The Importance Of Emotional Intelligence In Leadership

In order to lead, one must first look within.

Good leaders can be defined by their emotional intelligence, which according to Psychology Today, requires an individual to manage both their own emotions and the emotions of his or her team. It might sound easy, but it’s not.

A December 2014 report in Forbes magazine explains that emotional intelligence is the act of understanding and responding to one’s own emotions and dealing with and overcoming stress, while knowing that their words and actions at a critical moment will directly impact the overall composure of the team.

Essentially, there are four key components of emotional intelligence: Self-assessment, self-management, empathy and/or social awareness and relationship management.

Self-awareness might seem like an intangible quality, but it’s actually a cornerstone of success, according to Mark Connelly, a counseling psychologist and certified life coach based in Cape Town, South Africa.

Connelly’s website, Change Management Coach, delves into issues such as self-awareness to help individuals learn how to control their own emotions to avoid letting their emotions dictate their actions. The act of being self-aware is to know oneself intuitively and to understand and control the emotional responses that bubble forth depending on circumstances. Imagine an athlete who is unable to control his or her emotions at the height of a game. How can they expect to lead a group to victory if they are unable to focus and quiet any frustration, anger or anxiety that they might feel?

Self-awareness is something that people can develop by honestly assessing their own strengths, talking to other people about the qualities that they see them exhibit, both good and bad, and taking the time to reflect, often daily, on personal successes and failures and what caused each to occur.

Successful leaders often are the most self-aware, even if that quality is not properly discussed or sought after by companies seeking to hire someone to lead. Successful executives, according to Forbes, who recognize their own shortcomings, often make informed hires to surround themselves with capable employees who can fill in those important gaps. Those executives then find success because they are able to listen to the people they’ve hired in order to identify the best solution – not just their own solution – to a given problem.

Self-management also is critical to emotional intelligence because it defines our ability to adapt quickly to change and handle problems when they arise.

According to Connelly, we all have the ability to choose the best response to a given situation and not just react emotionally without thinking.

Some key components of self-management include the ability to be honest and act accordingly when making decisions, to be flexible, even when working alongside individuals who approach things differently, to be optimistic even when dealing with change and champion the good in others and taking decisive action when required.

Individuals who excel at self-management understand their own emotional triggers and often have a plan for dealing with and overcoming negative reactions that others might succumb to. By identifying and addressing one’s own emotions, you can positively impact others and recognize when everyone needs to step away and breathe before continuing on with a project.

Leadership for Life, a professional blog on WordPress.com, explains that leadership has two factions, external and internal, that shape how a leader conducts daily activities to accomplish goals while recognizing their own habits, attitudes, and emotions.

Externally, good leaders know how to align others in pursuit of a common goal while promoting accountability and a desire in others to succeed. Internally, those same leaders understand the reality of a situation, focus and execute appropriately.

In short, act as you want others to act and they will follow.

This social awareness, understanding how a workforce is feeling, for example, allows good leaders to respond to the needs of his or her team while helping shape their collective focus in a positive, necessary fashion.

Leaders who exhibit social awareness often are empathetic to their employees, cognizant of the dynamics of the group they are directing and conscious of the result that clients and/or customers expect, according to Connelly.

Social awareness can be developed through listening and effectively communicating. Good leaders both hear what is being said and take into account how it is being conveyed. They understand when a team member is being affected and they recognize how that individual’s emotional state might affect their own.

Finally, the last component to emotional intelligence is managing relationships, leading in a way that allows a connection with the people who are working hard to achieve a goal in a way that makes them feel supported and appreciated.

Relationship management can be especially critical during times of change. It’s not just an outward expression of friendliness but a conditioned response that will help a leader dictate how an employee or employees respond to a particular action or impediment.

By managing relationships, good leaders can achieve a desired result when interacting with others, determining a specific outcome and achieving that outcome without sacrificing one’s own needs or the needs of the company.

Some leaders undermine their own success or the successful completion of a project by losing sight of the greater goal. They place their own importance above the team’s, they allow insecurity and negativity to poison the mindset of the group, their try to micro-manage and control their team at a time they should be championing innovation and creativity or they fail to recognize their own shortcomings and refuse to ask for and accept help.

Being a successful leader and being an emotionally intelligent leader are not one in the same. The best leaders, those that inspire loyalty and achieve results, often do so because they aren’t afraid to look inward and promote unity by encouraging and extolling in others the best qualities and emotional composure that they demand of themselves.

This is a guest post by Marwa Hijazi. Marwa is a Web Presence Coordinator who writes about business topics related to leadership and management on behalf of Bisk Education, a facilitator of education programs online for universities such as Notre Dame and Villanova. Connect with her on Twitter @marwa_hijazi and Google plus.

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