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How to Cultivate Emotional Intelligence as a Strategic Leader

The benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace and how to develop it to enhance your leadership skills and business strategy.

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It's no secret that emotional intelligence is a valuable skill for business leaders. However, many CEOs struggle to cultivate it within their team. Read along as we discuss the benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace and how to develop it to enhance your leadership skills and business strategy.

Shivendu Jauhari | Getty Images

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is "the ability to perceive, interpret, demonstrate, control, evaluate and use emotions to communicate with and relate to others effectively and constructively. Some experts suggest that emotional intelligence is more important than IQ for success in life," (Verywell Mind).

Utilizing emotional intelligence can help facilitate open communication and strengthen relationships between executives, managers and employees, creating an improved work culture overall. It's important for leaders to not only know how to foster emotional intelligence within themselves but how to encourage it from their team as well.

Related: 5 Ways Emotional Intelligence Will Make You a Better Leader

5 pillars of emotional intelligence

In his bestselling book, Emotional Intelligence, psychologist and author Daniel Goleman crafts a framework in which leaders can leverage five key traits to successfully implement emotional intelligence in the workplace. These traits are influenced both by experience and intuitiveness. The five pillars are:

1. Self-awareness:

Our emotions do not only affect us, they affect those around us as well. The ability to recognize your own emotional state and its impact on others is a skill that can be developed over time. For example, employees may be reluctant to ask for help if they can see that their boss is already stressed out with other tasks. While you should not hide your emotions, it's important to be cognizant of how they come across to others.

2) Self-regulation:

Though we can't always control our emotions, we can control the way we react to them. Self-regulation (impulse control) is critical to maintaining good relationships in the workplace. Leaders who are able to check themselves before reacting are better able to handle difficult situations and are more respectable.

Self-regulation also promotes accountability as it helps create a clear set of expectations for how to act in the workplace.

3) Motivation:

Goleman writes, "Leadership is not domination, but the art of persuading people to work toward a common goal."

Motivating your employees is perhaps the most important action toward achieving alignment within your team. When all team members are motivated and focused on the same goal, you are more likely to hit your targets. Motivate your employees by setting clear objectives, celebrating wins and victories, and recognizing individual contributions.

4. Empathy:

Empathic leaders are able to put themselves in other people's shoes and act with fairness. They are generally well-liked by employees, as they are more understanding and able to relate on a personal level. Having empathy does not just mean caring about others — it means being able to recognize others' emotions even when they are not forthcoming and being able to conduct conversations appropriately with the other person's emotional state in mind.

A study by the Center for Creative Leadership found that "managers who practiced empathetic leadership toward direct reports were viewed as better performers by their bosses." Empathic leadership is not restricted to C-suite executives — managers and other level employees can benefit from practicing empathy at work.

5. Social skills:

Social skills like active listening and verbal/nonverbal communication will lead to stronger trust among a team. Leaders with social skills are better communicators and know how to work with different types of people. Effective communication is one of the most important skills for a leader to have and proves useful when addressing issues or tough topics. Having good social skills also makes leaders appear more approachable to their team members, enabling positive working relationships and an effective feedback loop.

Related: Use These 7 Emotional Intelligence Tips to Be a Better Leader

Benefits of emotional intelligence in the workplace

Exhibiting emotional intelligence in your business can lead to countless improvements, from enhanced performance to a better culture. We've outlined a few of the main benefits below:

  • Team alignment: Rally your team members around a common goal. This creates cohesiveness across the board and helps ensure no boxes in your strategic execution are left unchecked.

  • Increased productivity: Employees will work harder and faster with the right motivation. They will be encouraged to ask questions for clarity and explore new ideas as they work toward the specified company goals.

  • Increased transparency and accountability: Emotional awareness is a desirable trait among leaders when it comes to the way employees see them. This prompts them to be more open and truthful with their team, creating opportunities for increased transparency in the company. By being upfront about certain initiatives, metrics and company information, leaders gain trust and understanding from their team. Establishing this kind of transparency and accountability helps fill in gaps and ensures that the right people are working toward the right goals.

  • Better communication: Communication is king when it comes to getting anything done as a team, and it's easier to communicate when you know how you feel. Emotionally intelligent leaders are able to effectively express what is needed in a way that can be understood by others. They are also good listeners and know how to get a point across while also taking into account the other person's viewpoints and opinions. This ties into the pillar of self-regulation, as being able to control impulsive responses is another important part of effective communication.

Related: How to Cultivate Higher Emotional Intelligence in Your Employees

Steps to improve emotional intelligence in your organization

It's no coincidence that the five pillars of emotional intelligence are also key traits of a good leader. It's important for leaders to not only exhibit traits of emotional intelligence but also to recognize and celebrate them within their team. So, how can leaders cultivate emotional intelligence?

1. Show appreciation:

It's easy for executives to overlook the importance of employee appreciation, even though the smallest gestures can make a huge difference. When employees are happy, the whole business benefits. Research has shown that having happy employees increases productivity, sales, employee retention, employer net promoter Scores (eNPS); the list goes on.

Remember to give praise for a job well done and ensure your employees know their hard work does not go unnoticed. This can be as simple as a shoutout in your all-hands team meeting or a handwritten "thank-you" note. When employees receive praise, they feel valued. And when they feel valued, they are more motivated to work hard and deliver exceptional results.

2. Practice what you preach:

Respectable people lead by example. This includes making an effort to exhibit the positive traits that you expect to see from your team and acting in solidarity with them. In order to be effective, a team must be unified from the top down. Actions like giving thanks, admitting to wrongdoings and having an open-door policy will help create a healthier environment.

3. Get to know yourself:

Understanding yourself is the foundation of emotional intelligence. Self-awareness and reflection involve understanding one's emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs and drives. It's a major factor in emotional regulation, as it helps provide insight into one's emotional reactions and makes it easier to control them. Make an effort to be mindful of how you react in different situations, and get comfortable with the idea of self-reflection. This kind of reflection is not just good for enhancing your leadership skills, but for the soul as well.

4. Get to know your people:

You know it's important to establish good working relationships with your coworkers, but establishing good personal relationships goes a long way, too. Knowing your employees on a personal level means being able to better understand them and their emotional states and allows you to determine how to best work with them.

Don't underestimate the importance of one-on-one time between CEOs/managers and team members. Having frequent and consistent 1:1 meetings helps drive performance but also provides opportunities for open communication and relationship-building. Team members are more likely to provide truthful and constructive feedback if they feel like they are being heard.

5. Provide training:

As mentioned, emotional intelligence is a skill that can be developed and improved with practice. It's important to invest in emotional intelligence training and development programs if you want your team to be successful. This includes both emotional awareness and emotional regulation, as well as communication skills, decision-making skills and more.

Developing emotional intelligence requires practice, but it can have a huge impact on the success of an organization. By recognizing emotional intelligence within your team and investing in emotional intelligence training, you can create a better working environment that leads to improved performance and higher morale.

Emotional intelligence is not something that can be forced on people or taught overnight. It takes time and commitment from leaders, but it can have a positive and lasting impact on the team as a whole when practiced and supported regularly. It's a valuable tool that can help business leaders be more effective, improve communication and increase trust.

By investing in emotional intelligence, your business will be able to reap the rewards of a better-connected workforce that feels appreciated, respected and motivated to succeed.

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