Improve your emotional intelligence to be a better leader

Being emotionally intelligent means that you are aware of your own emotions and able to handle interpersonal relationships empathetically

While it applies to all professionals, high emotional intelligence is a must for accountants in leadership positions..

“In fact, it’s been proven that EI accounts for 85% of what sets the outstanding leaders apart from the average,” says Amanda Davie, Emotional Intelligence in Leadership coach at coaching consultancy Equal Talent.

Attributes of emotionally intelligent leaders

Dr Ruth Smith, executive coach at PM-Management and author of Where Authentic Leaders DARE (due to be published in August/September) has asked over 500 people to describe the behaviours and attributes of leaders who had inspired them. “Without exception, they’ve listed facets of emotional intelligence: empathy, calm, consistency and the fact that they ‘get you’. Technical skills and IQ are not on the list.” 

Repercussions of low EI

“Failing to ‘read’ others results in eroded trust, lack of engagement, inefficiency and low productivity,” says Smith.

Leadership coach Lynn Scott points out that it is your role as a leader to create an environment where people are valued, understood and able to give their best. And this is nigh on impossible if you fail to recognise and regulate your own emotions, and if you are unaware of the impact your emotions and behaviour have on others.

“You can be the smartest person in the world in terms of IQ but if you lack Emotional Intelligence people won’t warm to you, they’ll often avoid telling you the truth (too risky), they probably won’t even want to work with you.”

Scott adds: “If you constantly lose staff, it could be a sign that you aren’t leading or connecting with people in an emotionally intelligent way.”

Importance of EI in a digital workplace

EI is even more important now we are working in increasingly fast-paced, digital environments, where it’s easy to rely on remote communication.

“There are fewer verbal and non-verbal cues (body language, tone of voice, eye contact) that allow you to connect with and understand your people and, therefore, to motivate and inspire them,” Smith says.

When most of your conversations are by email, it’s very easy to write something that your staff might take in the wrong way. It’s very easy to rush to wrong conclusions, too.

How you can boost your EI 

The good news is EI isn’t an innate quality – it can be developed and improved, but only if you make a conscious decision to do so.

Davie says: “Many male execs in particular shy away from this skills development area. This harks back to the olden days when men never talked about thoughts and feelings. But ‘emotions’ isn’t a dirty word and empathy is now a necessary leadership skill. So the choice is to either remain in the dark ages or to become enlightened.”

Firstly, focus on you

Scott says: “You need to become much more aware of what you’re feeling or thinking at any given time and why – and, importantly, how you react as a result of those thoughts and feelings. Will your response help people do their best or will it cause them to ‘fight, flee or freeze’?”

  • When you’re self-aware, you can change any unhelpful default reactions.
  • Breathe deeply for a few seconds and then choose a more suitable, emotionally intelligent response,” says Scott.
  • Also, get feedback (this can be anonymous). Scott suggests that you ask your team these two questions: What do I do well as a leader? and What could I do differently to be a better leader?

Secondly, focus on others and seek to understand them

You must be genuinely interested to hope for a genuine connection, but Scott says that’s easier than you might think: “listen more, ask more, and tell less”.

  • You need to listen to what is being said as well as to what isn’t.
  • Sometimes people say they are ok when they are not, so look beyond words and observe for signs of anxiety, stress or any other emotional upheaval.

Build a culture of Emotional Intelligence

Role modelling emotionally intelligent behaviour will encourage your staff to exercise EI, too.

Scott says: “For example, when there are different opinions about something, an emotionally intelligent response is That’s interesting, but I have a different perspective. I’d love to understand your thinking a bit more, rather than That’ll never work or That’s a terrible idea.” So think about the language you want people to use and lead by example.

She adds: “Ensure that everyone has a chance to contribute in meetings, that people listen to each other without interrupting and that you all recognise what’s gone well rather than focusing on what isn’t going so well. Genuine appreciation makes for open, honest conversations and a supportive environment.”

Hire emotionally intelligent people, too

The job interview is your opportunity to assess the EI of a candidate, their self-awareness and their empathy levels. 

Smith says: “For example, ask them to talk about a difficult relationship or situation. What you want to probe for is whether the candidate is able to see things from another’s point of view. Also, ask them what they think the other person felt or thought in that situation.”

Pay attention to their choice of words, their tone of voice and read their body language. And listen to your intuition. “Quite often your intuition will have worked out something before you can fully rationalise it,” says Smith.

In summary

Good bosses and managers have the ability to understand and take into account the feelings, emotions and viewpoints of others, they solve problems by listening first and by putting themselves in other people’s shoes. They are also highly self-aware, in touch with their own feelings, needs and intuitions. All this helps them build trust and a connection with their people.

For more on leadership skills and personal growth follow our #AATPowerUp series.

Iwona Tokc-Wilde is a business journalist.

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