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Defining Emotional Intelligence and Effects on Leadership

Emotional intelligence. Along with terms like “corporate responsibility,” “synergism,” and “data mining,” it has entered the twenty-first century lexicon of professionalism. But what exactly does it mean? As leaders in the corporate world, how do we employ it? Why is it important? What are the pitfalls of not being emotionally intelligent? We will get to the bottom of these questions, but first, let’s define what it is exactly we are talking about. Emotional intelligence is “the ability to identify and manage your own emotions and the emotions of others.”

According to Psychology Today there are three primary tenets of emotional intelligence. The first is emotional awareness, or the ability to acknowledge and associate specific actions with how your or others are feeling. The second tenet is emotional utility, being able to capture emotional energy to complete work tasks. The third component of emotional intelligence is emotion management, being able to shift the emotional state of yourself or coworkers.

Why is Emotional Intelligence Important?

On a base-level, most people would agree that altruism is important and that caring for your employees as people and not just cogs in a machine in the right thing to do. What we can learn from emotional intelligence is that a genuine stake in your employees’ health and happiness does indeed pay dividends, certainly for company morale, but also for corporate productivity. There are numerous studies that point to the tangible productivity benefits of happy worker bees, but much of the common sense need for emotional intelligence can beillustrated with an example.

Let’s say, for example, your company has an annual retreat where corporate stakeholders all come together to hear how the company is doing. Your junior analyst is incredibly bright, but you’ve noticed she doesn’t do well under pressure. She’s the brainchild of a new initiative at your company and would be the best person to present on the topic, if it wasn’t for her crippling fear of public speaking. Here is where an emotionally intelligent boss and a boss lacking emotional intelligence may differ. The emotionally intelligent boss could either find a speaking surrogate or work with the analyst on her speaking while downplaying the stakes of the presentation. The unaware boss may simply “throw her to the dogs,” unaware of what a mess he is making for both her and himself.

Emotional intelligence is taking intuition to the next level, learning how to apply it and making action of the golden rule, “do unto others as you would want done unto you.”

Is Emotional Intelligence Fixed?

Research has shown that an individual with an average IQ outperforms one with a higher-level IQ in the workplace. Historically, this didn’t make much sense. Shouldn’t smarter individuals be performing better in the workplace than their less gifted peers? It turns out, what was missing from this simplistic equation wasn’t as tangible as your scoring on an intelligence test. What was missing, was the notion ofemotional intelligence.

Unlike the intelligence we measure with an IQ test, emotional intelligence can be taught and built up over time. Basically, people can betaught to be more aware and empathetic, they can’t be taught to be smarter. This is great news for motivated leaders, because it means regardless of their inherent intelligence, they have a meaningful ability, and responsibility, to improve their emotional intelligence.

From afar, we can pick up on how many of the most successful leaders in the business world employ their emotional intelligence. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, is a prime example. After fears of product safety at Tesla hit the wire, he paid a concerted effort to acknowledging the feelings of his employees, engaging them in email communication. No matter if it’s from the owner of the corner store, or the CEO of a Fortune 500 company, leaders in our lives can teach us the value of emotional intelligence, both for its feel-good points, and for its effects on bottom line.

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