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Let's Get Emotional

By Sandra Arnold, Head of Learning and Development, GroupM

Sandra Arnold, Head of Learning and Development, GroupM

If you regularly read leadership articles, you will have seen that there has been, and still is, a great deal of focus on emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence (or EQ) is the ability to identify, understand, and manage your own emotions and those of the people around you. The concept was first introduced by Daniel Goleman, who published a book on emotional intelligence in 1995, and his work has gone on to influence the way people think about emotions and human behavior.

If you are emotionally intelligent, you will have the ability to identify what you are feeling, know how to interpret your emotions, understand how your emotions impact others, regulate your own emotions, and manage other people’s emotions.

"So, the ability to understand what motivates others, relate in a positive manner, and build stronger bonds with others in the workplace inevitably makes for a better leader"

While it is not the sole predictor of leadership success, it is proven that EQ does play a very big part. In fact, research that compared outstanding leaders with average leaders found 90 percent of the difference was accounted for by emotional intelligence.

In our leadership workshops, I ask participants to spend five minutes describing the best leader they have ever worked for. The characteristics are captured and posted under either ‘technical skills’ or ‘soft skills.’ Without fail, the ‘soft skills’ section far outweighs the ‘tech skills’ as the best thing about that leader. Of course, we want a leader that is technically competent. However, this shows that we are more likely to respond to, or remember positively a leader that can connect with us emotionally.

In LinkedIn’s 2018 workplace learning report they note that even though we are in an age of automation and use of technology is accelerating, the number one priority for talent development is soft skills—an area that AI cannot replace.

Despite its advantages, there is still evidence that many business leaders see EQ as ‘airy fairy’ and ‘too emotional’ and they stick to the old school ‘control and command’ leadership style—indeed, even many of our current world leaders are very obviously lacking in emotional intelligence.

A Gallup study found that employees who had leaders with a high EQ were four times less likely to leave than those who had managers with low EQ. So it is good to know that while your IQ is largely fixed post-adolescence, your EQ is not a static factor and can change over time and even be developed in targeted areas.

How can you improve your EQ? According to Goleman, there are five fundamental areas of EQ.

Self-awareness: The ability to always know how you feel and how your emotions and actions can affect people around you.

As a leader, it means knowing your strengths and weaknesses and behaving with humility. You can improve in this area by noting your thoughts and emotions and recognize situations that trigger them both positively and negatively. Slow down and reflect when your emotions are high. Whatever the situation, you are always able to choose how you react.

Self-regulation: The ability to regulate yourself, stay in control, be flexible, and commit to personal accountability.

As a leader, it means rarely verbally attacking others, making rushed or emotional decisions, or compromising your values. You can improve in this area by practicing being calm, deep breath, and learn ways to relieve your stress that does not impact others. Know your values, what is important to you, and understand your own code of ethics. Be accountable, admit your mistakes, and face the consequences—you will soon earn the respect of those around you.

Motivation: The ability to enjoy what you do, remaining hopeful, positive, and optimistic.

As a leader, it means being able to motivate yourself to consistently move towards achieving your goals and maintaining high standards. You can improve in this area by reminding yourself why you are doing your job—we often forget what we love about our career and why we wanted to lead. Always look for the positives in a situation, however small.

Empathy: The ability to put yourself in someone else’s situation and understand their emotions.

As a leader, it means developing people on your team, challenging those who act unfairly, giving constructive feedback, and listening. You can improve in this area by taking the time to look at a situation from someone else’s perspective, pay attention to people’s body language, and remember to respond to feelings by actively addressing it when you notice them.

Social Skills: The ability to communicate effectively and openly and in managing change and resolving conflicts diplomatically.

As a leader, it means being open to hearing both bad and good news, being able to generate your team’s support, and excite and inspire them and setting an example with their own behavior. You can improve in this area by learning how to resolve conflict, ensure your communication skills are strong and remember to give praise appropriately and when it is earned.

So, the ability to understand what motivates others, relate in a positive manner, and build stronger bonds with others in the workplace inevitably makes for a better leader. Technology can not yet replace the human ability to learn, manage, and master our emotions, so it looks like leadership may well be safe from AI for the moment.

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