The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

Do you know what your EQ is? Most people would agree that you need a certain level of intelligence to run a small business. But it may not be the kind of brainpower you’re thinking of. Successful leaders also need a high EQ or “emotional intelligence.” It’s the ability to take your business know-how and marry it with people smarts to make better decisions. Learn more about emotional intelligence in leadership and how to use it to grow your small business.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Not sure what emotional intelligence is? The term first surfaced in the 1990s when it was identified by two psychology professors, John Mayer and Peter Salovey. They defined it as “the ability to perceive and manage your own and others’ emotions.”

So how does that relate to business? You can have the smartest business ideas but unless you understand how your people might react to it, you may not achieve the success you crave.

For example, emotionally intelligent leaders can read the room during a discussion. They notice if one individual is frowning when a certain point is made. They also recognize that that individual may not be comfortable volunteering an opposing viewpoint. So the leader monitors their own behavior, stops talking, and asks that employee what they think. The conversation that results helps the leader make more balanced decisions.

Raising Your EQ

The good news about emotional intelligence is that you can learn how to improve it. Research suggests that these qualities are signs of a high EQ:

  • Self-Awareness – Before they can understand others, leaders need to look in the mirror first. What triggers you to act a certain way? How do others view your leadership? What strengths can you capitalize on and what weaknesses need attention? This short quiz from the Global Leadership Foundation is a good starting point. But you should also make a regular practice to solicit feedback from your team to take your emotional temperature.
  • Adaptability – Things don’t always go as planned in a business. The shipment that didn’t come in, a glitch in your technology, or trouble with an employee can all stall your progress. Set an example by acknowledging the pain point and monitoring how you and others react to it. Then model ways to address it. That can mean quickly identifying causes not placing blame, then brainstorming to find solutions.
  • Empathy – This is the ability to walk in another person’s shoes. It’s understanding and acknowledging how someone feels, both positive and negative. Leaders who understand what makes someone tick get an insight into what motivates them. Remember, it works the other way too. Leaders need to communicate their own feelings to help others understand their own motivation.
  • Big-Picture Outlook – We can’t see the forest for the trees. That’s what can happen to teams who get so bogged down in the details that they can’t steer their way around a roadblock. Leaders who recognize that can help the team get their perspective back. They can reframe the issue by looking at the big picture. Then the task becomes finding a solution rather than rehashing the negative.
  • Stewardship – Leaders understand that when one person succeeds, everyone moves forward. So they look for ways to steward talent in their business. That might include training opportunities. Or it could be as simple as giving an employee a new responsibility that develops (and recognizes) their talents.
  • Running a successful business involves more than business know-how. It also requires emotional intelligence. Developing your EQ can be an important tool to create a healthy and productive workplace.

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