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The What, Why, and How of Developing Emotional Intelligence for Leaders

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Emotional intelligence for leaders is what makes the difference between being good and being great which is why developing it should be a key priority for organizations. 

Are you sitting down? Good. Because this will floor you.

A study comparing outstanding managers with average managers found that 90% of the difference was accounted for by emotional intelligence for leaders. And yet 30% of hiring managers feel most employers put too little emphasis on emotional intelligence (also known as EQ) during the hiring process. 

The facts are clear: there’s a disconnect happening, and it could be compromising your ability to effectively lead your team. 

There’s good news, though. Emotional intelligence for leaders can be developed, and we’ll tell you how.  

But first, let’s back up.  

What is Emotional Intelligence for Leaders?  

The term “emotional intelligence” refers to your ability to recognize, understand, and manage your own emotions as well as the emotions of your team members. 

To get a better understanding of the concept of emotional intelligence for leaders, it can generally be categorized into five main components: 

  1. Self-Awareness: Being self-aware means knowing how you feel and how your emotions and actions affect those around you. In a leadership role, this also means having a clear picture of your strengths and weaknesses. 
  2. Self-regulation: This boils down to staying in control of your emotions. Leaders who are adept at self-regulating rarely verbally attack others, make rushed or emotional decisions, stereotype people, or compromise their values. 
  3. Motivation: Self-motivated leaders work consistently toward their goals and have extremely high standards for the quality of their work. 
  4. Empathy: As a leader, having empathy is critical in your ability to manage a successful team or organization. In fact, according to a survey by Businessolver, 92% of employees believe showing empathy is an important way to advance employee retention. Empathetic leaders have the ability to put themselves in someone else’s shoes. They help develop their people, challenge others who are acting unfairly, , and listen to those who need it. 
  5. Social Skills: Leaders with great social skills also tend to be great communicators. They lead by example, are open to hearing both good and bad news, and are experts in getting their team to support them and be excited about a new mission or project. They are great at managing change and resolving conflicts diplomatically. 

While many psychologists believe that EQ is an inherent personality trait, it’s also widely believed that it can be learned and strengthened.  

Why is Emotional Intelligence for Leaders Important? 

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A staggering 65% of employers believe EQ is just as important as IQ, meaning that, as a leader, your ability to manage your own emotions and those of your team members is as important as your ability to think analytically and use logic to solve problems and challenges. 

But why is this? 

Emotional intelligence for leaders is vital because it allows you to: 

  • Express yourself effectively 
  • Control your emotions and avoid reactivity  
  • Understand, interpret, and respond to the way people are feeling 
  • Channel your own emotions and the emotions of others in a positive and productive way 

And that’s why it separates the good leaders from the great ones. 

7 Ways to Develop Emotional Intelligence for Leaders 

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So, the case has been made for why emotional intelligence for leaders is a key attribute and that it can be strengthened and honed. 

But now the question becomes, “how?” 

Here are seven ways to develop emotional intelligence for leaders.  

1. Practice Mindfulness 

Mindfulness is defined as the ability to be fully present in and engaged with the current moment–our thoughts, feelings, sensations–without distraction or judgment.  

So, how can mastering mindful practices enhance your EQ as a leader? By adding an extra step to your typical process of responding to situations—whether positive, negative, stressful, or otherwise. 

For example, rather than having an experience and defaulting to an immediate emotional response, being mindful will allow you to have an experience, pause to be aware of the situation, analyze potential reactions, assess how the situation is impacting others, and then to respond consciously.  

Mindfulness allows you to both manage your own emotions more effectively as well as to pause and assess your team members’ emotions, in turn empowering you to handle the situation more effectively.  

To develop this skill, you can utilize mindfulness exercises, such as: 

  • Paying Attention: Try to take a few minutes each day to focus on experiencing your environment with all of your senses — touch, sound, sight, smell and taste. For example, when you eat a favorite food, take the time to smell, taste and truly enjoy it. 

  • Live in the Moment: Try to intentionally bring an open, accepting and discerning attention to everything you do.  

  • Breathing Exercises: There are a ton of breathing exercises you can utilize to both relax and to become more mindful. Try the 4-7-8 method, for example, where you sit in a comfortable place, breathe in through your nose for a count of four, hold that breath to the count of seven, and exhale through your mouth to the count of eight.  

  • Body Scan Meditation: Lay on your back with your legs extended and arms at your sides, palms facing up. Focus your attention slowly and deliberately on each part of your body, in order, from toe to head or head to toe. Be aware of any sensations, emotions or thoughts associated with each part of your body. 

2Listen Actively  

Too often, especially in our busy working lives, we don’t truly listen to one another. Instead, we simply sit back and wait for our turn to speak. 

One of the best things you can do as a leader is to truly hear your team members by listening actively to them. It’ll allow you to understand how they’re feeling, and it will also let them know that you’re present and invested in what they have to say. 

