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The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

December 3, 2021
UBC MEL MHLP Alumni Emotional Intelligence

No matter what industry they work in, effective leaders share many traits, including strong communication skills, wide-ranging intelligence and a wealth of experience. Great leaders also exhibit a high level of emotional intelligence, which is defined as being aware that emotions can drive behaviour and impact people (positively and negatively). Emotionally intelligent leaders also know how to manage emotions – both their own and others. his skill enables leaders to easily motivate others to go in new directions by clearly articulating a vision or mission that resonates emotionally with both themselves and those they lead, as highlighted in “Emotional Intelligence Has 12 Elements” by Daniel Goleman and Richard E. Boyatzis.

It’s not surprising that emotional intelligence is increasingly a sought-after attribute when companies are interviewing for leadership positions.

When interviewers screen for emotional intelligence, they usually ask specific behavioural and situational questions that are relevant to the role. For example, a project manager might be asked how they manage their frustrations when listening to internal stakeholder complaints or a software product manager might be asked how they respond when bugs are found in their code. Reflecting on your own emotional intelligence is the first step to building your skills in this area – and may be an important step in the overall success of your career and leadership trajectory.

How to Build your Emotional Intelligence

It is important to understand two key points when it comes to building your emotional intelligence. Firstly, having emotional intelligence does not mean that you are emotional. Secondly, emotional intelligence is a skill, and like any other skill, it can be learned, developed and practised. The following five strategies outlined in the article “Emotional Intelligence: Developing Strong “People Skills” are a great way to improve your own emotional intelligence:

  • Observe how you react to people. Aim to be more open to and accepting of your staff and colleagues’ perspectives and needs. When you are more open with those who work with and for you, you inspire them to be more engaging and productive.
  • Promote the success of others. As leaders, we often get too caught up in operations or our own problems to give people the help they need; however, when you focus on supporting the success of others, people will naturally be drawn to you and you will attract top-performing individuals to your team.
  • Examine how you react to stressful situations. It can be hard to stay calm and in control when there are delays or when outcomes don’t unfold as planned. Yet staying calm and level-headed in difficult situations is a skill worth learning, both at work and in life.
  • Take responsibility for your actions. Taking responsibility when things go wrong is crucially important to building trust with others and learning from your mistakes. It can be one of the most important parts of creating a satisfying career and a high-performing team.
  • Examine how your actions will affect others. Think about how you would feel if the situation was reversed. Imagine how your decision will impact others and what that experience might be like. If the outcomes are potentially negative, what can you do to minimize the effects?

Benefits of High Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

The article “The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in a Leader” published on Medium.com suggests that there are a number of benefits that leaders can realize from a high level of emotional intelligence:

  • Self-awareness. One of the defining features of emotional intelligence is the ability to comprehend the effects of your feelings. Leaders who have emotional intelligence are more likely to identify situations when pride and other emotions are influencing their thinking, allowing them to step back and make more rational, impartial choices.
  • Self-management. Leaders who make quick decisions or are unable to keep their emotions in check can lose the trust and respect of their staff. Remember that you are a leader and that your staff are always looking to you for cues on how to react and respond during major setbacks; emotional intelligence enables leaders to stay positive and calm even during significant difficulties.
  • Increased empathy. Paying attention to verbal and non-verbal cues can give you invaluable insight into the feelings of your colleagues and enable you to adjust your own message based on how you’re being received. Being emotionally intelligent means you can tell ahead of time how others will react and develop a strategy to keep them grounded.
  • Collaborative communication. Emotionally intelligent leaders can immediately gauge the tone of the room and then communicate in way to match that tone or lessen unresolved tension. These skills also enable leaders to manage change and resolve conflicts diplomatically.
  • Less stress. Workplace stress may be part of the job, but emotionally intelligent leaders manage it better and don’t let it overwhelm them. In fact, if you effectively manage your stress and are also able to stay positive in complex situations, you can help others around you remain calm – which ultimately contributes to stronger problem-solving and teamwork outcomes.

Your experience as an MEL or MHLP student gave you lots of opportunities to talk about emotional intelligence and reflect on your own skills in this area.

The classroom discussions and group projects were safe spaces for you to practice your communication and listening skills, pay attention to body language, learn how to resolve conflict and support team members using a strength-based approach.

Following the tips outlined in the articles referenced above can help you continue building your emotional intelligence in all your interactions, at work and in life. Doing so will help you be a better leader who is trusted and respected by direct reports, peers, superiors and external stakeholders – and that’s ultimately good for helping you build your skills and reputation as a leader.