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6 habits of emotionally intelligent leaders

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6 min read
emotionally intelligent leader

According to the World Economic Forum, we are now living through the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Technology and digitalization have changed the way we do business and the way we manage and relate to our teams. One of the biggest challenges in this respect relates to emotional intelligence. An effective leader these days needs to be an emotionally intelligent leader. They need to be present, emotionally connected, and intuitive. They need the right emotional skills to nurture employee engagement and develop organizational commitment in the modern workplace.

So, what makes a good leader in terms of emotional intelligence? Which specific leadership skills do they need?

Let’s take a look at 6 habits of emotionally intelligent leaders to help you understand which leadership qualities you should be developing in your business.

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What is an emotionally intelligent leader? 

These days, organizations are beginning to understand that emotional intelligence in the workplace is a critical and much desirable skill

But what is an emotionally intelligent leader exactly?

According to Daniel Goleman, whose 1995 book popularized the concept, emotional intelligence is made up of five key competencies: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills

An emotionally intelligent leader can acknowledge the effects of their emotions without being influenced by them. They are able to self-regulate their feelings and adapt to changing environments. They are also able to identify and respond appropriately to the feelings of others. This is precisely what makes a good leader in the modern workplace. And that is why the concept has grown in popularity in businesses around the world over recent years. 

Hiring an emotionally intelligent leader can benefit your company in a number of ways. 

For example, emotionally intelligent leaders often:

  • Understand the needs of their team members and react accordingly.
  • Are active listeners, practice empathy and compassion, and have good communication skills. This helps them build stronger teams with higher levels of employee empowerment, satisfaction, collaboration, and performance.
  • Have the right skills to drive people towards their goals and encourage employee development.
  • Generate trust in their teams and nurture organizational commitment.
  • Develop better relationships with colleagues and teams, contributing to a positive working environment.
  • Have a growth mindset which enables them to better handle and adapt to organizational change.

6 habits of emotionally intelligent leaders 

When you hire managers in your business and consider the traits of a good leader, make sure you also think about emotional intelligence, not just hard skills and qualifications. An emotionally intelligent leader can help you nurture a motivated and loyal workforce and drive your business forward.

Let’s take a look at 6 common traits and habits of emotionally intelligent leaders so that you know what you should be looking for. These are also fantastic traits that you should encourage your existing managers to develop so that they can keep up with the evolving modern workforce.

Practice active listening 

Of all the leadership qualities that a manager might possess, this one is potentially the most powerful for making employees feel valued and heard

An emotionally intelligent leader is very good at active listening. They pay attention when someone is speaking to them and give them their undivided attention. They listen to the message that someone is communicating, but they are also good at detecting tone and body language. This helps them understand what employees are thinking, even if an employee finds it difficult to express themselves. As a result, employees tend to warm to emotionally intelligent leaders as they meet three basic human needs: belonging, respect and accomplishment. In contrast, if employees feel they are not being listened to, they are more likely to develop a sense of mistrust towards their manager.  

Although listening may seem like an easy thing to do, many leaders actually find it quite difficult. This is especially true when a leader is stressed or distracted. That’s why emotionally intelligent leaders are so effective: they can give employees their undivided attention even when they are busy. Why? Because they are better equipped to handle emotions like stress or feeling overwhelmed

Cultivate self-awareness 

Emotionally intelligent leaders are good at cultivating self-awareness.

Self-awareness is the ability to recognize and understand your own emotions, behaviors, beliefs, and values. Leaders who are self-aware understand that their emotional state has a direct impact on the performance of their team. They have the right cognitive skills to transmit positivity, inspire confidence, and energize their team. This gives them a powerful degree of influence over the emotional pulse of the team. They can then use this influence to drive positive outcomes. 

Self-awareness is a highly valuable skill in the modern workplace. This is because employees these days increasingly value the development of workplace relationships founded on trust and transparency. Self-awareness also enables emotionally intelligent leaders to cultivate authentic relationships with remote employees, despite the distance.

Set boundaries 

A good emotionally intelligent leader is able to establish and stick to clear boundaries. This includes setting clear boundaries between leading and managing. It also includes setting personal boundaries.

Setting boundaries is important as a leader. Boundaries define clear guidelines for what is accepted and what is not. Leaders with this emotional intelligence skill understand where their attention is needed, which behaviors they should nurture in their teams, and which tasks they need to delegate. Employees understand their role and that of their manager. And this is important for departments, especially those with high workloads. 

