August 3, 2020

Emotional Intelligence: The #1 Skill Needed by Leaders

by Johanna Lyman in Blog Roll, Leadership

Now more than ever, emotional intelligence is the most important skill a leader can learn. And yes, anyone can learn how to be more emotionally intelligent. People call emotional intelligence a soft skill, but we consider it an essential skill.

The so-called soft skills are the prime differentiator between great leaders and mediocre ones in the coming years. Senior leaders are aware of this, and they lament the lack of proficiency they see in candidates. In a recent LinkedIn study, 89% of executives reported that it’s difficult to find people with soft skills. And virtually every soft skill—from conflict management to teamwork, communication skills to problem solving—is related to emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of, manage and express one’s own emotions. It’s also the ability to handle interpersonal relationships with wisdom and empathy. There are four aspects of emotional intelligence, also known as EQ. They are: self-awareness, self-management, other/social awareness, and relationship management.

The two big reasons why emotional intelligence is more important now than ever before are the coronavirus and the ongoing civil unrest since the murder of George Floyd by Minneapolis police.

With regards to the coronavirus, developing emotional intelligence will help you become a better leader in two key ways. The first has to do with the shift of many workforces to remote teams. It’s more difficult to read nonverbal cues when you’re on video than it is when you’re in person. Developing your EQ will help to decode those nonverbal cues.

The second has to do with dealing with increased levels of stress in remote workers. Stress can come from having challenging home office environments, loneliness or the cognitive dissonance we all experience when we can see people but not touch them.

Stress is another pandemic related to coronavirus: according to the Atlantic, a recent APA study called “Stress in America” found that 83% of Americans think that the state of our nation is a significant cause of stress (up from 63% in 2017). Building your EQ skills will not only help you manage your own stress, but it will also help you manage the stress on your team.

As it relates to the ongoing civil unrest, developing emotional intelligence will make you a better ally. Being a better ally will make you a better leader. It will allow you to be reflective, not reactive. It will allow you to be curious about people who aren’t like you, not judgmental. And it will help you to feel empathy toward those who are suffering.

Simply put, we cannot judge others as less than when we can see ourselves in them. That’s the essence of empathy: the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes. And lastly, building self-awareness will help to mitigate your unconscious biases. You’ll be better equipped to catch yourself thinking something racist (or sexist, homophobic, or ableist) and then question whether you want to keep thinking that way.

Here are some ways you can kick-start your emotional intelligence, and specifically your self- awareness. Self-awareness is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence; without it, you can’t develop the other three aspects.

Develop a mindfulness practice.

Even if it’s only five minutes a day, spend time simply noticing your thoughts without trying to change them. Whether you do sit quietly and meditate, walk mindfully, practice yoga or Tai Chi, or even simply put your full attention to the task at hand, spending time being mindful and fully present will help increase your self-awareness.

Become self-curious.

You can journal on a regular basis, questioning why you think what you think, believe what you believe and act the ways you do. Take personality assessments like DiSC or StrengthsFinder to understand yourself better. When you understand yourself better, you’ll more easily see the differences between yourself and others rather than assume that everyone’s like you. And then you can shift your curiosity from self to others. This builds trust and respect among teams.

Feel your feelings.

This is easier said than done. Our culture doesn’t reward feelings, it rewards action. That’s one of the patterns of a white supremacy culture. When we’re asked, “How are you feeling?” we usually don’t answer with what we’re actually feeling. Pinning down how we’re genuinely feeling is a little slippery. A great illustration of this is a video of a conversation between Simon Sinek and Andrea Garfield, an executive coach and expert on feeling the feelings.

At Kadabra, when we work with clients to build emotional intelligence, we use an Emotions Wheel. The Emotions Wheel is a tool used to help people identify big emotions like fear, anger, joy, and love to name a few. It also helps people drill down from the big emotion to understand the nuances of what they’re actually feeling. One example: if fear is the big emotion, we’ll drill down. Is it scared, terrified, insecure, or something else? If we identify that you feel scared, then going deeper: do you feel frightened, or helpless? Being able to get to that granular level of feelings gives you emotional competence.

Practice empathy.

Empathy is a leadership superpower. Yet it’s so easy to avoid it. We’d rather blame others for poor performance than risk being vulnerable and asking them if they’re okay. Most people don’t want to be poor performers. There’s always more to the story when someone’s performance is suffering. It’s important to put yourself in their shoes. It’s important to be curious about what’s happening to them on a human level that’s impacting their performance.

In summary, if you’re planning to do any personal development or self-improvement work this year, we highly recommend building your emotional intelligence. Ask us how we can help.

Johanna is the Principal Consultant and Practice Leader for Culture and Inclusion at Kadabra. She is a dynamic, energetic Leadership and Culture Consultant and Executive Coach with nearly 30 years of experience in leadership development and culture change.