You can practice active listening by: 

  • Striving to Learn: Approach conversations with the goal of learning rather than informing. 

  • Avoid Multitasking: Give your undivided attention to the person you’re talking to. Don’t multitask. Stay present in the conversation. 

  • Drill Down to the Details: Proactively ensure you’ve got all the detailsAsk direct, specific questions that focus on the conversation – things like, “How did you come to this conclusion?” “How would this work?” Or “Tell me more about…” 

  • Summarize and Fact Check: Reiterate points to drill them into your memory. Fact-check things you feel unclear on or don’t understand. Follow up on points they’ve made to ensure you’ve got it right. 

If you feel like this is a skill you’d like to develop, check out our Clear Communication training program which focuses on helping you and your team to become effective communicators and to develop both verbal, written, and non-verbal communication skills.  

3. Enhance Your Conflict Management Abilities  

Conflict is an inevitable aspect of the workplace environment. But part of developing emotional intelligence for leaders is honing your ability to manage conflicts in a product way.  

This involves: 

  • Understanding common catalysts for conflict, such as differences in workstyles, lack of communication, misunderstandings, colleague clashes, misperceptions, or generational differences 
  • Looking for common conflict behaviors, such as being overly competitive or acting inexplicably angry 
  • Deciding what action needs to be taken based on the type of conflict that’s taking place 
  • Channeling conflict into a positive learning outcome 

To learn more, check out our comprehensive guide on this topic: 4 Impactful Strategies for Conflict Resolution in the Workplace.  

4. Get to Know Your Team Members Personally 

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Studies have shown that 70% of employees say that having friends at work is the most crucial element to a happy work life. 

But why is this? 

Because when people have personal bonds, they know, understand, and respect each other in a deeper way. 

This is why getting to know the people you manage in a person way is a critical component of developing emotional intelligence for leaders.  

In doing so, you’ll get a better understanding of who people are and what’s going on in their personal lives. This, in turn, can help you be more cognizant and aware of how they’re feeling and why. 

If you’re looking for ways to bond with your colleagues on a personal level, team building activities are a great way to do it. You can consider team building activities like Getting to Know You, a social icebreaker activity where your group will work through challenges that task them with getting to know their colleagues better—from secret talents to passions and more. 

Or, you can gather your team (in-person or virtually) and work your way through our list of The 164 Best Team Building Icebreaker Questions for Work

5. Understand Your Team Members’ Strengths and Weaknesses  

Speaking of getting to know your colleagues better, this idea also extends to understanding their strengths and weaknesses. 

By getting a deeper understanding of where your colleagues excel versus areas where they may struggle, as well as the specific ways in which they prefer to work, you can be more cognizant of opportunities to set them up for success in a team dynamic and to avoid putting them in situations that wear them down. 

There are a few great assessments you can use to get a deeper understanding of your team members, including:  

  • Discovering Workstyles with DiSC: This training program will teach you how your team’s DiSC assessments can help you identify distinct personal workstyles among colleagues and enhance collaboration and communication by providing insight into how different workstyles work best together. 

  • Self-Discovery with Myers-BriggsWith this assessment tool, you can help your team (and yourself) to identify work environments and scenarios where they thrive and tasks at which they excel, as well as those where they may be challenged. 

The better you know and understand your team members, the more you can lead them with empathy and find ways to support their wellbeing at work.  

6. Seek Feedback Often 

Every leader has to give feedback to their team members. It come with the territory. But the most impactful and emotionally intelligent leaders understand that seeking feedback from their team is equally important. 

Why? 

Because, by seeking feedback from your team, you can both build trusting bonds but also get a real understanding of how your team are feeling and identify areas where you can make tweaks and modifications in order to be the best possible leader. 

We’d recommend seeking structured and formal feedback from your team on at least a quarterly basis, and you can consider getting their input either in-person or using a survey tool like SurveyMonkey

7. Invest in Development Programs 

The best way to develop emotional intelligence for leaders is to make it an ongoing process and to invest in it accordingly.  

There are a ton of incredible professional training programs available that can help leaders to become more emotionally intelligent. For example, at Outback Team Building and Training, we offer an Emotional Intelligence leadership training and development program that will help you to: 

  • Increase self-awareness 
  • Learn to self-regulate behaviors 
  • Develop better social skills for leadership 
  • Use emotionally intelligent motivators  
  • Develop a greater sense of empathy 

The numbers don’t lie: the difference between good leaders and great ones is defined by their level of emotional intelligence. And given the impact that leaders can have on the success of an organization, this is an important area of focus for businesses of all types.   


Learn More About How to Develop Emotional Intelligence for Leaders 

If you’ve got questions about how you can support the development of emotional intelligence in your leaders, reach out to an Employee Engagement Consultant.   


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