The emotionally intelligent leader

Because your thoughts and emotions impact your organisation’s bottom line, leadership effectiveness requires emotionally savvy organisations and empathetic management.

Leadership in organisations has never been in such high demand.

Today’s VUCA landscape (characterised by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) calls for a new approach to leadership. In an era of ever-increasing competition and technology that develops at a speed unimaginable to the layman just a few years ago, we need a new, more emotionally intelligent style of leadership, one based on cooperation and embodied in attitude and actions.

Leadership effectiveness

Leadership needs to provide transparency and security, strengthen connections and reinvigorate motivation. Leaders change the way people think (without telling them what to think) about the fundamental concepts that inform their worldviews, ethics and life strategies.

We are all familiar with the timeless traits of leadership, such as integrity, competence, judgment and vision. These are what makes for effective leadership, and what employees are looking for in their bosses. Employees want to know if they can trust their managers, if they are able to make savvy decisions and learn from their mistakes, if they have the technical and business knowledge to help the team succeed and if they can explain the company’s mission, how the team’s work fits into it, and what needs to be done to achieve it.

The fundamental purpose of leadership is to help the team succeed. We all need to get along, and we also need to get ahead. The team can only grow stronger and achieve its objectives when both motives – getting along and getting ahead – are carefully managed and balanced. An effective leader is someone whom other people are willing to follow.

New leadership calls for a way of being that gives voice to what is within humans and accepts emotion as a legitimate part of the corporate culture.

We all have different personalities, different wants and needs, and different ways of showing our emotions. Navigating all this takes awareness, tact and intelligence – especially when we want to succeed in our lives.

Although analytical intelligence is important in the workplace, emotional intelligence (EQ) is key to relating well to others and to achieving your goals. Emotional intelligence is an awareness of your actions and feelings – and how they affect those around you. It also means that you value others, listen to their wants and needs, and are able to empathise or identify with them on different levels. Reversely, if you don’t care about EQ, your career may be prone to derailment.

 Effective leaders are emotionally intelligent

 We all know people who are masters at managing their emotions. They are good listeners, excellent decision makers and unflappable crisis managers who have the complete trust of their staff. No matter what kind of challenge they face, they always seem to know just what to say – and how to say it – so that no one is offended or upset. They look at themselves honestly, and not only do they have a great sense of who they are but are also able to sense the emotional needs of others.

Leaders high in emotional intelligence have four key advantages at the workplace:

  1. They quickly understand what others feel and why they behave in a certain way
  2. Being around them is perceived as valuable
  3. They are calm in stressful situations, cannot easily be provoked and can handle pressure well
  4. They are enthusiastic and optimistic about their work

The interplay of thought, emotion and action

Emotions are psychological, behavioural and physiological episodes experienced toward an object, person or event that can create a state of readiness from the inside out. This requires a profound understanding of one’s own strengths, weaknesses, aspirations and emotional patterns, as well as the self-awareness to acknowledge and adjust emotional responses, especially in stressful or triggering situations. Paying attention to other people's emotions and perspectives enables you to build productive relationships in support of collaboration, learning, innovation and an inclusive work environment.

Most emotions occur without our awareness: typically, we only pay attention to our emotions while thinking through what we like or dislike. Cognitive and emotional processes don’t always agree with each other, which can cause dissonance and feeling of discomfort. If for example, you may like to smoke but you know that smoking is harmful, cognitive dissonance happens as a result of these two conflicting beliefs.

Emotions also directly affect our behaviour. Certain situations trigger emotional reactions, which in turn affect the way we think. If in danger, our initial emotional reaction can spur us to react quickly without pausing to think through the situation. Emotions also trigger our thoughts: for instance, if we feel sad over someone else’s problems, we might think of a way to help the person in trouble. Emotions affect our actions, because actions allow feelings to be expressed. Repressing our feelings is not helpful and could lead to physical and emotional problems. Most people express their feelings by engaging in certain actions, such as having a good cry when feeling sad, frowning when frustrated and giving a “high five” to someone when feeling confident.

Learning how to respond appropriately to emotions can sometimes be difficult. However, we don’t have to be victims to emotional cues and triggers. We can use reason to evaluate our emotions, interpret and even reassess our initial reaction to them. We can soften their impact or shift their meaning. In other words, we can control our own emotions as well as the effect that other people’s emotions have on us. The ability to detect, assess and control our emotions is one of the predictors of success in relating to others. So, somewhat paradoxically, connecting with others depends on developing a deep understanding of ourselves – what triggers our strongest emotions and how the emotions we show impact others.

Emotional awareness for optimal functioning

 Successful companies actively create more positive than negative emotional episodes. The emotions-attitudes- behaviour model illustrates that attitudes are shaped by ongoing emotional experiences (figure 1).

Figure 1: Emotions-Attitudes-Behaviour

Our thoughts, emotions and actions are the keys to understanding ourselves; they have a dedicated motivational energy. Attitude is formed when a thought meets a feeling, or vice versa. There are two pathways by which thought and emotion typically meet: 1) the mind thinks a thought and that thought produces an emotion; 2) the body produces an emotion and the mind thinks a thought about that emotion. Actions or decisions take place at the intersection where thought meets feeling, or feeling meets thought.

Understanding the interactions of these thoughts, feelings and actions, i.e. enhancing our self-awareness, leads us to discover our own wealth of resources, and empowers us to help others unleash their potential. By being aware of the consequences of our actions, behaviours and thoughts, we can reduce unnecessary drama in our lives, actively manage energy levels and consciously engage others to work together toward a joint cause.

How can leaders develop emotional intelligence?

1. Self management: in order to engage your EQ, you must be able use your emotions to make constructive decisions about your behaviour. When you become overly stressed, you can lose control of your emotions and the ability to act thoughtfully and appropriately. Leaders who regulate themselves effectively rarely verbally attack others, make rushed or emotional decisions, stereotype people, or compromise their values. Self-management is about staying in control.

2. Self awareness: being self-aware when you are in a leadership position means having a clear picture of your strengths and weaknesses and behaving with humility. Being able to connect to your emotions — having a moment-to-moment connection with your changing emotional experience — is the key to understanding how emotion influences your thoughts and actions.

3. Social awareness: social awareness enables us to recognise and interpret the largely nonverbal cues others are constantly using to communicate with us. Social awareness requires your presence in the moment. While many of us pride ourselves on an ability to multitask, this can mean that you miss the subtle emotional shifts taking place in other people that help you fully understand them. 4. Relationship management: working well with others is a process that begins with emotional awareness and your ability to recognise and understand what other people are experiencing. Once emotional awareness is in play, you can effectively develop additional social/ emotional skills that will make your relationships more effective, fruitful and fulfilling. In conclusion: to identify the heart of our actions, we need to discover the source of our attitude.

Understanding what is at the heart of what we feel and believe is the key to achieving what we want at work and in life. If you regularly reflect on your own thoughts, emotions and behaviours and how their interaction influences team performance and organisational culture, you will often find the answers you seek and increase your leadership impact

Annette B. Czernik

Annette B. Czernik, PCC, is a senior consultant and executive coach at RELEVANT management consultants, an authorised Hogan Distributor. She is a certified member of the International Coach Federation and an enthusiastic practitioner of the Hogan Assessment Suite. Her in-house corporate career includes being vice president of HR development in private wealth management at Deutsche Bank from 2008 to 2010.