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Constant Crisis: Why Leaders’ Emotional Intelligence Matters

Published Thu Apr 15 2021


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As the world continues to navigate the uncertain landscape created by the COVID-19 pandemic and the vaccination process, a leader’s emotional intelligence matters more than ever. Some of the traits of great leaders include their abilities to correctly gauge people’s emotions and high social awareness. It’s no coincidence these form the foundation of emotional intelligence.

What Is Emotional Intelligence? Why Is It Important at Work? And How Can Leaders Get Better?

In The EQ Difference: A Powerful Plan for Putting Emotional Intelligence to Work, Adele Lynn defines emotional intelligence as the ability to manage yourself and your relationships with others so that you truly live your intentions. While the term emotional intelligence was coined around 2005, the World Economic Forum ranked emotional intelligence as one of the top 10 most important workplace skills for success in 2020, and emotional intelligence has also been listed as a crucial ingredient of great leadership.

What Does Emotional Intelligence Look Like in Leadership?

One example of a well-known senior leader who shows emotional intelligence in leadership is Amazon’s Jeff Bezos. Bezos is known for his leadership style, which uses self-deprecating humor to make others feel comfortable with him. Next is Elon Musk. Musk thanked Tesla owners on Twitter for taking a chance on his cars when experts said his company wouldn’t work. And then there’s Ford’s former CEO Alan Mulally. He wrote handwritten notes to employees, praising their work. The bottom line? Whatever your business or industry, making human connections with everyone is crucial. People want to associate with those they can trust.

The Skills That Comprise Emotional Intelligence

From the definition of emotional intelligence by American psychologists John Mayer and Peter Salovey, we can learn what emotional intelligence skills are all about: “The emotionally intelligent person is skilled in four areas: identifying emotions, using emotions, understanding emotions, and regulating emotions.” Successful leaders are proficient in all four areas. But how do people show emotional intelligence in leadership? Leaders show emotional intelligence when they are open-minded. They also consider other ideas and perspectives. They’re nonjudgmental in their responses and emotional reaction. An emotionally intelligent leader is fully present and able to read others well. But emotionally intelligent leaders can also adjust their thinking or approach in response to the emotion or behavior of others, which often results in better outcomes.

Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important in Difficult Situations?

One reason emotional intelligence is so important when dealing with difficult situations is that an emotionally intelligent leader will respond to adversity in a calm, considered way. The emotionally intelligent leader is better at managing emotions—both their own and those of others—during times of stress or pressure. But a worrying trend today’s leader must consider is the increased risk of burnout. DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2021 reports that 86 percent of high-potential leaders are at risk of burnout_._ The forecast shows that the primary factor that influences burnout is a leader’s ability to demonstrate empathy. The root of empathy is the ability to connect with people on a more human level. This is just one example of what leaders today must deal with. But there are many more situations where emotional intelligence in leadership is important, if not essential. And today, crisis is part of every leader’s new normal. So, during a time of crisis, how should leaders use emotional intelligence? And how can leaders with limited emotional intelligence develop? Find out more in DDI’s blog.

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