What comes to mind when you think of a "perfect leader"?
You might picture someone who never lets his temper get out of control, no matter what problems he's facing. Or you might think of someone who has the complete trust of her staff, listens to her team, is easy to talk to, asks good questions and always makes careful, informed decisions.
These are qualities of someone with high emotional intelligence, also known as EQ. I know what you are thinking. The words “emotional” and “intelligence” don’t belong in the same phrase. They are incompatible because intelligence is thinking while emotion is … well, emotional.
What does emotional intelligence have to do with leadership? After all, leadership is about competence, experience and skill. But is that all?
Let’s look at an example. Teddy Roosevelt was a true leader of grit and intelligence. He was quite the character. He hunted lions, led cavalry charges, boxed several times a week and still had time to run the country. He was not dumb, and he wasn’t soft. Here is what he said.
“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” – President Theodore Roosevelt.
Roosevelt understood something important before anyone coined the term emotional intelligence. We will only be effective leaders, parents, employees and owners when we have high emotional intelligence.
Have you ever had a highly skilled employee who no one could stand to work with? Someone who never connected with people? There is usually at least one on every farm we work with, so we know how much damage they can do to morale, efficiency and employee turnover.
What is emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions and those of the people around you. People with high emotional intelligence know what they're feeling and how these emotions affect other people.
There are four key elements to it.
- Self control
- Social awareness
- Relationship management
The more you manage each area, the higher your emotional intelligence. So let's look at each element in more detail and examine how you can grow as a leader.
If you're self-aware, you always know how you feel and how your emotions and actions can affect the people around you. Being self-aware when you're in a leadership position also means having a clear picture of your strengths and weaknesses.
So what can you do to improve your self-awareness?
- Slow down – When you experience anger or other strong emotions, slow down to examine why. Remember, no matter the situation, you can always choose how you react.
- Personality profiles – Take personality profiles such as DISC, Strengths Finder or Conflict Modes. These will help you become aware of your strengths and blind spots.
Leaders with self-control rarely verbally attack others, make rushed or emotional decisions, or compromise their values. Self-regulation is all about staying in control of your emotions and not getting caught up in the moment.
So how can you improve your ability to self-control?
- Know your values – Have a clear idea of where you absolutely will not compromise. Understand what values are most important to you. If you know what is most important to you, then decisions about where to focus your time, money and energy are easier.
- Hold yourself accountable – Take ownership of your role if something goes wrong. Lead by example, and don’t hide your mistakes. If you commit to something, follow through. This can be as simple as showing up on time or meeting deadlines. Your team will notice, and you’ll set the culture for everyone.
- Practice the ‘Big Pause’ – The next time you're in a challenging situation, be aware of how you act. Do you relieve your stress by shouting at someone else? Can you feel your blood pressure rise? No one makes good decisions under stress, so take a break or pause. I have paused overnight many times and once for weeks. Then, deal with it when calm.
Leaders who do well with social awareness understand what is happening in a group. They can read a room, understand a situation and flex to the occasion. They act appropriately to what the situation demands of them.
So how can you build social skills?
- Practice listening – That’s right. Social awareness is understanding at a deep level what others on your team or family are telling you. In the age of distraction, listening is more important than ever. Turn off the distractions and listen intently.
- Pay attention to body language – Learning to read body language can be a real asset in a leadership role because you'll be better able to determine how someone truly feels.
We all need solid and long-term relationships. Relationship management relies on your ability to use the other three areas of emotional intelligence. Leaders with high emotional intelligence can maintain and build relationships with people across the spectrum of work, family and peers.
There are many facets to relationship management, and here are a few.
- Learn conflict resolution – Leaders must know how to resolve conflicts between their team members, family or vendors. They pay attention to how others are working through the conflict as well as how others are responding.
- Connect the heart – Good leaders connect with others on a personal level. They get to know their team as people. They find ways to show that they care beyond the business at hand.
- Build trust – Trust is the cornerstone of any good relationship, so leaders pay careful attention to building trust, such as being competent, communicating clearly and keeping commitments.
Leadership is so much more than how intelligent or skilled we are. Have you ever met or managed someone who was smart and skilled yet couldn’t lead? Most likely, the missing ingredient was emotional intelligence. The great news is, like the Rough Rider President Teddy Roosevelt, everyone can learn emotional intelligence.