You’ve heard all about the importance of emotional intelligence. Perhaps you even consider yourself quite savvy when it comes to the art of demonstrating a high EQ. But do you embody the elusive qualities that make emotionally intelligent leaders so good with people? If you have to think about it, probably not.
“If you’re actively thinking about how to be better about leading with emotional intelligence, you’re probably thinking about the wrong thing. It’s the ‘thinking’ that’s the problem. People aren’t creatures of logic. They’re creatures of emotion. Thinking comes from the head. Emotional intelligence comes from the heart,” says Tamaryn de Kock, Chief of Staff at Jonar.
“Emotionally intelligent leadership is recognizing and understanding that most of the things you say and do will be forgotten, but how you make someone feel will never be forgotten.”
Here are seven subtle things the most emotionally intelligent leaders do differently.
You can’t fake caring. And leaders with emotional intelligence know that — and truly care. “If a leader’s success is determined by the success of their team, the key to being successful is to genuinely care about those people. Sometimes, it’s really just as simple as demonstrating that,” says de Kock.
According to her, emotionally intelligent leaders create safe spaces where people feel comfortable being their authentic selves. How? By being in touch with their own emotions and sharing them.
“This comes through empathy and vulnerability on the part of the leader. When leaders are in touch with their own emotions and can self-reflect on their failures, they build an environment where other people can be in touch with their own emotions too.”
You know what they say about putting your oxygen mask on first. In order to be in tune with others and support them so they can become their best selves, you have to bring your best self to work first.
It can feel counterintuitive and even selfish to prioritize your needs when you deeply care about your team, but you won’t be able to tune into your own emotional intelligence if you’re stretched thin.
“Emotionally intelligent leaders don’t just invest in people professionally, they also go out of their way to show they truly care about their teams. It’s often the small gestures that demonstrate this more than the large gestures because it shows that a leader has really taken the time to understand and listen. It makes people feel heard,” says de Kock.
“For example, some people love their birthdays and others don’t. A leader who knows their team may go out of their way to acknowledge one team member’s birthday while actively disregarding another one’s birthday.”
While there is no playbook on being able to sense how your team members are doing at work and in life, you can perform regular “temperature checks,” suggests de Kock, who practices this in her role at Jonar. Run through the list of people on your team and reflect on their current emotional state as well as things that might be going on in their world based on what you’ve observed and discussed.
Then, think about categorizing team members in terms of temperature levels and colors. “If anyone’s temperature is in the red, they need immediate attention — it means they are really struggling. They could be on the verge of burning out, or going through a really rough time in their personal life. Whatever the reason, they need help or support,” says de Kock.
Someone in the orange zone may be struggling without having reached a breaking point. Anyone in the green zone is doing well and feeling motivated and fulfilled. Those team members might not need help as much as they need praise, encouragement and new challenges.
“The goal for a leader is really to discern how and when they may need to get involved. Sometimes all that’s needed is a bit of confidence-boosting, guidance or encouragement. Other times, the situation is veering towards the red zone where more support is necessary. Leaders really need to keep an eye on these people.”
But while effective leaders are concerned with individuals that make up a group, they also focus on being in tune with the group as a whole and careful not to prioritize individual interests at the detriment of the collective good.
“If one person on the team is negatively impacting the rest of the team, emotionally intelligent leaders quickly recognize this and the impact it has on the rest of the group,” says de Kock.
“As difficult and cold and heartless as firing the individual from the team may appear, it actually may serve the group as a whole. In these cases, the firing is done from a place of caring for both the individual (who is often best served hearing the truth) and the team.”
The best leaders tend to solve problems. The most emotionally intelligent leaders too, but always take the time to think before jumping into solution mode.
“When we are presented with problems, it’s very tempting to immediately jump into trying to solve it. Great leaders resist the urge to diagnose and fix a problem and start by taking a step back to understand what the true problem is. It is only from a place of true understanding that the best solutions are born,” says de Kock.
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