Why is emotional intelligence in leadership important?

Written by Rose Keith, Consultant

Emotional Intelligence (EI) has become a hot topic in terms of leadership traits. So, what exactly is it and how does emotional intelligence for leaders impact the workplace?

What is emotional intelligence in leadership?

Emotional intelligence has to do with one’s ability to both recognise and control his/her own emotions while leveraging emotions appropriately as situations dictate. It also has to do with one’s awareness of and sensitivity towards others’ emotions. It could easily be argued that emotional intelligence is an important characteristic for anyone at any level of an organisation.

While at its core emotional intelligence in leadership is no different than say at the individual contributor level, it has higher stakes and far-reaching influence. A leader’s emotional intelligence can affect their relationships with colleagues, how they manage their teams, and generally how they interact with individuals in the workplace.

What happens when leaders aren’t emotionally intelligent?

When there’s a lack of emotional intelligence in leadership, it’s common for employees to experience leaders who:

  • Act out in stressful situations
    Perhaps there is no better demonstration of the importance of emotional intelligence in leadership than when faced with a stressful situation. Leaders who are low in emotional intelligence tend to act out in stressful situations because they’re not able to manage their own emotions. They may be prone to behaviours such as yelling, blaming, and being passive aggressive. This can create an even more stressful environment, where workers are always walking on eggshells trying to prevent the next outburst.
  • Inhibit collaborative work environment
    Not being emotionally intelligent can hinder collaboration. When a leader doesn’t have a handle on their own emotions and reacts inappropriately, most of their employees tend to feel nervous about contributing their ideas for fear of how the leader will respond.
  • Inability to effectively recognise and address conflict
    A leader who lacks emotional intelligence doesn’t necessarily lash out at their employees. A lack of emotional intelligence in leadership can also mean an inability to address situations that could be fraught with emotion. Most leaders have to deal with conflict in their role, and a leader who isn’t clued into others’ emotions may have a difficult time recognising conflict and dealing effectively with its resolution.

What happens when leaders are emotionally intelligent?

When there’s a strong presence of emotional intelligence in leadership, employees will thrive in an environment where they interact with leaders who:

  • Foster a safe, collaborative workplace
    Leaders who are emotionally intelligent foster safe environments, where employees feel comfortable to take calculated risks and to voice their opinions. Working collaboratively isn’t just a goal, but it gets woven into the organisational culture.
  • Leverage emotions for the good of the organisation
    When it comes to emotional intelligence for leaders, they can leverage their emotions for the good of the organisation. Leaders often have to act as champions of change, and if they are aware of how others will react emotionally to changes, they can anticipate this and plan the most appropriate ways to introduce and carry out the change.
  • Don’t take things personally
    Emotionally intelligent leaders don’t take things personally and are able to forge ahead with plans without worrying about the impact on their egos.

Why is emotional intelligence important in leadership?

Emotional intelligence in leadership can be the difference between a highly successful team that feels psychologically safe at work, empowered, and engaged in their work and a dysfunctional group who is simply there to collect a paycheck. When a leader is authentic in how they leverage their emotional intelligence – which translates ultimately into how they oversee their team and its performance – there are far-reaching positive impacts such as fostering collaboration and minimising stressful situations and workplace conflict that make a big difference in their team dynamic.

Reducing turnover starts with recruiting and developing great leaders

Although many believe unwanted turnover is difficult to fix, there are very clear ways to understand how it impacts your organisation and what can be done to reduce it.

Organisations who have “solved” this problem do several things differently than their counterparts – and they all centre on effective leadership.

As we all know, there are many reasons why employees leave. And some of this turnover should actually be categorised as “good turnover” (e.g. managing out poor performers).

However, as we research unwanted turnover, there is a common thread underlying the reasons people leave and it is directly tied to their relationships with their manager and other leaders within the company.

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