Leaders with strong emotional intelligence are better leaders. Imagine cooking a recipe that calls for sautéed chopped garlic. While you could just put the garlic into the pan without oil, the results might be technically correct, but inedible. When you use a little olive oil or butter, it doesn’t stick, it tastes the way it should, and your kitchen smells welcoming.
Food satisfies better when it’s prepared with care. Similarly, leadership gets better results when it is emotionally intelligent.
Emotional intelligence is a skill that helps leaders’ interactions glide smoothly. It gets people to the point of action quickly, without lingering doubts or questions. Leaders with strong emotional intelligence know how to get the best results from their team, and also how to ensure the experience is positive and builds momentum. It’s not always easy to define emotional intelligence, but we all know it when we see it. Here are five hallmarks of the emotionally intelligent leader, and all of them are skills that can be improved through leadership coaching.
Self-awareness is knowing the situation, knowing your role in it, and knowing how what you do affects others around you. If you go to the supermarket and leave your cart in the middle of the aisle blocking traffic while you take a leisurely look at all your options, you’re not being self-aware. If you’re on second base when a batter gets a hit, and decide for yourself whether to stop at third or head for home plate without looking at what the third-base coach is signaling, you’re not self-aware. Self-awareness is knowing that everyone else exists, they matter, and that what you do affects others.
Someone who is described as having a short fuse is someone who is probably not good with self-regulation. Better self-regulation is often a goal of leadership coaching because nobody likes working with the leader who rushes to judgment, verbally attacks people, or believes in stereotypes because they can’t be bothered with getting to know people.
Watch a cold case documentary, where a seasoned investigator solves an old, unsolved case, and you’ll see self-regulation in action. It’s about gathering information, knowing you can always learn something, and proceeding based on logic, ethics, and morality.
Motivation is contagious.
If a leader isn’t motivated, how can he or she expect their team to be motivated? Clearly, no one can be 100 percent “on” every single day, but for the most part, successful leaders are self-motivated and show it. They have high standards, and more importantly, they have a reason for doing what they do. Ask a motivated person, “Why did you strive to become the CEO?” They’ll have a ready answer, and it usually has to do with making the organization or even the entire industry better. You don’t find great leaders who “fell into” being CEO or became a vice president because there wasn’t anything better to do.
4. Empathy and Compassion
Outstanding leaders know how to see things from perspectives other than their own. They remember times when they were in need or confused, and they adjust their interactions to account for where the other person is coming from. Naturally, there must be discipline in a productive workplace, but there must also be times for plain human connection. Telling a team member that he’s on the clock and should not be showing you photos of his newborn may be “right” in a purely technical sense, but it is not good leadership. Strong leaders acknowledge the humanity and dignity of every person in the organization.
5. Outstanding Communication Skill
It is possible to be self-aware, self-regulated, motivated, and empathetic without having strong communication skills, but strong communication skills elevate all those other skills to a higher level. Some people naturally know what to say, when to say it, and how to say it, but for most people, outstanding communication requires learning and practice. In my leadership coaching, I am often called upon to help clients improve their communication skills – written, verbal, and even non-verbal. If emotional intelligence is the milieu that cultivates excellence, then great communication skills are the “secret ingredient” that makes a leader stand apart from the rest.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that emotional intelligence is a “soft skill.” In fact, the term “soft skill” cheapens many of the most outstanding human qualities. Leadership coaching is about developing more effective leaders, and all the technical and practical skill in the world simply won’t translate to results without emotional intelligence.