In addition to integrity and resoluteness in decision-making, great leaders often possess an intangible knack for mobilizing people of disparate backgrounds, personalities, and values toward common goals—maximizing the potential of the team.
How do they do it?
Over the past three decades, researchers have identified emotional intelligence as a crucial component of professional success, self-actualization, and exemplary leadership.
Emotional intelligence, sometimes abbreviated as EI or EQ, is a term that first appeared in the 1980s, and came into popular usage after a 1990 essay by social psychologists Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer. EI encompasses motivation, emotional self-management, and the capacity to ascertain and appropriately respond to the feelings of others.
In business, EI has numerous practical applications: for example, knowing how and when to ask for a raise; expressing one’s own thoughts, feelings, and ambitions in a tactful and effective manner; soliciting and evaluating input from colleagues; managing stress, both personal and environmental; boosting morale; and avoiding procrastination.
People with higher EI scores tend to have a competitive edge
Studies indicate that, on average, individuals with higher EI scores enjoy higher salaries, and in some areas, can even outperform rivals with higher intelligence quotients (IQs) than themselves.
Israeli-American psychologist Daniel Kahneman has noted that people with higher EI are also perceived differently by those with whom they interact. Prospective clients and partners prefer to do business with professionals they like and trust, and subjective likability and trustworthiness both correlate to EI.
It’s possible to both measure and modify EI
A quick internet search will yield a series of EI tests, ranging in length and complexity. A simple one can be found here. Your results should give you a rough idea of where your own strengths and weaknesses lie.
Although EI is partly a function of innate features like personality and genetics, many experts agree that EI can be more readily modified than IQ.
How to improve your EI
One key component of EI is emotional self-awareness: the ability to identify one’s own feelings, the physical reaction that attends them, and the precise reason for that sentiment.
You may find that it helps to keep an emotional journal. Write down the thoughts that occur to you and the physical sensations you associate with particular emotions. Note that certain emotional states tend to trigger the same physical response consistently; for example, stress often leads to shallow breathing, tense muscles, and an elevated heart rate.
By recognizing and addressing these physical symptoms (through breathing exercises, for instance), you will increase your chances of managing intense emotions and their impact on you.
A few other tips:
• Daily meditation can help immensely in dealing with anxiety, anger, and negative thoughts, and empower you with mental techniques for dealing with them.
• Listen: Give others your undivided attention, allow them to finish what they’re saying, and leave time for them to think and respond to your statements. Pay particular attention to body language. Ask clarifying questions—your goal should be to attain as complete an understanding of your interlocutor’s ideas and point of view as possible.
• Figure out exactly what you want, then decide how best to articulate it, and why it is important to you. Know how to ask for something: “I’d like...please.”
• Empathize: How would you feel if you were in someone else’s position? Reflect on instances in which you felt you behaved empathically, and others in which you believe you could have done better.
• However, don’t ruminate excessively over your past shortcomings—after all, the past is beyond your control. Acknowledge your errors, try to make amends to the people you feel you’ve wronged, and commit to avoiding similar mistakes in the future.
• Respect and openness: Encourage others to share their thoughts and concerns. Emphasize that open, honest, respectful dialogue is an important component of the professional atmosphere you hope to cultivate.
• Stop procrastinating. If you find a task difficult, unpleasant, or time-consuming, break it up into smaller parts. Create a to-do list, and remove unnecessary distractions from your work space. Try the Pomodoro technique: 25 minutes of work, interspersed with short breaks of about five minutes. If you’re the type who thrives on time pressure, but would prefer to finish a project well in advance, impose (in writing) a deadline on yourself, and stick to it.
Nearly everyone would benefit from better EI, especially those with leadership aspirations. Put some effort into improving your EI, and the results may pleasantly surprise you.