1.4 The Emotionally Intelligent Leader

Whilst there is a burgeoning leadership profiling industry claiming to identify an individual’s personal aptitudes and preferences, its predominant emphasis is on measuring attributes seen to be fixed. The claim is that people can therefore be matched with job roles to reflect their personal attributes in order to achieve the well-functioning organisation, and that profiling can select effective leaders. Yet the science and practice behind this process are far from perfect and might be considered at odds with the agile and developmental nature of workplace innovation in which learning, reflection and change go hand in hand.

Emotional Intelligence (EI), in contrast, is essentially about how an individual manages their personality rather than deterministically limiting potential to pre-ordained factors. It can be defined as the capability of individuals to recognise their own emotions and those of others, to discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, to use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or the achievement of goals. Crucially these attributes are not fixed but can be learned and developed with sufficient understanding, commitment and practice.

Daniel Goleman, a founder of the movement, reported that EI accounted for 67% of the abilities deemed necessary for superior performance in leaders, and mattered twice as much as cognitive intelligence (IQ) or technical expertise. To illustrate this, if someone is in an anxious state then their cortical functioning is impaired. If they can bring themselves back into a relaxed state functioning improves; they are able to think more clearly, be more creative and so use their cognitive intelligence and temperament to its best.

Amongst the multiple definitions of emotional intelligence two attributes stand out: self-regard (valuing and accepting yourself) and regard for others (valuing and accepting others regardless of their beliefs and actions). These attributes are, of course, highly interdependent: for example, those with low self-esteem will seek to prop up their own status and be dismissive of the contributions of others, whilst those with higher self-esteem will be more comfortable in valuing and supporting others to maximise their contributions.

A link between creative behaviours and emotional intelligence has also been established by researchers, drawing a clear link with workplace innovation and leadership. Leaders with higher self-esteem would be more willing to try out new ideas with less fear of the consequences and a greater ability to navigate the failures and disappointments that are inevitable within a creative process.

Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Leader

As a leader you must know yourself. Know your own strengths and weaknesses, so that you can build the best team around you.

Be the example you want to set. Some leaders lead by example and are very “hands on”, others are more distanced and let their people do it. Whatever you choose, your example is paramount. The way you work and conduct yourself will be the most you can possibly expect from your people.

If you set low standards for yourself, you are to blame for low standards in your people.

Plan carefully with your people how you will achieve shared aims. You may have to redefine or develop your own new aims and priorities. Leadership can be daunting for many people simply because no-one else is issuing the aims – leadership often means you have to create your own from a blank sheet of paper. Set and agree clear standards. Keep the right balance between “doing yourself” and enabling others “to do”.

Build teams. Ensure you look after people and that communications and relationships are good. Select good people and help them to develop. Develop people and give them opportunities for new experiences. Agreeing objectives and responsibilities that will interest and stretch them and always support people while they strive to improve and take on extra tasks. Follow the rules about delegation closely – this process is crucial. Ensure that your managers are applying the same principles. Good leadership principles must cascade down through the whole organisation. This means that if you are leading a large organisation you must check that the processes for managing, communicating and developing people are in place and working properly.

Communication is critical. Listen, consult, involve and explain “why” as well as “what” needs to be done.

“Praise loudly, blame softly.”  Follow this maxim and you will rapidly earn respect and trust among your people. Always give your people the credit for your achievements and successes. Never take the credit yourself – even if it’s all down to you, which would be unlikely anyway. You must however take the blame and accept responsibility for any failings or mistakes that your people make.

Never publicly blame another person for a mistake. Their failing is your responsibility – an effective leader will focus on the problem not the person.

Take time to listen to and really understand people. Walk the job. Ask and learn about what people do and think, and how they think improvements can be made. Download our quick guide to listening.

Accentuate the positive. Express things in terms of what should be done, not what should not be done. If you accentuate the negative, people are more likely to veer towards it

Have faith in people to do great things – given space and time, everyone can achieve more than they hope for. Provide people with relevant interesting opportunities, with proper measures and rewards and they will more than repay your faith.

Take difficult decisions bravely and be truthful and sensitive when you implement them.

Constantly seek to learn from the people around you – they will teach you more about yourself than anything else. They will also tell you 90% of what you need to know to achieve your business goals.

Embrace change, but not for change’s sake. Begin to plan your own succession as soon as you take up your new post, and in this regard, ensure that the only promises you ever make are those that you can guarantee to deliver.

As a leader, your main priority is to get the job done, whatever the job is. You make things happen by:

  • knowing your objectives and having a plan how to achieve them
  • building a team committed to achieving the objectives
  • helping each team member to give their best efforts

Leadership is, without doubt, mostly about behaviour, especially towards others. People who strive for these things generally come to be regarded and respected as a leader by their people.


People Skills Self-Assessment

How emotionally intelligent are you? Evaluate each statement as you actually are, rather than as you think you should be.


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