• Dr. Amy Loriaux

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

Today’s corporate culture is changing, and along with it is the definition of a successful leader. Traditionally, companies have valued individualistic traits, such as drive, mental toughness, and the ability to use power and influence over others to reach goals. Maintaining the leader-team divide with an emotionally-detached, “get it done” attitude was thought to be the best way to deliver positive results, namely, more profit. Interpersonal skills were viewed as “soft” and unnecessary, perhaps even detrimental.

However, this hardliner approach is quickly becoming outdated. The employee base has shifted, with Millennials making up 50% of the workforce[1]. This younger generation is looking to get more out of a job than a mere paycheck. They are instead seeking roles that give them a sense of purpose and fulfillment. They want to feel valued and appreciated for their contributions. Traditional leadership methods do not work, and may even be counterproductive, with this new workforce. To stay competitive, companies need to be able to fulfill these needs in their employees. As such, many companies today are actively seeking employees with high levels of emotional intelligence (EQ), that is, the ability to understand your own emotions and the emotions of others.

In contrast to the autocratic, top-down management style of traditional leaders, managers with high levels of EQ can build highly cohesive teams of empowered individuals motivated to achieve through a shared sense of purpose. Leaders with high levels of EQ can foster creativity and innovation, with team members feeling more comfortable suggesting bold new ideas. This in turn results in greater job performance.

Indeed, organizations that embrace such a management style are seeing positive returns on their investment. A recent survey published in Harvard Business Review suggests that, while it is difficult to draw a direct line between high levels of EQ and company performance, organizations which do value EQ see higher levels of productivity, employee engagement, and customer satisfaction and loyalty[2].

Effective leadership training should build four core EQ competencies – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relational management – according to executive training coach, Brenda Ellington Booth of Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management[3]. She also provides techniques to help develop this skillset. For instance, Booth suggests simple steps to take to cultivate self-awareness. Pausing to “check-in” with your emotions can provide insight into how others will interpret your actions. Leaders should also “check-in” with their team members to get a good sense of how the team is doing as a whole. For example, if a team member seems to be struggling, Booth suggests addressing them directly, asking “I sense you are frustrated. Is that true?” or “What do you need from me right now?”. This not only legitimizes the team member’s feelings, but it also opens a dialogue which could quickly resolve the problem.

Companies which strive to instill these core competencies in their culture undoubtedly have a competitive edge in today’s fast-paced corporate environment. Not only will they benefit from increased innovation and creativity stemming from an empowered, passionate workforce, but they will be able to attract and keep the best and brightest workers.

 [1] PWC. “Millennials at work: Reshaping the workplace”. 2011. Published online at https://www.pwc.com/co/es/publicaciones/assets/millennials-at-work.pdf (Accessed 29 December 2020) 
 [2] Harvard Business Review Analytic Services. “THE EI ADVANTAGE Driving Innovation and Business Success through the Power of Emotional Intelligence”. 2019. Published online at https://hbr.org/resources/pdfs/comm/fourseasons/TheEIAdvantage.pdf (Accessed 29 December 2020)
 [3] Kellogg Insight. “Emotional Intelligence is Key to Strong Leadership. Here’s How to Sharpen Yours. Published December 4, 2020, online at https://insight.kellogg.northwestern.edu/article/emotional-intelligence-strong-leadership (Accessed 29 December 2020)

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