One of the greatest skills successful leaders can cultivate is emotional intelligence (EI). EI builds strong, lasting, influential relationships with team members and customers. And the good news is that EQ—how EI is measured—can increase if a person actively works on it, unlike someone’s intelligence quotient (IQ).
Research shows business leaders who have a high EQ are more apt to have entrepreneurial success and innovation. TalentSmart, a top provider in emotional intelligence services, found “emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of performance, explaining a full 58% of success in all types of jobs.”
At its core, building a successful business is about positively influencing the lives of others. The better you care for your team and the more you understand them, the better leader you become. “Emotional intelligence is critical in building and maintaining relationships and influencing others—key skills that help people throughout their career and wherever they sit in an organizational structure,” says Margaret Andrews in an article for Harvard Division of Continuing Education.
So, what exactly is emotional intelligence and how do business leaders increase it?
Find out the definition, plus five tips for cultivating EI below:
Table of Contents
What is EI?
The Definition of Emotional Intelligence
The term emotional intelligence (EI) was coined by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer in 1990, who define it as: “a set of skills hypothesized to contribute to the accurate appraisal and expression of emotion in oneself and in others, the effective regulation of emotion in self and others, and the use of feelings to motivate, plan, and achieve in one’s life.”
In 1995, psychologist Daniel Goleman popularized the concept of EI in Emotional Intelligence by breaking it down into four realms: “self-awareness, self-regulation, empathy, and social skill.” When it comes to leadership, Goleman says that working to raise your emotional quotient should be a main focus.
How to Start Increasing Your EI
The first step in growing your EI is mastering self-awareness. Self-awareness is one of the most important leadership skills because it helps business owners effectively communicate with their team during periods of growth and stress. Without self-awareness, a leader can’t create optimal outcomes because they aren’t cognizant of the effect their words, actions, and decisions have on others. Therefore, this often results in a disconnected team.
In summary, self-awareness limits the amount of damage control needed with employees and customers. Leaders who self-reflect before speaking or acting can adjust how they deliver messages in a way that makes team members feel motivated, seen, and heard. Doing so creates a sense of inspiration and unity, even in the face of some of a company’s greatest challenges.
More ways to increase self-awareness include:
- Recognizing and addressing feelings as they occur
- Developing mindfulness practices
- Reverse engineering solutions through problem-solving
- Learning breathing techniques
- Practicing meditation
- Exercising daily self-evaluation
Tip 1: Define Your Intentions
Another important aspect of increasing self-awareness is providing the “why” behind duties. Before delegating work, think about why the job matters and how it connects to the company’s mission. Communicating intentions establishes a clear picture of success, gives work meaning, and gets everyone working toward the same goals.
Before assigning a person work, ask:
- What it is that you want your employee to achieve?
- How does it move the business’s needle forward?
- What type of growth and development does this new responsibility provide?
When entrepreneurs convey purpose and take the time to develop leaders at all levels, these instrumental team members grow the company’s success and a business owner’s joy, happiness, and freedom. As Dave Ramsey writes in EntreLeadership, “If you want team members, explain why you do what you do . . . When you teach team members . . . the why, they are more equipped to make the same decision next time without you.”
Tip 2: Invite Feedback
Getting feedback from employees helps leaders become better at eliminating or controlling negative behaviors. When addressing this aspect of increasing EI, be approachable and accountable. For example, commit to becoming more self-aware by recognizing the ways your leadership style might not always benefit your business.
- First, start with communicating why self-awareness matters to you.
- Next, have one-on-one conversations with employees regarding places you could improve.
- Keep track of the conversations by taking notes.
- Then create a list of the traits people commonly cite as areas that need progress.
- Finally, hold yourself accountable or work with a mentor on minimizing these issues.
Learn more about using other leadership style traits that can complement the way you lead, here.
Become Better at Self-Regulation
Self-regulation is what pushes people to achieve their own definition of success. It takes leaders from the dreaming to the doing stage by internally managing their emotions and actions. This invisible force is the source that drives people to keep going when the going gets tough, stay focused, and make sure their actions, behaviors, and words align with positive outcomes.
Get better at self-regulation by spending more time:
- Communicating clearly
- Positively influencing others as a servant leader
- Controlling impulsive or toxic behaviors
- Pausing before reacting to something that triggers negative behaviors and responses
- Practicing positive self-talk
Tip 3: Create Incentives for Achievement
When increasing your self-regulation abilities through goal-setting, think about what pushes you toward achievement. Ground down into a visualization practice and get clear on the following questions:
- What positive outcomes do you foresee in your future?
