The global pandemic has tested the best of us. No matter where we work, or at what level, we’ve been asked to adapt to restrictions and changing regulations. This may have been easier at businesses with emotionally intelligent leaders at the helm. As we move forward with 2021, and aim to start anew, it’s good to know it is possible to learn and develop emotional intelligence. This article discusses why that’s important and how to improve EQ.
Why Emotional Intelligence Matters
The first article in this series on the importance of emotional intelligence for leaders outlined what we mean by emotional intelligence (EQ). Also, we discussed its value right now, when employees enduring a period of anxious uncertainty are seeking the support of a manager who can connect with them as individuals.
Over the last few decades there has been a lot of research into EQ and its value in business leadership. The benefits include:
- Better conflict management
- Greater adaptability
- More team solidarity
- Improved communication
- Lower employee turnover
- Elevated corporate culture
- Increased sales
In a study of Fortune 500 companies, sales people with “high emotional intelligence out performed those with medium to low EQ by 50%.”
At another Fortune 500 company, incorporating EQ assessments helped “stem brain drain and increase retention by 67%. The firm calculated it saved over $30 million by reducing recruiting and training costs and increasing sales through retention.”
The good news? It is possible to learn and develop EQ. The next section of this article rounds up several strategies to help grow your emotional intelligence.
How to Develop Emotional Intelligence
EQ leaders demonstrate empathy, welcome dissent, and help employees feel safe. By balancing their thoughts and feelings, they are able to create an inclusive environment where people are willing to take risks and take chances. So, how do you improve your ability to lead with emotional intelligence? Try these ideas.
Sometimes those in leadership positions lack honest input into how they are doing. Direct reports may worry about providing authentic insights. But emotional intelligence is founded on self-awareness. It can help to get feedback from direct reports, other supervisors, and colleagues. So, pay attention to that 360-degree evaluation!
Learn non-verbal cues
Social awareness can help a leader with EQ lower stress levels of those around them. Plus, subordinates working with a socially aware manager can feel more empowered at work. The more practice you have in focusing on other people, particularly what they are not saying, can help you understand the clues about how employees are really feeling about a project or plan.
Practice active listening
Emotionally intelligent managers don’t just hear what people are saying, they are actively listening. The distinction is that the active listener is hearing and processing what is said. They are not already thinking about what they will say in response. The active listener is focused on what is said and what it means for the person saying it.
Take a feelings check
You might keep a journal and stop throughout the day to write down how you are feeling. Or simply set a calendar reminder you to take a breath and check in on your feelings at that moment. Knowing your own mental and emotional state can help you interact in more productive ways. For example, being aware you are feeling angry or stressed can prompt you to put off a conversation with a colleague that could be heated. You can come back to it when you’re feeling more grounded.
Allow yourself a break
It’s OK to take time to pause and reflect. Being a leader is complex work. You can feel pulled in many directions at any given moment. Taking a moment to yourself can recharge your thinking and emotional brain to perform better. Getting up and going for a walk around the office (mask on, right now) can give you an outlet too. On a larger scale, make sure you’re keeping a healthy work-life balance in mind.
Explore your motives and values
Consider why you’re doing what you’re doing. What drew you to the role you’re in? Remembering what you love about your career can help improve your motivation. This, in turn, positions you to better motivate others. Connecting your motives to your core values can also provide a strong foundation for your self-awareness in your interactions with others.
Mary Kay Ash, founder of the cosmetics empire is credited with saying, “there are two things people want more than money: Recognition and Praise.” Praising others can have a positive impact on their self-esteem, motivation, and productivity.
The key is to offer praise that helps people feel truly recognized. “Good job” is vague and can help some. Yet, aim for specific gratitude that shows employees you see their important role in the organization and truly appreciate their efforts. This can inspire them to go that extra mile for your business.
Practice, practice, practice
Like any other skill that’s worth learning, emotional intelligence is going to take time to perfect. You can’t expect to excel at it just because you’ve read an article or two. EQ requires you to pay attention to how you react to people or stressful situations as well as how your reactions affect others.
Now that you have some strategies to learn and develop emotional intelligence, your leadership is sure to benefit. As businesses are looking to make changes and bounce back from the COVID-19 crisis, there’s no better time to make the effort to grow your EQ. That said, the final article in our series will share some cautions to keep in mind as you incorporate emotionally intelligent leadership into your daily interactions with direct reports.