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Emotional Intelligence is the Key to Success in Leadership



At New Quest Coaching & Consulting, we’re experts in leadership coaching and development. We know what it takes to successfully lead a team. Experience in your field and the ability to take control of situations might get you in the leadership seat — but they’re not the foundation of successful leadership. In fact, the skills you can’t measure are more important than hard skills or training.

The business world is full of advice on how to develop your leadership skills. Be assertive but don’t boss people around. Take control but know when to delegate. In all the noise, it can be tough to determine which skills will actually make you a better leader.

Skills like the ability to read other people’s emotions and establish strong relationships with your team all add up to form your emotional intelligence (or EQ). And according to psychologists, EQ could be the ultimate indicator of leadership success.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, understand and manage your own emotions, and the ability to perceive, understand and influence emotions in others. Those with high EQ are able to recognize the role that emotions play in different relationships and understand how emotions drive behaviour.

The term was first coined in 1990 by two Yale psychology professors, but it wasn’t applied to business until 1998. Psychologist Daniel Goleman was the first to recognize its significance in business leadership and identified emotional intelligence as a predictor of leadership ability. According to Goleman, “Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.”

In practical terms, a person with low EQ is out of touch with their own emotions, doesn’t recognize the emotional signals from other people and is unable to manage their emotions in response to the situation at hand. A person with high EQ, on the other hand, understands the impact their emotions have on themselves and others, can temper their emotions to better engage with other people and can use emotional input from others as a tool to guide their actions.

The Attributes of Emotional Intelligent People

In his research, Goleman identified five key components of emotional intelligence. Together, these attributes can predict a person’s strength (or weakness) as a leader. It all comes down to awareness — of yourself, others and the power of emotions.

1. Self Awareness

People with high EQ are in tune with their own emotions but are not ruled by them. They understand their strengths and weaknesses, and they don’t try to be something they’re not. From a leadership standpoint, self-awareness gives you the ability to respond rationally to challenges and conflicts, rather than letting your emotions take control.

2. Self Regulation

Low EQ people are impulsive, quick to react and easily angered. They have difficulty managing their emotions in most circumstances. In a leadership role, a lack of self-regulation can lead to outbursts that could be damaging to your business. Strong leaders are able to think before they act and tailor their behaviour to the situation they’re in.

3. Motivation

When you’re running a business, it’s easy to become overly focused on making money. But people with high EQ are motivated by more than revenue — as Goleman says, they have “a passion for work that goes beyond money and status.” To be a successful leader, you need to be willing to sacrifice short-term gain for long-term reward. Your motivation needs to come from within, not from an external source.

4. Empathy

Empathy refers to a person’s ability to identify and understand other people’s thoughts, feelings and needs. Low EQ people tend to be self-absorbed and act more in their own best interest; high EQ people have the ability to relate to others and understand perspectives that are different from their own. Empathetic people are also more honest, open and authentic, which is another key attribute of successful leaders.

5. Social Skills

It goes without saying that the strongest leaders are team players. They prioritize the success of the team and the organization over personal gain. People with high EQ are strong communicators, adept at resolving conflict and are experts in building relationships. They encourage others and enjoy helping other people succeed.

How to Cultivate Your Emotional Intelligence

In a perfect world, everyone in a leadership position would possess the five traits of a successful leader. But we’re all unique and have our own combination of attributes. One person may be completely tuned in to their emotions but be unable to understand others’ opinions; another may thrive at maintaining relationships but have zero self control. Fortunately, you don’t have to be born with perfect emotional intelligence to succeed — you can strengthen your EQ skills with practice.

It starts by identifying your strengths and, more importantly, your weaknesses. Then take some time to reflect on your emotions and how they influence your behaviour. For example, think about how you react when you receive criticism — do you instantly get defensive or do you use it as a tool to improve? Do you cut other people off in conversation or do you listen to their ideas? To improve your EQ, you need to be willing to ask for feedback from those around you and become an observer of your own emotions.

When it comes to leadership, it’s not about what you do — it’s how you do it. You might have all the technical skills to take your business to the top, but without emotional intelligence, you likely won’t have a strong team of people behind you. It hinges on the kind of leader you want to be: do you want your people to follow you because they have to or because they want to? Your emotional intelligence makes all the difference.


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