Smart Leaders Build Emotional Intelligence

By: Linda Talley

Are you self-aware, empathetic, and in control of your feelings? If so, you'll lead effectively.

Leaders walk the talk. They know how to act. They look like leaders, they communicate well with others, and they exude confidence. For some, these skills come naturally, but for most, it's a learning process. Some people acquire these skills—known collectively as emotional intelligence (EI)—through leadership-development programs, while others hire executive coaches. Either way, building your emotional intelligence will make you a more effective leader.

While IQ often predicts leadership ability, EI predicts business success. Recent research has shown that leaders who are ranked high in performance demonstrate more EI ability than their less effective counterparts.

Emotionally intelligent leaders know that they lay the foundation for interpersonal relations within their organizations. As an association executive, you are the model for your staff and your members, and you are charged with making difficult decisions that require empathy and understanding. To do these things well, you need well-developed emotional intelligence.

Research into EI began in the early 1990s, and by the late 1990s researchers had identified four key indicators of EI, all of which can be developed over time through coaching and experiential or competency training:

Self-awareness. Leaders must be aware of how their emotions and attitudes affect the people around them and even their job performance. The association executive high in EI knows, for example, that an upcoming board meeting will create stress for him, and he works in advance to prepare and stay focused during the meeting. Or he may know that certain committee members procrastinate, causing frustration for him and his staff. Instead of getting angry, this executive turns those feelings into something that benefits the organization. This is a good opportunity for the leader to work with staff members to create innovative ways to circumvent the delay based on staff members' needs.

Self-regulation. The association executive high in EI regulates herself so that her emotions don't control her. When an assignment is not completed on time, she doesn't make sarcastic remarks or belittle the employee who missed a deadline; instead, she looks for the reasons behind the delay and identifies areas for improvement. This executive is in control of her emotions and responds appropriately to the situation rather than making snap judgments.

Empathy. When the association executive uses her empathy to thoughtfully consider a specific leadership approach to directing an employee or decision-making approach to resolving a critical human-resource dilemma, the team comes together more cohesively. This is because the leader "feels" what her team is experiencing and then uses her leadership skills and her EI to improve the organization.

Social skills. The high-EI leader knows he needs to manage relationships. He understands that his verbal and, more important, nonverbal communication affect others. Ask yourself: What does your handshake say? Is it firm, and do you shake everyone's hand—male and female? Do you make eye contact with each person on your staff daily so that he or she feels visible and valuable? Can you influence and persuade others without covert tactics? Do you lead every meeting, or do you let other members of your staff take the lead to help them develop their leadership skills?

When you begin to develop your emotional intelligence, you put yourself on a path to self-discovery that is exciting but not easy. As you build your EI, you will benefit personally, and your staff and members will, too.

Linda Talley is a Houston-based executive coach and business speaker. Email: [email protected]