3 Ways to Be an Emotionally Intelligent Leader
COVID-19 permanently changed the workplace. Among the many changes are some that affect how managers manage. Today's employees are seeking empathetic leaders — those with a high degree of emotional intelligence. According to the Oxford dictionary, empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. In other words, it is the ability to manage your own emotions and understand the emotions of other people. Can you improve your empathy?
Many office situations require managers to have this trait, and they always have. The uncertainties in the current business environment only highlighted the important role empathy plays in a company's culture.
Those who are not naturally empathetic can have a difficult time. These three hints for improving your emotional intelligence are helpful because they can become intuitive over time:
- Stop and think before reacting. It's normal to be upset at times, but showing it can be nonproductive. For example, suppose a deadline is missed. If you react in the moment, you may say or do something you will regret. Instead of going with your emotional response to the situation, give yourself time to think about the next steps.
- Ask open-ended questions and follow them up with more questions. Dig deeper so you can get to the true answer, one that does not rely on emotion or assumption. Suppose you and your team are debriefing about why the deadline was missed. If the meeting is led by someone who is empathetic, the result will be some actionable steps that can be taken in the future rather than a blame game. Start by asking a question such as "Why was the deadline missed?" The answer will give you insight into whether it was due to a procedural or process error — something that is fixable — or because a particular person was late handing in a report. In the latter instance, you should go back to asking probing questions in a neutral way. Start with asking why the report was late and base your follow-up questions on the responses. Examples of good questions include: "Why do you think this happened?" and "What changes can we make so this doesn't happen again?"
- Listen. And then speak thoughtfully and intentionally. Good listening is a skill that involves actively letting the speaker know you understand what they are saying. Often, it is not enough to say, "I understand." That statement may need to be expanded. For example: "I understand. You are saying that …. What do you think we can do to resolve this issue?"
Similarly, think about what you will say to someone who missed a meeting. Will you be accusatory, or will you leave room for the person to explain? There is no wrong answer per se, only that the response should be thoughtful and accurately reflect the circumstances.
As you have these conversations, keep in mind that the person you are speaking with may be less than candid because they report to you. It can be intimidating to speak with your boss openly and honestly. Emotionally intelligent leaders recognize this, so they do not end the interaction without taking steps that show they truly heard what the issue is.
Emotional intelligence plays an important role in success in the workplace. It is important for managers to learn to navigate their emotions and communicate effectively with their peers, their bosses and their direct reports.