Why truly successful leaders need emotional intelligence

In this post Trish Kelly looks at the characteristics of emotional intelligence and tells us how you can improve this important area to become a truly successful leader.

Trish Kelly executive coach
Trish Kelly, executive coach

Most people agree that effective leaders have intellectual drive, knowledge, vision, passion, creativity and good communication skills. These days, it is increasingly being recognised that to be truly successful, leaders must also have emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is essentially the way we recognise, understand, express and manage our emotions and the emotions of others. Leaders with emotional intelligence understand how their emotions and actions affect the teams they work with. What’s more, they are able to use their emotional intelligence to connect with, motivate and empower their teams.

The five key characteristics leaders with emotional intelligence exhibit are:

  1. Self-Awareness
  2. Self-Management
  3. Motivation
  4. Empathy
  5. Social Skills

Self-Awareness – This is a critical pillar of emotional intelligence. It is our ability to recognise our emotions and the feelings associated with an emotion, the things that trigger those emotions and how we react to them. Self-awareness is the essential building block for self-management of our emotions. This is because, before we can look at how we can manage, control or adapt our emotions, we need to understand what they are and how we respond to them.

Awareness of our emotions can be developed. We can reflect on what our strengths and areas for development are and how we feel and respond in different situations, and we can seek feedback from others.

Self-Management This is our ability to use awareness of our emotions to stay flexible, to positively direct our behavior and to stay in control.

Leaders who manage themselves effectively are trustworthy and adaptable. They stay calm and rational under pressure and maintain a solutions focus when things go wrong. They rarely make rushed or emotional decisions, stereotype people or compromise their values.

We can improve our ability to self-manage by developing skills to remain calm and solutions focussed in challenging situations, by being very clear about the values that are important to us and by knowing the values we will not comprise. We can also continually reflect on situations to understand why we acted in the way that we did, and then use that experience to learn how to better manage similar situations in the future.

Motivation – This is our ability to harness our emotions to motivate ourselves to commit to appropriate actions, to follow through and to deliver results.

Self-motivated leaders are usually optimistic and have high energy which is contagious in the workplace, and they consistently focus on delivering results even in challenging circumstances.

We can recharge our motivation by reminding ourselves what we love about our job and about leading our team, by reflecting on successes, by making sure our goals are relevant and energising, and by adopting a positive mindset in challenging situations.

Empathy – This is our ability to understand or feel what another person is experiencing from their perspective; in other words, it’s our ability ‘to walk in their shoes’.

Leaders who display empathy are good listeners. They pay attention to body language and are able to read other people’s feelings accurately. They welcome questions and feedback, are both confident and humble, and are able to adapt their communication style to suit the situation.

We can improve our empathy by being aware of our biases and making sure they don’t interfere with our ability to listen, and by keeping an open mind and asking respectful questions to get insights into situations from other people’s perspectives.

Social Skills – This is our ability to build relationships.

Leaders who have good social skills are great communicators, develop open and supportive workplace cultures, foster teamwork and innovation, celebrate successes, embrace change, resolve conflict well and model the values they hold.

We can improve our social skills by reflecting on how well we communicate and connect with our teams, and seeking feedback from others about what works well and what we could improve in our workplace.

It’s never too late to learn! So how would you rate your emotional intelligence and what actions can you take to enhance your emotional intelligence?

Contributor: Our current featured member, Trish Kelly, is an experienced leader, change manager and facilitator with over 30 years’ experience in the public sector, working in very large organisations in both regional and central office roles.

Through her experience as the General Manager Human Resources for 8 years in the NSW Department of Education and Communities, the largest organisation in the southern hemisphere, Trish is well equipped to work with executives, aspiring leaders and others to support and guide them to achieve their goals and to maximise their performance and impact.

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