And while AI is important and interesting, I’m going to ask you to put a pin in that so we can talk about another type of intelligence: emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence doesn’t involve bots or machine learning, but it still could have a huge impact on your job, your success, and your happiness at work. By now, we all know that success isn’t just about what you know — it’s about how you work with the people around you, too. And whether this involves networking, an inter-departmental project, or managing direct reports, other people will have a huge impact on if you get your next promotion, new job, or have opportunities presented to you.
In this post, we’ll run through a quick review of emotional intelligence — what it is, why it’s important, and how to be an emotionally intelligent leader at work.
What Is Emotional Intelligence?
The term was first defined in 1990 by two behavioral researchers named Peter Salavoy and John Mayer, and it was more broadly popularized by Daniel Goleman in his 1996 book, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ.
Emotional intelligence is defined as “a form of social intelligence that involves the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking and action.”
So, what does that actually mean, in plain English?
Emotional intelligence, or EQ (a play on intelligence quotient, or IQ), refers to your ability to handle emotions — your own, and those of others. It’s the ability to recognize and understand your emotions, having control over them, and help others do the same. And as you can imagine, these people skills can be just as important to professional (and personal) success as technical skills.
In fact, there’s actually no correlation between a high level of cognitive intelligence (IQ) and a high level of emotional intelligence (EQ). Psychologist Daniel Goleman thinks that the measurement of IQ is too restrictive and doesn’t accurately reflect if an individual will be successful, in their career or life in general.
Goleman and Dr. Richard Boyatzis created a framework of behavioral qualities that demonstrate EQ. In this post, we’ll explore 10 of these behaviors that leaders can use to show EQ and foster it in their teams.
8 Qualities That Demonstrate Emotional Intelligence in Leadership
Are you flexible to changes on your team and within your organization? Are you resilient when confronted with conflict and difficulty? Are you able to quickly manage the expectations and needs of both the people you report to and the direct reports on your team?
Adaptability is a key trait of emotionally intelligent leaders. Whether you’re dealing with a bad month of metrics, an interpersonal conflict between team members, or a company crisis that requires an all hands response, leaders need to be able to quickly react and respond to new and changing information. They also need to be able to respond to change with compassion and diplomacy — even if the changes might not be to their preference. Grudges, overly emotional reactions, and negative one-off complaints are unproductive, can contribute to low morale, and are generally signs of low EQ.
Leaders should set examples for emotionally intelligent adaptability by encouraging teams to present constructive feedback in team meetings or 1:1s. Leaders should also acknowledge pain points that come with change and encourage team members to brainstorm solutions and techniques for quick recovery.
Are you able to motivate team members and people around you in the workplace? Can you change the mood with a joke or positive outlook on a tough situation? Are you able to help someone stuck in a negative mindset see a different perspective?
Just like adaptability, optimism is critical for leaders to motivate and uplift a team during tough times at work. Now, optimism doesn’t mean you’re relentlessly positive, no matter what. It means you can see the bigger picture of a difficult situation or bad mood to get perspective and keep moving forward — instead of getting bogged down in negativity.
Leaders should encourage team members to look at all sides of a problem to gain perspective, come up with creative solutions to challenges, and help point it out for them when they can’t do it themselves.
Do you try to identify and solve problems before they arise? Do you volunteer to make things better for your peers and your team? Do you always follow up on conflicts and questions brought to you by team members? Do you not only complete the asks of your role, but look for ways to get even better results?
The ability — and eagerness — to take initiative is another sign of emotional intelligence in leadership. In fact, doing the bare minimum can sometimes be perceived as selfish — even if you are technically getting your job done every day.
Leaders with a high EQ seek out ways to improve and excel — and that includes helping team members take initiative, too. Leaders should identify and cultivate strengths in their team members and help them get to the point where they’re confident and capable enough to take initiative, too. Other examples include volunteering to take on additional work, team projects, or simply helping others complete tasks in the office.
4) Conflict Resolution
Do you moderate interpersonal conflict discretely and effectively? Do you help team members navigate disagreement or clashing priorities in a way that’s respectful to everyone involved? Do you advocate for your team to make sure members feel supported and heard?
Let’s face it — if you work on a team, conflict is bound to happen, even among the closest of colleagues. When that happens, leaders have to help come to solutions that make everyone involved feel heard, respected, and resolved.
Emotionally intelligent leaders should provide team members with plenty of opportunities to talk — in person, via phone or video call, or as a team — to resolve issues and air challenges before they devolve into unhappiness and dissatisfaction. Leaders should empower team members with conflict solutions, new processes, and more of that adaptability to prevent future problems before they arise. And sometimes, the greatest conflict resolution a leader can offer is letting a team member vent and get a problem off their chest.
5) Professional Development
Do you encourage team members to learn and cultivate new skills? Do you help team members identify strengths and target areas of improvement? Do you deliver constructive and actionable feedback? And when the time comes, do you advocate for team members to seek new opportunities, even if those opportunities aren’t working with you anymore?
As Saturday Night Live writer and actor Tina Fey once said, “in most cases, being a good boss means hiring talented people and then getting out of their way.” She’s obviously a very emotionally intelligent leader, and we encourage leaders to take it a step further than that for best results.
Hire talented people and develop their skills and talents so they’re the best they can be — even if that potentially means losing them as a team member. Emotionally intelligent leaders can prioritize the development of others over their own desire to have the best team possible. These leaders should help employees identify talents, improve on strengths and weaknesses, and help team members take on new opportunities they might not without a leader’s encouragement.
Do you put yourself in teammates’ shoes when addressing challenges and problems with them? Do you acknowledge others’ feelings and opinions and respond to them? Do you share your own emotions and worries with team members to help them feel understood?
Effective leaders must be empathetic in order to also be emotionally intelligent. Empathy means not just listening to team members, but making them feel heard and understood, too. Leaders should constantly seek to understand the perspective of their team members to effectively communicate changes, feedback, and news — both good and bad.
Empathetic leaders can deliver feedback in team members’ preferred method of communication, tailor meetings and communication according to different personalities and styles, and adapt their leadership style to what’s most effective for motivating and helping the larger group.
Do teammates confide in you? Do you know when to keep information confidential, and when to escalate it through the proper channels? Do teammates feel comfortable bringing concerns to you when they arise?
Trust isn’t just about keeping secrets your team members confide in you — it’s also about creating an environment of mutual trust where team members feel supported and comfortable.
Emotionally intelligent leaders should provide team members with multiple avenues for providing feedback, airing grievances, and voicing questions or concerns — without feeling vulnerable or wrong for doing so. They should encourage team members to support and rely on each other, work collaboratively, and share knowledge and skills for better team outcomes.
Do you analyze your strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for improvement on a regular basis? Do you engage with your direct reports and your supervisors to get 360-degree professional feedback? Do you set monthly, quarterly, or annual goals for improvement and personal development?
In addition to all of the above, one of the most meaningful ways leaders can cultivate their emotional intelligence to drive better team outcomes is to pause and reflect on themselves. It can be challenging to critique yourself, which is where collaborative feedback comes in. Emotionally intelligent leaders constantly seek feedback from peers and other leaders to analyze and strategize how to constantly improve — in meetings, 1:1s, and by seeking to learn from other sources.
These are only eight examples of emotional intelligence in leadership, but focusing on these traits will help leaders cultivate emotional intelligence in team members to help them be as productive and successful as possible. For more information on improving and cultivating emotional intelligence in leadership, download HubSpot co-founder and CTO Dharmesh Shah’s ebook here.
What signs of emotional intelligence do you value? Share with us in the comments below.