If I asked you what qualities a great leader possesses, chances are you’d probably mention traits like intelligence, vision, and determination. But what about emotional intelligence (EI?) Research shows that softer qualities often identified as being part of one’s emotional intelligence, like being sensitive to others’ feelings and listening well are just as, if not more so, important.
Theodore Roosevelt put it well when he said, “No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Being able to care and tune in to other’s emotions as well as your own is defined as “Emotional Intelligence.” Having high emotional intelligence is key to being successful in life, including in the workplace, as it helps you relate to others. Consider the research of psychologist David Goleman at nearly 200 large, global companies in which he found that truly effective leaders are distinguished by a high degree of emotional intelligence. Other studies show a positive relationship between emotionally intelligent leadership and employee satisfaction, retention, and performance.
How leaders can cultivate emotional intelligence
1. Practice mindfulness. Meditate, do yoga, practice deep breathing. Do whatever you can to help open your heart, settle your mind, and relax. Research shows that the more you’re open to those that you lead, the more engaged they’ll be on projects and the more committed they’ll be to you. I actually do a yoga pose before some of my workshops that involves placing a yoga block in the center of my back and allowing my shoulders to fall back on either side. This helps me physically and mentally open my heart to those I’m working with for better engagement.
2. Be self-aware. Practicing mindfulness is the first step to being self-aware, that is, aware of your own emotions, what causes them, and how you react to them. Being self-aware allows you to know how you manage stress and pressure which is crucial when leading others. Without being tuned into your emotions, you may project stress or anger onto your team, confusing and disillusioning them. Leaders with self-awareness can develop skills that will help them manage their own emotions and respond effectively to situations that come up.
3. Be aware of others. The more self-awareness leaders have, the more they’ll be mindful of others’ emotions. Emotionally intelligent leaders anticipate how people will react to certain situations and are proactive in responding. Before doing something, they think about how their actions might impact others. Then they help them deal with the effects.
4. Practice empathy. You can do this in a tactical way. Practice systemic listening. By this, I mean, when you’re talking with someone, summarize what you think you have heard. Ask probing open-ended questions, so they feel free to say whatever is on their mind. Also, let them know that you understand how they feel. When you listen in this way, you don’t just hear the information, you are engaging with it, experiencing it and it will help you relate better to those around you.
5. Be vulnerable. In that vein, be ready to share similar experiences. Explain what you went through before you got into this position and what you have learned. Vulnerabilities can promote connections and strengthen relationships. Think about some of the most durable bonds you have; I bet a lot of them are with people who know and share your vulnerabilities.
There are many ways to assess your emotional intelligence and get your baseline. Try this online quiz as a first step. By taking an assessment, you can find out your weaknesses and learn strategies to improve those areas. Doing this and practicing the tips above will no doubt help you be a better leader—and person.
A version of this post was first published on Lead Change Group.