There’s another important reason why boundaries are essential in the workplace. An emotionally intelligent leader that has set clear boundaries is able to create a certain detachment between what is happening and what they can do about it. This gives them valuable time and space that they can use to form a response based on logic, not emotion.

Manage emotions 

As we mentioned at the start of the post, a big part of emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage emotional responses. Instead of reacting in the heat of the moment, an emotionally intelligent leader can take a step back from their emotions and regulate them. 

Don’t confuse this form of leadership with not experiencing emotions, however. Quite the opposite, in fact. Emotionally intelligent leaders are highly in tune with their emotions. They are just better at managing them. And this means that they are far less likely to let negative emotions like stress and anger influence those around them

Even when faced with a challenging situation, they can self-regulate their emotions and form more objective reactions based on reason. As a result, they transmit a sense of calm and composure which reassures their team and instils a sense of trust and confidence

Continuously learning  

Emotionally intelligent leaders are open to developing their emotional intelligence skills. They recognize their abilities, but they seek continuous development as they understand that there is always room for improvement. As a result, they tend to proactively seek opportunities to challenge their existing perspectives and step out of their comfort zone. 

An emotionally intelligent leader will often have a natural curiosity about what others think and feel. They value every interaction as an opportunity to learn. This makes them very open and approachable, not just in the eyes of their team but in the workforce in general. And this is one of the key foundations of building a collaborative workforce with a strong sense of organizational commitment

Practice empathy and compassion 

Finally, emotionally intelligent leaders are experts in showing empathy and compassion. They understand what others are feeling both from a cognitive and emotional perspective. If an emotionally intelligent leader asks you how you are feeling, they are probably not just being polite; they have a genuine interest in what you are experiencing (situationally and emotionally) and they want to understand how they can help you.

Moreover, emotionally intelligent leaders with strong skills in empathy and compassion understand that people make mistakes, and they don’t always meet expectations. They are able to understand people’s errors rather than judging them. As a result, they are much better at helping employees overcome any issues rather than criticizing them

Empathy and compassion are essential skills to cultivate in your workforce. They form the backbone of the human side of your business. In fact, unless employees feel that an organization’s leaders genuinely care about them as people, not just employees, then it will be incredibly difficult to develop a solid and cohesive corporate culture

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How to spot an emotionally intelligent leader 

Now that we understand what makes a good leader, let’s finish by sharing a few tips to help you spot an emotionally intelligent leader. 

Think about the leaders in your organization when you read this list. Are they emotionally intelligent? Do any show potential for developing the traits of a good leader? How can you promote and develop these leadership qualities in your business?

Clues to help you spot an emotionally intelligent leader:

  • Gets along well with others and takes a genuine interest in team members and colleagues
  • Aware of both their strengths and weaknesses
  • Honest and transparent
  • Aware of their own feelings and emotions as well as those of others
  • Self-motivated
  • Well-placed boundaries
  • Able to respond with an open mind to criticism and feedback (not defensive)
  • Authentic at all times
  • Willing to step out of their comfort zone
  • Able to manage and self-regulate their emotions and respond to difficult situations in a calm and collected manner  
  • Relates to others on a human level 
  • Has a positive mindset and doesn’t let setbacks derail their goals 

There’s no magic switch for developing emotional intelligence. Some people naturally possess it, and others don’t. However, there are always opportunities to develop emotional intelligence with the right mindset and a shift of perspective. Encourage your managers to work on developing the habits that we have discussed today. With time, effort, and patience, they can expand their soft skills and become the emotionally intelligent leaders you need to drive your organization to success.

Cat Symonds is a freelance writer, editor, and translator. Originally from Wales, she studied Spanish and French at the University of Swansea before moving to Barcelona where she lived and worked for 12 years. She has since relocated back to Wales where she continues to build her business, working with clients in Spain and the UK.  Cat is the founder of The Content CAT: Content And Translation, providing content development and translation services to her clients. She specializes in corporate blogs, articles of interest, ghostwriting, and translation (SP/FR/CA into EN), collaborating with a range of companies from a variety of business sectors. She also offers services to a number of NGOs including Oxfam Intermón, UNICEF, and Corporate Excellence - Centre for Reputation Leadership.  For more information or to contact Cat visit her website (thecontentcat.com) or send her a message through LinkedIn.

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