9 Practices for Becoming a More Emotionally Intelligent Leader

9 Practices for Becoming a More Emotionally Intelligent Leader
Image credit: Bindaas Madhavi | Flickr

My less-than-stellar Emotional Quotient (EQ) has probably held me back from achieving my full potential. It took me decades to realize that high IQ and vision were of little importance without understanding human emotions.

That's because I've learned that I can't get anything done unless I can work with other people. Thanks to Daniel Goleman, who coined the term EQ, you can get better at working with other people by following nine practices of emotional intelligence.Here are the nine practices and how I have tried to practice them in my own life -- not always successfully.

1. Realistic self-confidence.

Goleman writes that this means "you understand your own strengths and limitations; you operate from competence and know when to rely on someone else on the team."

I used to be afraid to admit I did not know something or could not do everything well. But I am now happy to admit that I am not good at getting every detail right and do not enjoy trying to remedy that weakness.

Details are important and I am fortunate that I work with other people who pride themselves on getting the details right, all the time.

2. Emotional insight.

"You understand your feelings. Being aware of what makes you angry, for instance, can help you manage that anger," writes Goleman.

I used to panic and take thoughtless actions when I felt under enormous pressure. That caused me to make mistakes that I now realize I could have avoided. Now if I feel panicked, I try to go out for a run to clear my mind and let the part of my brain that tries to solve problems go to work on the underlying source of the panic.

I have realized that I do not need to make most decisions immediately.

Related: How You Can Stop Making Bad Decisions -- Now

3. Resilience.

For Goleman, this means "you stay calm under pressure and recover quickly from upsets. You don’t brood or panic. In a crisis, people look to the leader for reassurance; if the leader is calm, they can be, too."

This is one practice that I have been following for a long time. When I was 17, I was on a several-month-long camping trip up the Maine coast with a dozen peers.

We walked out to a sandbar in the Atlantic during a storm. After a while, the tide came in fast and the other people were stranded. I swam back to shore, jumped in a rowboat, rowed out to the sandbar, waited for them to board the boat and rowed them back to shore.

4. Emotional balance.

"You keep any distressful feelings in check — instead of blowing up at people, you let them know what’s wrong and what the solution is," says Goleman.

Sometime I find it very hard to keep my emotions in check. But I have disciplined myself to try to count to 10 silently before I say anything when I am feeling strong emotions.

I have also come to realize that very often, decisions and responses are not required immediately. And I am fortunate to have developed a network of people with whom I can share my negative emotions without taking unproductive action.

5. Self-motivation.

"You keep moving toward distant goals despite setbacks," is how Goleman defines self-motivation.

Having faced many setbacks and kept moving forward, I think this is something that I have practiced for a long time. I remember when I graduated from business school, I wanted to interview with venture capital firms but was turned down at every one of them.

A decade later I started my consulting firm and began investing in private companies. So far, I have put capital into eight companies and three have been sold for over $2 billion in total.

Related: Who Needs Goals When You Can Develop New, Good Habits

6. Cognitive and emotional empathy.

As Goleman wrote, "Because you understand other perspectives, you can put things in ways colleagues comprehend. And you welcome their questions, just to be sure. Cognitive empathy, along with reading another person’s feelings accurately, makes for effective communication."

I do not think I have enough empathy. When I start my semesters, I always tell students that I cannot read their minds or tell how they are feeling. The best I can do is to see whether they are sleeping or awake. But I do tell them that since I can't do this, they should talk with me or find a way to communicate if they are feeling stress, anger or confusion so I can try to offer a way to relieve those emotions. 

7. Good listening.

"You pay full attention to the other person and take time to understand what they are saying, without talking over them or hijacking the agenda," according to Goleman.

I have tried to get better at this. There is no doubt that I used to try to cut people off as soon as I thought that I knew what they meant to say. I realize now that this annoys people.

I have learned how to listen by focusing my eyes at a point on their foreheads, rather than staring back at their eyes. The effort that I make to concentrate seems to suppress my urge to blurt out a comment. That this allows me to think of follow up questions that help me to be confident I did not miss something that they intended.

Related: Richard Branson on Why Leading Means Listening

8. Compelling communication.

"You put your points in persuasive, clear ways so that people are motivated as well as clear about expectations," says Goleman.

As a teacher I have learned over the last decade that you can never over-communicate your expectations. I repeat several times how I will calculate students' grades, key deadlines, and what factors I will use to decide on the quality of their papers.

Then I ask them to tell me whether they have any questions about those expectations.

9. Team playing.

To Goleman, this means "people feel relaxed working with you. One sign: They laugh easily around you."

I have learned that team playing works best if you respect the people on your team. I am still not very good with jokes. I have some that others find funny but do not have enough new material.

Related: Humor Them. A Well-Timed Laugh Speaks Volumes.