leaders that practice agility to adapt to a changing environment is imperative. Leadership development programs must include evidence-based emotional intelligence coaching and awareness platforms to embrace human innovation and develop leaders that practice agility in a changing and competitive work environment. This is the leader of the future, and this is the future of work.

Feature image: Jezper/Shutterstock.com.

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