What is Emotional Intelligence? And, how can knowing more about it help you to develop your leadership skills? Here’s everything you need to know in one easy-to-read article.

We’re all used to the idea of an Intelligence Quotient, or IQ. In fact, an IQ test may well have been a part of a job selection process at some stage of your life; maybe you recall being so nervous that you could barely spell your own name, convinced as you surely were that nobody would employ someone as foolish as you – and you were just about to prove it.

I feel your pain. Actually, I think we’ve all been there.

The EQ Difference

This is different. Similar to your so-called IQ, Emotional Intelligence can be stronger or better developed in some, and weaker in others. We’re all unique, after all. Encouragingly, we can grow our EQ skills. And, I’d go as far as to encourage you to do so.

Here’s where we are:

At a leadership level, Emotional Intelligence (EQ) has been in the ascendant for some years now. In your professional and personal life, a developed EQ will help you to manage and regulate your emotions in challenging or stressful situations. It can also enable better communication, empowering you to achieve your career and personal goals more easily.

I’d go as far as to say that being “literate” can in general help you to be happier, healthier and more successful. So, there’s a lot of EQ expectation here, isn’t there?

Let me take you through the finer points.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

In summary, Emotional Intelligence boils down to two key things:

Number One – What Are You Feeling?

The ability to recognise your emotions for what they truly are. In other words, authentic self-awareness.

Recognising your feelings and giving them a name (for example, “I am feeling frightened”, “what I am experiencing is anger” and so on), helps you to turn your intention into action – and therefore make healthier, more informed decisions.

It boils down to mindfulness. An understanding of the self – your self, in this instance. For example, how am I? What is this emotion? What’s going on here for me? At the risk of a flowery turn of phrase, you’re stepping outside of yourself. And, with kindness, you are analysing your feelings at the moment you’re experiencing them. And you’re getting it right. That “Ah yes, it’s THIS…” moment.

For example, what you think is stress may not actually be so. Rather, that unpleasant, heart-racing, prickly sensation could in reality be frustration, annoyance, upset, or a feeling of being overwhelmed.

Number Two – The Ability to Regulate Your Emotions and Feelings

Emotional self-regulation will help you to develop your leadership skills. How? Because you will be able to choose how to react to a certain situation. Plus, equally importantly, whether you should react at all.

To be fair, we’ve all seen someone “lose it” at work, and working with “difficult” people can be a nightmare.

Engaging your EQ is about acting appropriately because you can make healthy behavioural choices based on a rational, constructive understanding of what’s going on in your head.

Think about this example – and yes, we’re back to our old friend: stress.

Say you’re feeling overcome by a series of events, or swamped with work; alternatively, there could be some sort of office emergency. Are you likely to be able to think clearly, make a rational what-next decision, or immediately recognise the best course of action?

Probably not. If your stress levels go too high, clarity of thought, and the ability to understand your emotions, and those of others, will be compromised.

Developing your EQ will help you to stay emotionally present, control your upsetting thoughts and manage your feelings in a healthy way. Extrapolate this situation to your role as a leader, and the benefits become clear. Taking positive initiatives, following through on your commitments, and adapting to different or even extreme circumstances will be so much easier for you.

Emotional Intelligence can deliver benefits by the dozen, including:

  • Improved work performance
  • Better physical and mental health
  • Positive relationships
  • Strong social intelligence – how you relate to the world around you

There’s more:

Empathy and Social Awareness

Having already explored empathy, it’s evident that it’s a healthy bedfellow for emotional intelligence. In effect, empathy is EQ, internalised.

Recognising the emotions of others, and understanding what they may be feeling whilst maintaining our own position in a neutral way is an important social skill.

Non-Verbal Communication is Powerful Communication

Did you know that a considerable proportion of communication is non-verbal?

Our faces give away how we feel, as does our body language. You’re not a robot. Unless you can develop your best-ever poker face – and most of us can’t – humans are a bit of a give-away.

In fact, even if you’d like to switch off the emotional part of your brain, your senses and feelings are always switched on – and so are others’. Recognising these cues can help you know how your team members are really feeling, and what – at that moment – is truly going on in their world right here, right now.

Tell me More

How can you develop these skills?

Coaching can help, of course, not least because we all have unique experiences, with distinct “starting points”.

However, may I offer you this crucial advice, please?

There’s one thing required of you over anything else: this level of social awareness requires you to be fully present. You will need to focus completely on the individual in front of you, with no alternative agenda and NO distractions.

Emotional intelligence demands that you pay attention, and that equally, you acknowledge your own reactions. Perhaps you’re responding to a previous event, for example, or you have a particular bias to the subject in hand. Try to move away from what you think you know.

Meeting in the middle will help you to connect better to the person across the table.

Your role as a leader is a challenging one. A lot is asked of you. You’re not a superhero, but emotional intelligence could help you to feel like one – just for a while, at least.

See my other posts on emotional intelligence here.

You may also find this article on HBR interesting.

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