Cultivating Emotional Intelligence: A Leader’s Guide to a More Productive and Fulfilling Workplace

Ilea Stoltenberg

balancing strategy and emotional intelligence

In today’s dynamic and interconnected workplace, leadership is less about making decisions or setting objectives. Rather, leadership is more about understanding and managing emotions in the workplace —both a leader’s emotions and the emotions of those around them. Daniel Goleman, often regarded as the pioneer of emotional intelligence (EQ), eloquently articulated the essence of this theory by stating:

“What really matters for success, character, happiness and lifelong achievements is a definite set of emotional skills – your EQ — not just purely cognitive abilities that are measured by conventional IQ tests.” 

As we continue to face constant change and uncertainty, many leaders face challenges in managing thoughts and emotions when leading, which can have a profound impact on performance and wellbeing. The term has remained topical in the past few months with organisations citing EQ as a critical leadership quality because it helps leaders to effectively coach their teams, manage stress, provide feedback, and collaborate. When it comes to implementation however, leaders often perceive EQ as simply being aware of others’ emotions. This article explores a few areas that relate to EQ and can support a leader’s ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions more effectively.

Self-Awareness: The Foundation of EQ

To reiterate the point made in the beginning, EQ is more than just being aware of others’ emotions. Leaders must have the self-awareness to look within themselves to understand how they’re feeling in order to see how they impact those around them. A noteworthy finding by organisational psychologist Tasha Eurich indicates that while 95 percent of individuals believe they possess self-awareness, the reality is that only 10 to 15 percent truly demonstrate the quality, creating challenges that decrease employees’ motivation and success. To address this, a starting point for leaders is to take time for introspection; acknowledging their strengths, areas for development, and potential triggers. Really reflecting on the root cause of the challenges a leader is facing and strategising ways they can more effectively manage how they are feeling. Once leaders undertake self-reflection it’s important for them to seek feedback from colleagues to ‘test’ their reflections and perceptions. This is a great way to gain valuable insight into their leadership style and further inform their leadership approach. It is only by being in tune with their own emotions that leaders are better equipped to recognise and manage the emotions of those around them.

Empathy: Bridging the Gap

Once a leader can better identify and regulate their emotions, it becomes easier to approach others with an open and inquisitive mind, thereby having a genuine desire to understand the perspectives of others. Leaders can show empathy which involves not only understanding their team’s emotions but also showing genuine care and compassion. The trick is to reduce projection by staying curious, inquisitive and open. While leaders can draw from their own experiences to relate to a challenge a person is experiencing it’s important to pay attention to the person’s words and actions without formulating an assumption in their mind. Take the time to actively listen, ask how they’re doing, and connect more deeply. By showing empathy in a way that is receptive and open to unexpected viewpoints, the leader creates a safe and trusting environment where others feel valued and supported.

Effective Communication: The Key to Connection

Strong communication skills are a hallmark of emotionally intelligent leaders. This is not about structuring a perfect dialogue but recognising that communication extends far beyond the exchange of words and involves the understanding of the emotional undercurrents that flow beneath every interaction. Leaders need to communicate clearly but also tailor what they say to the emotional needs of others. This may be difficult to do in the beginning as different colleagues often have different communication styles. To ease the process, build a strong understanding of those around you – peers, direct reports, and stakeholders. Take the time to get to know their personalities and their personal interests along with their preferred communication styles. This knowledge is what will help a leader adapt the way they communicate and interact. Leaders can do this by role modelling open and honest conversations, actively seeking and listening to feedback and identifying opportunities to connect with others regularly.

Managing Conflict: Navigating Stormy Waters

Conflict is a natural part of any workplace, but how it’s managed can make all the difference to the outcome. Leaders with high EQ are better able to navigate conflict in a way that all involved feel understood and validated. The key is to understand that disagreements are often emotionally charged. These include intense emotional undertones from frustration and anger to hurt and fear, and most importantly, often underlie core issues that need to be addressed. So how do you approach this? Manage the conflict in a tactful and considerate manner, focusing on finding common ground and solutions rather than intensifying divisions. Leaders should show a commitment to resolving the issue in a way that’s constructive. Comprehend the ‘why’ behind reactions and demonstrate a sincere willingness to see the situation from the other’s point of view. You’ll find that the conflict eases much quicker when the person feels heard and understood.

To conclude, leaders who apply EQ in the workplace create a thriving and cohesive atmosphere where individuals feel understood, valued, and motivated. By mastering self-awareness, empathy, effective communication, and conflict resolution – leaders not only enhance their skills but also foster a more fulfilling and productive work environment for their team. It starts with embracing EQ and making incremental changes to their leadership habits. Watch as the workplace increases its employee positivity, cooperation, and success.

Ilea Stoltenberg is a talent, organisational and leadership development professional with global and cross-industry experience. She applies her expertise of psychometric assessment, knowledge of current human capital research, trends, and psychological principles to act as a performance catalyst for individuals and teams.  

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