- What would you have more time to do?
- How would it change the company for the better?
- What would happen if the objective isn’t accomplished?
Think about success from all angles and write out the purpose of your achievement. Additionally, partner every major goal with a significant reward. Along with fulfilling positive outcomes, this keeps your engagement and self-regulation levels high when achieving more challenging objectives.
Increase Your Empathy and Social Awareness
While the first half of Goleman’s EI quadrant deals with the self, the latter half focuses on social skills. This means increasing EQ requires greater empathy. In Daring Greatly, Brené Brown describes empathy as, “simply listening, holding space, withholding judgment, emotionally connecting, and communicating that incredibly healing message of you’re not alone.” By doing this, the opportunity for deep connection and understanding is created.
Empathy is also a part of social awareness or being able to read verbal and non-verbal clues that allow you to react in a way that serves the needs of others. In short, it’s knowing how to “read the room” and conduct yourself in a way that’ll produce the best results. As Goleman, Richard Boyatzio and Annie Mckee describe it, social awareness is: “Being attuned to how others feel, a leader can say and do what is appropriate, to calm fears, assuage anger, or join in good spirits.”
Tip 4: Hire a Diverse Team
Building a team with diversity in mind provides companies with many financial and cultural benefits. Aside from being more profitable, companies with a diverse team have a greater need to expand their ability to empathize. Empathy is felt when there’s a personal connection between two or more people. When you see an employee or co-worker struggling, you likely want to show up and support them by listening, offering help, or simply understanding where they’re coming from. Diversity on the team adds another layer to this when you work alongside people who may have different problems and needs. For this reason, it challenges you to show up in new ways as a leader.
Foster Strong Relationships
Another component of the social side of EI is relationship management. Goleman says relationship management includes: development of others, inspirational leadership, being a change catalyst, influence, conflict management, teamwork, and collaboration. These are all leadership qualities needed to positively affect the lives of others and guide a group toward the achievement of a collective, overarching goal. In essence, relationship management drives positive outcomes and builds greater relationships in the workplace.
Tip 5: Develop a Healthy Work Culture
Leaders are unifiers who inspire and influence their team to accomplish the same mission. This goes without saying that not everyone will always agree on how to get there. Conflict is unavoidable in business, but this doesn’t mean it has to result in a negative outcome. Managing conflict creates and maintains a healthy work environment where people can respectfully challenge (or disagree with) one another. Keeping your cool, listening, and letting people voice themselves during moments when tensions rise is the difference between gaining someone’s respect and losing it. Nevertheless, conflict management isn’t something most people get taught in school. For this reason, leaders must step in and teach the team to value each other more than “being right.”
One of the best ways of demonstrating how to manage conflict and build strong relationships is by operating as a servant leader. This leadership style puts the needs of others first and eliminates self-serving behavior. Additionally, servant leaders foster strong relationships within the team by spending time teaching leadership to others. Because this type of leader creates trust between themselves and team members, they eliminate unhealthy behavior such as micromanagement, which can stifle the exchange of ideas, creativity, and team morale.
Learn how to best serve your people by:
- Spending 30 minutes mentoring team members each week
- Sitting down and having lunch alongside employees
- Making it a point to develop personal connections at work
- Engaging in conversation
- Checking-in regularly
Relationship-building like this expands a business owner’s or executive’s knowledge about their people. As a result, it also provides more insight into employees’ strengths and how to help each person reach their full potential. In short, the more you get to know your employees, you’ll not only have a stronger team—you’ll become an effective, more emotionally intelligent leader.
Emotions Can Be a Leader’s Greatest Advantage
The great thing about emotional intelligence?
The more a person works at developing it, the easier it becomes. “As you train your brain by repeatedly practicing new emotionally intelligent behaviors, your brain builds the pathways needed to make them into habits. Before long, you begin responding to your surroundings with emotional intelligence without even having to think about it,” says Dr. Travis Bradberry for Entrepreneur.
Leaders interested in being better for the benefit of those around them are much more likely to build companies where people feel valued. In turn, this affects levels of productiveness and happiness, thus helping the organization to thrive well into the future.
Interested in learning more about how to increase your EQ after reading this article?
Here’s a few more starting points: