While there’ll always be room for debate about the most effective styles of leadership, current thinking acknowledges the value of a leader’s ability to tune into their own and others’ emotions as a powerful tool for motivating and directing a team.
Emotional intelligence is shorthand for an awareness of self and others coupled with the knack of managing relationships at every level. In a professional setting, it’s not so much about allowing yourself to be led by your emotions but more a case of accepting that emotions do affect people’s decisions and actions and using that knowledge to help build a team that plays to everyone’s individual strengths.
Being able to map individual behaviours against workplace performance is a big step towards building an outstanding team. Without emotional intelligence, a leader simply isn’t able to effectively gauge the needs, desires and expectations of staff and can instead create an atmosphere of mistrust. Good leaders should be self-aware and appreciate how their communication skills (verbal and non-verbal) can impact the team.
So how can you learn to lead more effectively through engaging our emotional intelligence – and if you don’t think you score highly on the EQ scale, how can you work on your skills?
#1. Become more self-aware
If we haven’t acquired the habit of self-reflection, it makes it difficult to understand why we make the decisions we make, what we’re good at and where there’s room for improvement. Once you can weigh up the good with the bad and identify where a few small changes could make a big difference, you’ll automatically become a better leader.
Those with a clear understanding of their flaws, as well as their talents, can improve themselves and show others there’s no shame in acknowledging shortcomings as long as you’re prepared to work on them. Leaders with emotional intelligence are self‐aware: it’s a vital skill, and one which enables them to address problems with honesty and clarity.
#2. Reflect before acting
Self-control is an important component of emotional intelligence. Put simply, you need to understand how you feel before you react in a way that you may later regret. You will become a more effective leader if you have a better understanding of your own emotional response, so practise by noticing your emotions, thoughts, and behaviours as a situation unfolds. Map your own responses in order to understand how your emotions influence your behaviour and alter your perception of reality.
Leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence are able to stay in control rather than giving in to anger or frustration.
#3. Make sure you’re on the same page
Misunderstandings and poor communications are often the source of many problems in the workplace. If you don’t communicate effectively, you’ll be storing up frustration, bitterness, and confusion among your employees. The opposite is also true. Effective communication can tear down barriers and promote healthier and more resilient workplace relationships. If each team member recognises their role within the company and understand how they contribute to the corporate direction and vision, they’ll have a sense of worth and accomplishment – and will naturally be aligned with your goals.
It’s no good being self-aware if you don’t have the ability to empathise with your team members. Leaders with emotional intelligence are able to tune in to the emotions of others and can quickly put themselves in others’ shoes when looking at ways to inspire and motivate their workforce. It’s natural for employees to feel that their bosses can’t understand the pressures they face – like job insecurities or financial worries – so it’s important to demonstrate that you do care about their situation and value the contribution they make to the company’s success.
Make sure you give praise where it’s due and don’t leave your workers in any doubt about their worth – you’ll be repaid with trust and loyalty in return.
#5. Resolve conflict
In any workplace, there’s always the risk of simmering conflicts threatening to disrupt order and efficiency. Leaders with emotional intelligence should be able to confidently defuse conflicts and help colleagues to reach mutually acceptable resolutions. Being able to step back from the conflict and provide a balanced perspective without allowing resentments to cloud your judgement may be all you need to suggest a sensible outcome.
If staff know you’ll provide honest, thoughtful mediation without prejudice, you’ll gain the respect of everyone concerned.
#6. Build relationships
The best leaders make deep connections with their colleagues. You’re bound to have many other obligations and plenty of demands on your time but it’s crucial to build and maintain healthy and productive relationships if you want to consolidate the positive effects of emotional intelligence. Find some common ground with each of your employees and be aware that everything you say and do – including your tone of voice, expressions and body language – can have a positive or negative effect.
#7. Stay positive
Don’t allow negative self-talk to flourish. If you find yourself dwelling on the negative things your inner voice, make a conscious effort to stop them in their tracks. Re-focus your energies on reinforcing your professional motivation. Remember why you wanted to do the job in the first place and try to regain a sense of perspective.
If you can slow the momentum of negative thoughts, you’ll be able to look at them objectively and decide whether they’re real threats you need to address or baseless anxieties that need setting aside. Separating your worrying thoughts from actionable facts will help you to stay positive and communicate that confidence to your team.
To be a good leader, you need to have a deep understanding of how people’s emotions affect those around them. Simply put, if you can find an intuitive way to work with others, to demonstrate honesty and integrity – and expect it in return – you’ll be more successful in your role. Take time to work on your own self-awareness, encourage its development in others and you’ll build strong and trusting relationships that will endure.
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