Why Emotional Intelligence Is Critical for Leadership—and How to Develop It

brain 3269655 1920

When we talk about leadership capabilities, we often talk about book smarts, or IQ. “He’s a sharp guy.” “She’s got a mind for business.” But there’s another kind of intelligence that we don’t emphasize nearly as much, and in many ways, it’s even more important than IQ.

That’s emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence refers to a person’s ability to gauge, control, and express one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships—and all the conflicts and surprises that come with them—effectively and constructively. And, understandably, it’s a critical workplace skill, especially for employees who are climbing the career ladder into leadership positions. In a recent CareerBuilder survey, 71 percent of hiring managers said they valued emotional intelligence over IQ, and 75 percent said they’d be more apt to promote an employee with high emotional intelligence and a lower IQ than one with a higher IQ and lower EQ.

So there’s no denying it: emotional intelligence is critical for leaders and employees who aspire to become leaders. But can it be developed, or is it an X factor that you’re either born with or you’re not?

Before we answer that question, let’s take a look at a few indicators of emotional intelligence, as outlined by emotional intelligence expert Harvey Deutschendorf:

  • You can manage your emotions under pressure
  • You listen in a way that makes others feel heard
  • You’re quick to show empathy
  • You take responsibility for your mistakes
  • You’re always open to feedback
  • You can work through conflicts

Each of these skills deals with the way we handle interactions—conflicts or otherwise—with others, and most of them are related, either directly or indirectly, with the way we listen to and communicate with one another.

The good news is that emotional intelligence is something anyone can develop if they put in the effort. It’s a three-pronged effort that parallels with the way we develop communication. By becoming aware of our current emotional intelligence, identifying the steps required to make changes, and then integrating those changes into our professional and personal relationships, we can develop the emotional intelligence we need to succeed in every area of our lives.

Let’s break down each step.

1.  Self-Awareness

When it comes to developing emotional intelligence, communication, or any soft skill, we need to know where we stand before we can come up with an effective, efficient improvement plan. What are your strengths, and what are your key development opportunities?

Of course, understanding your impact is easier said than done. Take communication, for example: research shows that we’re only aware of 5 to 10 percent of the signals we’re sending at any given time. We’re not even aware 0f 90 to 59 percent of what we’re communicating, and if we can’t identify and control those signals, we can’t control our audiences’ reactions.

So how can we build self-awareness? Subjective strategies like asking for feedback from our peers, leaders, and teams aren’t a bad place to start, but while these responses might give you some general guidance, they won’t go into depth about what exactly is driving their perspectives, and they’ll certainly be subjective—colored by someone’s bad day or anxiety over giving feedback.

What we need is an objective, data-driven view of our overall impact and a detailed dive into the behavioral traits driving that impact.

For communication skills, which make up a significant piece of emotional intelligence, innovations in technologies like natural language processing, vocal recognition, and facial analysis mean we can conduct quantitative, AI-driven evaluations that provide specific, detailed feedback not only on our overall impact but the minute traits that drive that impact without our notice.

Once we know where we stand, we can use that data to make an improvement plan, focusing on our biggest development opportunities in order to meet our emotional intelligence goals.

Learn more about the importance of an initial assessment.

2.  Self-Management

Once you know what changes you need to make, how do you go about creating that behavioral change?

Now that you understand the minutiae of your current emotional intelligence (or lack thereof), you can make an effective improvement plan, identifying the “quick wins” you can tackle right away and prioritizing the larger development opportunities that may require more significant effort. (Quantified’s communication assessment includes an action plan complete with research, theory, and practice recommendations designed to help you achieve your communication-related emotional intelligence goals.)

If, for example, you knew you had a hard time building trust with people, and your assessment showed that that’s because you don’t often take personal responsibility for your ideas or actions, you can reflect on recent instances when you might have deflected, consider how you could have communicated differently to build trust, and then work on incorporating trust-building language and behavior into your interactions moving forward.

Additionally, a critical piece of self-management is monitoring your progress. As you work on your development areas, keep seeking feedback from those around you, but more importantly, continue objectively assessing your behavior to track your progress and fine tune your action plan as your emotional intelligence skills grow and evolve. If the key to getting started is measuring your status, the key to making long-term improvement is continually tracking progress.

3.  Activation

And, finally, practice implementing your new skills in everyday life. All the analysis and action plan preparation and research are great, and they’ll get you started on the right foot. But if you don’t activate these ideas in your social and professional life, you won’t make any progress at all. Here at Quantified, we recommend beginning your emotional intelligence activation with your communication skills, as those are foundational to emotional intelligence, shaping the way others see you, perceive your abilities, and respond to you as a leader.

If you’ve learned that you have trouble appearing confident in certain situations, be cognizant of your posture, and focus on eliminating the verbal fillers that may be making you appear less than confident. If building trust is your biggest opportunity, then next time you make a mistake, take full responsibility through personal pronouns and granular insights; if clarity is one of your weak points, next time you give an assignment, be sure you’re walking your teammates through the process as clearly as possible. If active listening is your biggest challenge, bring your newfound listening strategies into your next meeting, and really hear what your team has to say.

Change won’t happen overnight; like any skill, developing emotional intelligence requires dedication, study, and effort, you’ll find yourself better equipped to gauge and control your own emotions and others’, and as a result, you’ll become more confident, adept, and impactful as a leader.