If we had to write a list of traits often associated with effective leaders, a few standouts would likely be at the top of most of our lists—confidence, humility, empathy, conviction, and calmness under pressure to name a few.
The one trait that all of these sub-traits have in common (and seem to hint at) is emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence (or EQ) is a term that is getting more attention as of late and can be used as an umbrella term to describe the ability to understand and regulate our emotions. It is also about agility; that is the ability to read a situation and bring the right EQ traits to what the situation needs at the moment.
While intelligence in the traditional sense has always been valued, emotional intelligence has been recognized as a determinant of an effective leader, but with good reason! Executives with high EQs are often able to resolve conflicts, problem-solve with less personal bias, build relationships and connections, and keep cool under pressure. It’s no wonder that recruiters and employers are beginning to value EQ as much as IQ in their hiring or promotion processes.
In this blog post, we’ll break down the importance of EQ in leadership and the benefits of evaluating our own EQ to better lead teams, benefit our organizations, and even improve our own quality of life.
EQ in Leadership
What makes a leader? When we consider the leaders in our society—heads of state, military leaders, executives, activists, and thought leaders—we can find some commonalities. Many of them are valued and elected or placed in their positions for their keen awareness and ability to respond thoughtfully and calmly to different situations.
This is where emotional intelligence comes in. Emotional intelligence allows leaders to understand their emotions, and rather than being overcome by them, use them to make sound decisions. It is not a lack of emotion and stoicism, but rather a skill in awareness and channeling. Seeing that our own emotions are often contagious and can “rub off” on the people that surround us, it is crucial for the leaders of our organizations to have high EQs as they are exposed to different groups, teams, and situations throughout their day-to-day lives.
Consider today’s dynamic, fast-paced, and sometimes chaotic way of life. Now, imagine if our leaders responded to this ever-changing world with panic, impulsiveness, and reactiveness. Odds are their demeanor would be contagious to the people who surround them and make for an ineffective, frenzied team.
Conversely, imagine if leaders reacted with no emotion and a total lack of empathy. In this scenario, the people surrounding them would feel unheard, underappreciated, and disengaged. The leaders’ teams would likely be rendered ineffective by a lack of passion or motivation.
It is up to effective leaders to understand their own emotions and those of their teams to better regulate and maintain a healthy flow. Whether we expect them or not, emotions are a part of today’s workplaces, and businesses and leaders with high EQs are most equipped to lead through them while managing and spreading their outlooks onto their teams.
The EQ Assessments
One of the pivotal contributing factors to EQ is self-awareness—which is also key to improving our EQ. In order to be aware of our gaps in emotional intelligence we must first understand our current levels across the four major categories: self-awareness, social awareness, self-regulation, and relationship management.
As with traditional IQ, understanding our own levels of EQ starts with taking an assessment or test. My favorite assessment brings in the DiSC® personality piece to testing EQ, it is called Agile EQ™. After taking the assessment, we can determine in which areas we need to improve and in which areas we have strong emotional intelligence. This is also the first step in improving our self-awareness category as it helps us become aware of how we handle our emotions.
Organizations can also benefit from having executives take these assessments and by incorporating them into hiring or promotion practices. A high EQ is a key indicator of an effective leader. Organizations considering a specific candidate should make sure this area of intelligence is developed before making hiring decisions.
Self Awareness and Self Regulation
While social awareness and relationship management are the areas that involve social competence or people skills, self-awareness and self-regulation involve personal competence. These are areas in which we can improve by simply understanding ourselves and learning our strengths and weaknesses.
High EQ in these two areas can be infectious and translate to high EQ in the teams that surround us. Leaders can greatly improve their teams’ EQs through leading by example and incorporating a few of the following practices into their leadership style.
- Journaling daily and paying attention to moods and emotions
- “Sleeping on” big decisions
- Taking deep breaths or practicing breathwork throughout the day
- Writing down the emotions you are feeling when upset or angry
- Pausing for three seconds before responding to high-stakes questions or comments
- Separating yourself from negativity—this includes negative mindsets, the news, social media, gossip, or bad attitudes.
In Dr. Susan David, Ph. D’s book, Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Change, and Thrive in Work & Life, Dr. David explores the idea of emotional intelligence and how we can hone our own emotional agility for better responses in a variety of situations. She shares four key concepts for improving emotional agility:
- Showing Up: Employ curiosity when examining your emotions. Instead of ignoring or suppressing difficult feelings, embrace them and treat them as data points to help improve self-awareness.
- Stepping Out: Detach from your emotions and see them for what they are—just thoughts, just emotions. When you begin to see emotions as tools, they become far more useful for achieving desired results.
- Walking Your Why: Let your core beliefs always keep you moving in the right direction. These can help anchor you when you experience difficult situations and prevent you from acting out of pure emotion or impulsivity.
- Moving On: Start small as you begin to improve your emotional agility. Small deliberate tweaks to your mindset, motivation, and habits in ways that are infused with your values can make a powerful difference in your life. The idea is to find the balance between challenge and competence so that you’re neither complacent nor overwhelmed.
A high EQ is a critical trait to develop in order to become an effective, empathetic, and respected leader. Start by assessing your own EQ levels by contacting me for an access code to the online Agile EQ™ assessment and incorporating EQ-building practices into your own lifestyle. It would also be beneficial to encourage members of your team to evaluate their own EQs to build an infectious level of emotional maturity and intelligence in your entire crew. Consider having all of your team members take the Agile EQ™ and I can facilitate a workshop to help create action plans for improvement around EQ.
This eBook explores the connection between agility and emotional intelligence, the perceived impact it has on individual and organizational performance, and a proven methodology for development at scale: Everything DiSC® Agile EQ™