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Developing emotionally intelligent leaders


Aubrey Stuart of Kenexa highlights the importance of emotional intelligence and how to develop it in leaders.


Leaders often claim: "Our people are our greatest asset." As companies aim to survive and thrive in the economic downturn, this claim is being challenged. Good leaders, however, recognise the value of having an engaged workforce. The real benefit of emotional intelligence is that it enables leaders to have more meaningful and effective relationships with their people.

So what is emotional intelligence?

There are many interpretations of emotional intelligence. Essentially it is the principles and values that dictate the thoughts and feelings behind our reactions, which guide our response patterns in different situations. Leaders who are emotionally competent are able to recognise these different emotional patterns in themselves and others, and to direct them in appropriate ways.

"Leaders might want to ask themselves: how do I prepare myself as a leader to give feedback, and also how do I prepare the individual to receive the feedback?"

Daniel Goleman, author of the internationally best-selling book Emotional Intelligence (1995) claims that emotional intelligence is not new as Aristotle mentioned the importance of emotion in human interaction back in Ancient Greece. As Aristotle put it, those who have the unique skill "to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and the right way" will have the edge in all aspects of life.

How often do we hear of employees being dissatisfied with the way in which they have received feedback on their performance or with the timing of the feedback? Some leaders are unable to control the frustration and disappointment they feel about an individual’s performance. Others give feedback to an individual when that person is feeling at their most vulnerable emotionally. Leaders might want to ask themselves: how do I prepare myself as a leader to give feedback, and also how do I prepare the individual to receive the feedback?

Leading without emotional intelligence

A leader who leads without emotional intelligence might not be aware of the negative or de-motivating effect that their style of leadership has on the people they are leading. The leader may get results, however those results could probably be much improved by adopting a more flexible/situational leadership style.

A leader’s level of emotional intelligence is often made apparent in the way they communicate with people. Have they given any consideration to how to address people when delivering key messages? Have they considered the time, place, format (face-to-face, email, telephone)? Have they thought about how people might respond or feel about the message being communicated? Does the leader really listen to what is being communicated by their people? Do they really hear or care or do they just carry on regardless?

If you are not aware of what makes a person tick inside and outside work, how will you be able to motivate them to want to do their best? Are the values of the people you are leading in line with your values as leader and with those of the business?

A leader might have the attitude that they treat everyone fairly by treating everybody the same. However in today’s world, adopting that attitude and style of leadership will not meet the needs and expectations of today’s and tomorrow’s working population.

Developing a leader’s capability to lead with emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence has a part to play when assessing a person’s potential for leadership. It should not be used in isolation but along with traditional methods of selecting and developing leaders. This is because emotions influence everything we do in the workplace. Managed correctly, they can lead to enhanced team spirit and increased output. However, emotions can also have the opposite effect on a workforce.

One of the biggest challenges for a leader is gaining or having the respect of the people they are leading. One question I like to put to leaders is how far are your people prepared to go beyond the call of their normal duties and responsibilities? In a nutshell, will they go the extra mile for you?

As a leader there are always challenges and hurdles to overcome. To meet these challenges, you have to be aware of your own emotions and of the emotions of others. It has been suggested that observing the way a person interacts with their team members and other colleagues, on an emotional level, will give some indication of how they might act in a leadership role.

This creates the opportunity to identify any development needed to boost skills and attributes, to increase their effectiveness as a leader and to help them learn how to modify their reactions to difficult and challenging situations.

Employees are looking more and more for work-life balance and for meaning in their work. To motivate and develop people in today’s challenging work environment requires a leadership approach that recognises and appreciates how decisions will affect people.

Leaders who use the concepts of emotional intelligence can therefore have a strong impact. By understanding how and why people react emotionally to different situations in the workplace, you can implement change more effectively as you will be more responsive to the needs and expectations of the people you are leading.

Previous articles in this series:

Aubrey Stuart is a consultant at Kenexa Leadership, the leadership development specialist. He can be contacted at [email protected].

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