7 steps to becoming an emotionally intelligent leader

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is about processing and perceiving emotions. People with a high emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) are skilled at interpreting their own emotions, the emotions of others and choosing actions to influence outcomes.

What’s so important about emotional intelligence?

Having a high EQ can be helpful in day-to-day life for many reasons;

1. Reduces anxiety and confusion around priorities

2. Helps us feel less tired and frustrated

3. Reduces illness caused by stress and anxiety

It is equally helpful at work:

  • Improved productivity – less time wasted in unresolved conflict means people are more productive
  • Increased initiative and creativity – staff feel less fearful and are more motivated to fulfil their potential
  • More profitable relationships with customers – it’s 16 times harder to win back a dissatisfied customer than it is to find a new one. Customer service delivered with high EQ means you’re more likely to keep your customers satisfied, and therefore retain them
  • Enhanced teamwork, less stress and reduced sickness absence

Dr Kerrie Fleming uncovers seven steps to becoming an emotionally intelligent leader

Step 1: Know what is important to you

You need to build a deeper understanding of yourself to improve your emotional intelligence. Your values and beliefs stem from childhood and play a huge role in how you behave as an adult. Listing and recognizing your own values is key to understanding why certain situations trigger strong emotional reactions in you. If you live and work in environments that fulfil your values, you are more likely to feel emotionally stable.

Step 2: Develop self-awareness

Now that you understand what provokes a strong emotional response, the next step is to tune into how you feel and use this knowledge to make better decisions. Many leaders switch off this part of themselves, as reason and rationality have been rewarded throughout their work.

You can tune into your emotions by tuning into your senses. For example, thinking about a song from the past that evokes a similar response in you now, or the smell of freshly cut grass reminding you of your childhood days. For some it takes a while to really sit and listen to the emotion. Perhaps use mindfulness practice to get used to this, or simply sit quietly and pay very close attention to what comes up. Getting in touch with your emotions will allow you to meet your emotional reaction to a situation before it overwhelms you.

Step 3: Be aware of others

It might feel like hard work figuring out how you feel, but a fundamental part of emotional intelligence is learning to spot the signs of how others might be feeling. This involves you having to tune into what is going on around you. Recognizing the mood of your team and managing it accordingly has huge implications for your ability to influence as a leader and achieve the business goals.

Try not to become so immersed in your own mood and feelings that you neglect to take time to figure out what is going on around you.

Step 4: Improve your communication and influencing skills

Now that you have started to evolve your awareness, you can use this ‘emotional data’ to lead more effectively. Instead of ignoring the person on your team who is always in a low mood, try to channel the emotion into something useful like a slow, meaningful task that might be suited to that mood and contributes towards getting the job done.

Step 5: Learn to understand emotions

We were evolutionarily primed to scan our environment for danger and choose either fight, flight or freeze. These most basic reactions are still our first port of call in any situation. So next time you become disproportionately angry with a difficult colleague, it’s worth taking the time to understand what emotion might be driving that reaction.

Step 6: Manage your own emotions

Once we know how we feel and why, we can ultimately change our emotional response in the moment. If you are always at the mercy of your emotions, you will be a volatile leader. It is ok to feel an emotion, but it is not always appropriate to release it at that moment. Releasing it later, through activities such as exercise or offloading to a friend will help you to reduce stress, increase resilience and remain emotionally balanced during challenging or ambiguous times.

Step 7: Manage the emotions of others

This is probably one of the most difficult tasks that you face as a leader. Successfully managing the emotions of others is highly effective in building relationships and trust with your people. Now that you can spot and understand emotions in others, you will be able to manage them before they spiral into unmanageable situations. This will ultimately help you to build stronger and deeper connections with your team, making you a better leader.

Hult International Business School
Hult International Business School
Ashridge Executive Education