The Vital Role of Emotional Intelligence in Leading Successful Teams

The Vital Role of Emotional Intelligence in Leading Successful Teams

By Cara Sloman, CEO, Force4 Technology Communications 

Susan (not her real name), the CEO of a B2B tech company, finished her presentation at a prestigious tech conference and asked if there were any questions. An attendee asked if perhaps the solution Susan had explained was a bit late to the market. Susan snapped back, “I make million-dollar decisions every day! Don’t you think I’ve done my market research?” She then addressed the whole audience: “Does anyone have any relevant questions?” 

I think everyone can agree that this is not a good look. 

Among the many qualities a successful leader needs is emotional intelligence (EI). In a nutshell, EI is the ability to understand and control your own emotions, as well as to observe and influence others’ emotions. EI has gained increasing recognition over the years as a vital skill needed to motivate teams and uplevel their performance. Read on to explore the tenets of EI, how it affects teams and how to get more of it. 

Defining Emotional Intelligence 

Psychologist Daniel Goleman is credited with bringing EI to the larger public’s attention. He described four parts of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. 

  • Self-awareness is about possessing the clarity to understand your own emotions, motivations and beliefs. Leaders who are good at pinpointing and remaining in control of their emotions can then use that skill to better grasp others’ emotions and gain greater insight into employee motivation. 
  • Self-management goes a step beyond awareness; it’s about controlling or managing your emotions, impulses and behaviors. The more self-awareness you have, the easier self-management is. Having clarity about what you are feeling and why will help you act appropriately in a given situation. 
  • Social awareness, as the name implies, is about recognizing others’ emotions and how to appropriately respond to them. This makes it easier to start and maintain good relationships. And, of course, good relationships are essential for cooperating and meeting goals. 
  • Relationship management is just what it sounds like: your ability to persuade, coach, mentor and resolve disputes. 

How EI Impacts Leadership and Followers 

EI is essential for those in leadership positions. These soft skills help leaders inspire and motivate teams, resolve conflict and create a work culture that people want to be part of. Not having these skills comes with a cost: university researchers discovered that teams with people who don’t have self-awareness aren’t as good at conflict management and decision-making. 

Furthermore, another study by Thomas Sy and others in the Journal of Applied Psychology discovered that the leaders who were the best at inspiring and motivating their teams were those who showed emotional awareness and empathy.  And Mohit Kumar and colleagues found that the leaders who were the best at resolving team conflict also were the best at regulating their own emotions.  

As I field the responsibilities of a CEO, I work hard to craft a culture of listening. A great way I’ve found to do this is to hold company-wide summit meetings where everyone can share what’s working, what’s not and what we can do to improve. We just recently met for an in-person team event and conducted our summit there. We cheered on each other’s wins, learned some new soft skills, got new insights and set the next set of goals. 

The Impact of EI on Teams 

Effective teams need motivational leaders, and if you have low EI, motivating your team will be much harder. Decision-making and conflict management, for example, are tougher for leaders who have poor self-awareness. And it’s often hard to know how self-aware you are; one psychologist’s research found that though only about 12% of the population truly is self-aware, yet 95% of study participants thought they were. 

What does this bode for team interactions? That same researcher discovered that if coworkers aren’t self-aware, a team’s success can be cut in half. It also strips away motivation and causes more stress. If these are the results among coworkers, imagine the impact of a leader who’s low in self-awareness. 

How to Develop EI 

Levels of EI vary from leader to leader. Though some are gifted with higher EI, others can develop these skills. Here are five ways to do just that: 

  1. Training: There are many opportunities for training and coaching in emotional intelligence. Professionals will give you opportunities to learn and practice EI skills. 
  2. Ongoing awareness: By continually examining how you react to situations and people, you’ll gain clarity about your triggers and biases. Then you’ll be able to better manage your emotions and make better decisions about what to do in the moment. 
  3. Ask for feedback: Get input from as many sources as you can, because this will show you more about how others perceive your EI strengths and weaknesses. When you know your weaknesses, you can create a development plan.  
  4. Practice mindfulness: These practices make you better at emotional regulation and decision-making by training your brain to be present in each moment without jumping to conclusions or being judgmental. 
  5. Active learning: Learn as much as you can on your own about EI to increase your knowledge and ability to apply it. You’ll find many helpful resources that will keep you current on the latest developments and strategies. 

Don’t Stop Developing 

Emotional intelligence continues to gain ground in the corporate world, both because research keeps finding the significant impact it has on teams and their leaders and because these impacts are easily observable in daily work life. EI affects everything related to human interactions and relationships, including team motivation and performance, conflict resolution and a company’s work culture. Leaders need to take these soft skills seriously and consistently work to develop them. They will help you manage your emotions and those of others in a way that brings lasting leadership success. 

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