Why leaders need great Emotional Intelligence (EQ) and how to improve at it
Leaders with high levels of Emotional Intelligence are routinely better performers. What practical steps can leaders take to improve their EQ?
What is EQ, anyway?
Emotional Intelligence, or EQ for short, is the ability to recognise and regulate one’s own emotions, and those of others. Goleman, a leading proponent of EQ, suggests that there are four dimensions to emotional intelligence: self-awareness; self-management; social awareness; and relationship management. Each has sub-elements, and good emotional intelligence suggests you have skills in each of the areas.
Why would I, as a leader, want to improve my EQ?
As a leader, job performance is a high priority. It not only accounts for your own performance of your duties, but also your responsibility as a leader to lead your team and have each member of your team perform at a high level. The thing is, focusing on job performance can also be the wrong attitude to take to achieve it, it often leaves out emotions, communication and engagement.
From another perspective, leadership means you have a choice about the climate you create within your team. A happy, engaged team has a strong correlation with output and performance. So, how about focusing on striving to achieve that environment for both yourself and your team? This is where Emotional Intelligence comes into play. High EQ correlates with other traits, such as personality and engagement, which then have a positive effect on performance.
And, frankly, who wouldn’t rather be led by someone who is good at identifying and managing their own emotions, as well as those of others? Who doesn’t want to be part of a world where our children and grown-ups have great empathy, have the language to professionally discuss opinions and strategy, talk about their feelings, and can listen actively and well?
So, as a leader, what can I do to improve my EQ?
As a leader, there is much you can do if you want to improve your EQ. Here is a five-step guide to get you started:
1. Understand where you currently are
There are heaps of tests everywhere that you can take to measure your EQ. Some are seen to be more reliable than others. Some come with a hefty price tag. But all you want is something that processes your answers, and provides you with an accurate review to reflect and act on. In this regard, I’d really recommend searching online for a short, simple EQ test. If clients work with me, we can use a more robust measure if this is a topic they are interested in exploring.
2. Capitalise upon your strengths
We’re often quick to rush to where we’re less good, but with emotional intelligence, there is a real benefit to sitting with your strengths for a bit, and seeing whether you can do anything to really capitalise on them.
For example, if you come out as having high levels of coaching and mentoring skills, do you want to try to formalise that with your firm by joining their team of internal coach-mentors, or by taking a short course in coaching and then testing your skills out more formally? If you come out as strong on initiative, or service orientation, or self-confidence, then think about whether your skills in that area are being used to their best advantage. If it’s initiative, then are you on enough project teams? If it’s service orientation, are you on enough key client accounts? And if it’s self-confidence, are you putting yourself forward for enough networking and presentation opportunities, which others may find terrifying, thus easing the team burden?
3. Identify your gaps
Now, and only now, you’re allowed to think about your gaps. Where do you appear to be less strong? Where is this lack of strength a particular problem?
One exercise that I like to run when I do EQ training is to get everyone to draw two big circles. In the first, they use the results of any survey instrument, coupled with any 360 feedback they’ve received or anything they know about themselves, to create a pie chart with what they believe to be their natural EQ balance. They’ll end up with 4 segments which relate to the four main elements of EQ (self-awareness; self-management; social awareness; and relationship management).
In the second circle, they draw out how much of each type of EQ they believe their role requires. Again, they’ll have 4 segments which relate to the four main elements of EQ.
And then finally, I ask them to compare the two. Because the area of focus for a leader looking to improve should be where the role requires a lot more EQ than they currently feel that they have. In this case, the role requires much more self-management (emotional self-control; adaptability; achievement orientation; positive outlook) than they feel that they have. The leader than needs to think about what they can do to boost and improve that area.
4. Take action
The action you take will depend on the gap you’ve identified. Here are some headline suggestions, but an internet search will reveal heaps more that you can adapt to your situation:
Relationship management: this is the area that organisations tend to invest the most money in training. If you’re working in a reasonable-sized firm, there should be a range of training options open to you with regard to communication skills, teamwork, collaboration, and dealing with conflict. If there’s nothing available, you may want to consider asking for it, as you are unlikely to be the only person with a need in this area. If it’s not an option, then podcasts have made massive inroads in this area. I’ve worked with coaching clients who have listened to podcasts on topics related to these sorts of areas on their commute, and have been able to use the techniques by lunchtime.
Self-awareness: there’s a technique that sounds ludicrously simple here, but the skill is in gradually developing your leadership practice in a way that reminds you to use it. It’s being ‘One Second Ahead’. The idea is from Hougaard, Carter and Coutts, and suggests that, what we need in the workplace to cope with everything it throws at us, is being able to pause for one-second to think before acting. Imagine if a colleague comes in and interrupts the peaceful productive office to start bragging about what he’s going to be doing at the weekend. Or a team member tells you that they’re annoyed with another team member and they’re about to tell them so. Or your boss says that you really should have picked up on that mistake, despite knowing that you have been so busy with another project he forced you to take on. The knee-jerk reaction is quite different, probably, to hitting the one-second pause button, thinking about what would lead to the best outcome, and then acting.
Social awareness: Social awareness can be seen as being comprised of organisational awareness and empathy. Making the effort to get to know your colleagues as whole people can improve social awareness significantly. Taking time to talk to them is good; setting some targets might make you better. Can you, over the course of the month, find something interesting that you have in common with every person in your team? Can you identify five people in the organisation outside of your team who you could do with knowing better and book in times in the coming months to have lunch or coffee with them? Sending an email to get something in your diary is a very straightforward action. If you work in an industry that has peaks and troughs of busyness, schedule something in for a quieter time, so it’s less likely to get cancelled.
Self-management: self-management is comprised of emotional self-control; adaptability; achievement orientation; and a positive outlook. Emotional self-control can be well-tackled by the One Second Ahead framework, covered above. Having a positive orientation towards action and achievement is quite different, however, as is adaptability. But again, they’re learnable. Adaptability is best taught by forcing yourself out of your comfort zone, and it doesn’t have to be with regard to emotions. There’s research to suggest that people who are resilient and adaptable can port those skills from one domain of their life to another. Recognising this and thus being open to being out of control through trying new experiences and embracing change and difference wherever it feels comfortable to do so will help you to deal with it when more difficult change, resilience or adaptability is required. It will help you to keep a positive outlook on such things. I’ve placed this last as it’s the hardest one to develop quickly – it takes time to switch mindsets in this way. But it can be done.
5. Reflect on results
Good Emotional Intelligence allows for self-reflection. You can further build your skills, as well as check with what’s working and take corrective action if you reflect on how you’re doing on a semi-regular basis. One new leader I worked with recently scheduled in time with themselves every Friday afternoon. For a maximum of half an hour (but sometimes only 10 minutes if time is tight), they write down their learnings from the week and what they want to do better next week, and how they might manage it. This sort of work journalling, as it’s sometimes called, can be a very successful path to improvement. However, even if you don’t feel that this path is right for you, popping in a diary reminder to reflect every now and then, or identifying someone in your company, or life more widely, that you can do some reflection with every now and then, can be really helpful to self-development.
So, there you have it. A straight-forward, relatively efficient way to improve your Emotional Intelligence . If you’d like to hear more about the work that I’ve done on EQ, particularly through coaching and workplace training, please be in touch. I have a lot of examples where despite the small correlation the research suggests, in practice, a leader with an improved EQ, has a happier, more engaged, better performing team.