What makes a great leader? Everyone will answer this question differently, but we can find a common thread. A boss who’s unflappably calm under pressure. A manager who is trustworthy and easy to talk to. An executive who is adaptable to the changing business environment and sensitive to employees’ needs. All of these descriptions reflect what’s known as Emotional Intelligence — the essential ingredient to great leadership.
Emotional intelligence (EI) is defined as the capacity to be aware of, and control, one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. The Institute for Health and Human Potential puts it this way: EI is the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions, and to recognize, understand and influence the emotions of others. Simply stated, it’s an awareness that emotions can drive people’s behaviors, positively or negatively.
Psychologist Daniel Goleman first popularized the term “emotional intelligence” in a 1995 book and later applied the concept to business. He conducted research at nearly 200 global companies and found that highly effective leaders were distinguished by a high degree of emotional intelligence. According to Goleman, there are five components to EI:
In the workplace, being self-aware means having a true picture of your own strengths and weaknesses, which in turn leads to managing with humility. A great leader creates other leaders. This can’t be done if the manager is too focused on his or her own ambitions and anxieties. Leaders who are aware of their own weak areas will not be afraid to hire people who are stronger in those areas, increasing the overall competency and success of the team.
Great leaders keep it cool under pressure. They are not easily provoked and seldom go on a verbal attack. They know their values and hold themselves accountable to those values. A good manager is calm in the face of a challenging situation. Practicing self-regulation not only diffuses workplace tensions, but also earns the respect of employees.
Self-motivated leaders aren’t satisfied with the status quo. They hold extremely high standards for the quality of their own work and consistently advance toward their goals. Good leadership means being passionate about what you do and strategic in planning. Effective leaders not only work toward their own goals, they also help others reach personal and professional goals. A leader’s own clarity of purpose is inspiring to others.
Having empathy means having the ability to put yourself into someone else’s situation. Great leaders listen to another person’s perspective. This helps them to act fairly and to give appropriate, constructive feedback. Being empathetic requires the ability to recognize emotions in others which are influencing their behaviors. Pay attention to a person’s body language, not just the words they are saying. When employees feel understood, they are more likely to listen to advice and more willing to try something new.
Great leaders are great communicators! They are excited about new projects and have a way of inspiring others to get onboard. They are approachable with bad news and manage conflicts diplomatically. Good leaders understand that the people they lead will determine the ultimate success of the organization. By clearly communicating a well-defined vision, they inspire confidence and ignite passion for organizational goals. Great leaders enkindle loyalty by praising others on a job well done. They set an example by their own behavior.
Developing your emotional intelligence is key to becoming a great leader. Make a deliberate effort to become more aware of how your emotions, and the emotions of others, affect behaviors and, ultimately, productivity. As you demonstrate a clarity of your own purpose and express empathy toward others, you will gain respect as a great leader.