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In today’s world, successful entrepreneurs know that effective leadership requires development through diligent, intentional practice; and the best leaders among us invest in building their skill sets to improve their performance over time.
Many of us still focus on strengthening the traditional skills associated with leadership, such as effective decision-making, strategic thinking and managing others. But one of the most vital skill sets a leader can have is often the least understood: emotional intelligence.
What is emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence (EI) is your ability to recognize and understand emotions in yourself and others and use this ability to manage your behavior and relationships. It’s been shown to be more important than IQ in determining how well employees and leaders function in the workplace.
EI is largely broken down into four key areas: self-awareness (the ability to perceive your own emotions); self-management (the ability to manage your emotions); social awareness (the ability to understand others’ emotions); and relationship management (using those skills to manage interactions well).
The term, first coined by Yale University professors Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer in 1990, was defined as “the subset of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and actions.”
But it was actually Dr. Daniel Goleman who brought the concept into mainstream conversation around leadership more than 25 years ago. In his book — Emotional Intelligence: Why it Can Matter More than IQ — he noted that high levels of emotional intelligence help individuals improve working relationships, develop problem-solving skills and increase efficiency.
These benefits are crucial, as leading a successful business can be one of the most challenging endeavors you will undertake. Although marketing and sales strategies are essential for growth, your personality characteristics and habits can significantly impact your success.
So how can investing in EI make you a better leader and ultimately boost your business?
1. Investing in EI creates a stronger leadership style
You’ve probably heard it said that the good parent is authoritative, not authoritarian. In other words, effective parenting comes from leading by example and acting reasonably – not from arbitrary or inconsistent rules and a “because I said so” attitude. The same holds for leadership.
A leader buoyed by high EI is better able to embody an authoritative approach rather than an authoritarian one. There is give and take, and rules should be amended when appropriate.
2. If you have high EI, it catches on
Emotional intelligence is downright contagious. When anyone on a team exhibits EI, others follow suit, affected by the positivity and productivity of that individual. When that team member is the leader, you get a trickle-down effect that influences everyone on your team.
3. EI supports listening as opposed to countering
One of the significant weaknesses in authoritarian leadership is that there’s no room for conversation. When team members bring up a new point or even advocate for an approach that varies from that of the leader, they’re immediately countered by the leader, with their thoughts and aspirations dismissed.
A leader with strong EI understands that they can learn from their team. They have compassion and empathy. They attend to all views and counterviews and take the time to consider them carefully.
4. It can increase team engagement
Think of the most emotionally intelligent person you know. How do they react when troubles come their way? Chances are they roll with it. Of course, there are hard times, and they may feel troubled along the way, but they’re better equipped to maintain their equilibrium.
The high-EI leader is the same and creates an environment that reflects that. Team members, as a result, are better equipped to “roll with the punches.” When deadlines feel tight, when projects are not successful or when their workload feels extra-heavy, the high-EI team can adjust and maintain a healthy perspective. They remain engaged by their work and the team’s goals, no matter what.
5. EI creates a feedback loop
With stronger listening skills and keener social awareness of EI, a leader can tune into the social and team cues they need to excel and improve as a leader. This then creates a positive feedback loop for them, which they can use to hone their leadership skills, refine processes and support team members more effectively moving forward. In transformational leadership, where a leader’s personal traits are emphasized over rank, EI matters.
Ultimately, having high EI leads to better communication, better decision making, greater impact and better relationships. These are all key ingredients to a leader’s success.
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