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Emotional Intelligence: 5 Steps to Amplify Your Impact as a Leader


Daire Coffey, CDir, Executive Coach, Non-Executive Director and founder of Perspectives. She is co-author (with Deirdre Murray) of ‘Emotional Intelligence (EQ) – A Leadership Imperative!

“Leadership is no longer about being the smartest person in the room. It is about creating the environment for the company’s purpose to come to life and for each individual to thrive.” Hubert Joly, Harvard Professor of Leadership and former CEO of BestBuy. 

In the last two years, we have had a crash course in uncertainty. We have witnessed a seismic shift in employee and stakeholder expectations that has never been seen before. Employees have reassessed their priorities and want to work for an organisation where they feel cared for, valued and have opportunity to grow. They also want to work for an organisation who supports diversity and inclusion and who delivers value to society and respects the planet. 

Bottom line: For a business to succeed and thrive in this new landscape it will need leaders who care, who demonstrate compassion. Leaders with emotional intelligence skills who can model and champion cooperative working, who coach rather than command, and who are driven by empathy, not ego. Leaders who can do hard things in a human way. Those who treat these ‘EQ skills’ with the same rigour as they do the ‘hard skills’ will have a competitive advantage. Leaders need to dial these skills up now, or risk being left behind.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) – A Quick Recap….

The concept of EQ was popularised by Dan Goleman in his best-selling book ‘Why EQ Can Matter More than IQ.’ Quite simply, it is about being intelligent about emotions and is built around personal and interpersonal skills including self-awareness, self-confidence, empathy, adaptability, optimism, and motivation. It refers to how well we know and handle ourselves and how good we are at ‘reading the room’, tuning into others, and using that information to engage and influence others and manage conflict productively. 

Emotions Give us Valuable Data and Energy

Let emotions work for you and not against you!  Neuroscience has shown us that emotions provide us with valuable data to guide our decision making and better engage with others around us. Whether negative or positive, emotions give out energy that needs to be harnessed appropriately. EQ is NOT about ‘being nice’, ‘emotional’, or about exhibiting toxic positivity. Emotionally intelligent leaders are very adaptable and can dial up empathy by being kind and caring, while simultaneously not shying away from conflict and the harsh realities of a situation. 

The Good News is These Skills Can be Developed!

Unlike IQ, which peaks in late teens and remains fixed, EQ skills can be developed. Our brains have a high level of plasticity to build new behaviours. Yes, some people are naturally blessed with more EQ than others but with effort, we can make tweaks to build these muscles and build up our EQ. 

Five Steps to Amplify Your Impact as a Leader

1. Start with Self-Awareness: The Cornerstone of EQ

To be truly effective, a leader must first and foremost know themselves before they can lead others. This starts with knowing what makes you tick, your strengths, blind spots, and biases. Be aware of what energises you and what depletes you. Tara Eurich, organisational psychologist and author of ‘Insight’, cites self-awareness as the foundational skill of the 21st Century. With it we can tune into red-hot emotions, ‘press pause’, and reset to influence more effectively and achieve better outcomes. Having no concept of the impact that your behaviour or actions have on the people around you can be very damaging - especially if you’re the person in charge. 

  • Assess your current level of EQ. Consider investing in an Emotional Capital Report to measure and develop each of the 10 EQ competencies. With some coaching you can fast-track your development.
  • Set regular reminders during the day to ‘pause’, notice and name how you are feeling and thinking.

2. Cultivate Optimism: ‘Hunt the Good Stuff’

In times of stress and uncertainty our brains are constantly scanning for threats, so negative emotions can be very ‘sticky’. This means we have to be more proactive about creating positive energy or what the US Army Resilience training refers to as ‘hunting the good stuff’. Of course, that is not to say that we should ignore harsh realities, rather that we should not seek out negativity for no reason. According to Prof Barbara Fredrickson at Harvard Business School, cultivating positive emotions changes the chemistry in our brains, moving from a constricted way of thinking to being more creative, collaborative, productive, and resilient.

  • How proactive are you about cultivating positive emotions for yourself and for your team? Do you catch your team (or indeed yourself) doing things well and let them know or do you rush in wearing your critical hat?
  • When starting your meeting or a call, consider focusing first on ‘what’s going well?’ before you tackle the challenges. Similarly, at the end of the day capture three things that went well. This process, known as the ‘progress principal’, fuels optimism and wellbeing. 
According to Cap Gemini research, EQ will be a ‘must-have’ skill in the future, with demand likely to rise sixfold over the next three years.

3. Connect with Empathy. Communicate with Clarity

Building connection, motivation and trust are front and centre of every leader’s mind at the moment. This means checking in regularly with your team, setting clear expectations, and most of all, showing that you value them as human beings. According to a recent study by Harvard Business School and The Potential Project involving 15000 leaders, when company leaders led with empathy and clarity, employee job satisfaction increased by 86%, job performance increased by 20%, and burnout decreased by 64%. 

- Tune in: Listen to Understand, Not to Reply

  • Actively listen with full eye contact and be fully present. Research shows that giving full attention, even for 3 minutes, sends a message: ‘I value what you say’. Remember that 93% of our communication is non-verbal so be attuned to body language and what that might mean. 

- ‘Clear is Kind. Unclear is Unkind’

  • A true measure of a leader is having the courage to be transparent with others and to do what needs to be done, even when it is uncomfortable. The key is not to procrastinate or sugar coat messages. In the words of Professor Brené Brown: ‘Clear is kind and unclear is unkind.’ 

4. Be Open to Diverse Perspectives – Stay Curious

To successfully navigate the ever changing landscape and multigenerational workforce, we need leaders who are curious, inclusive, and willing to adapt to new experiences, situations, and technologies. They need to manage the polarity of being confident while also being humble enough to say ‘I don’t have the answers.” Showing humility builds trust.

  • Ensure everyone has a voice and flex your approach to suit your audience.
  • Instead of staying fixed on an idea, ask more ‘What if..?’ and ‘How might we…?’, ‘I’m curious about…’ questions.
  • Build a diverse and supportive network outside of work to fuel your curiosity and keep your thinking current. 

5. Schedule Time to Reflect, Rest and Recharge

Time and energy are probably the most valuable resources we have and they deserve to be treated with  respect. As a leader, it’s essential to carve out time for cultivating relationships and for enjoying activities that replenish your energy and edge. As the saying goes, you must put on your oxygen mask first before you attend to others. Practising self-care also gives a strong message to your team about what you value. For one person that could be going for a walk, for another it could be going to hear live music, or reading a book. As a working mother of 4, I’m still working at it!

  • What rituals do you have in place to reflect, rest and recharge? Remember if they are not scheduled, they won’t happen!
  • Consider having a ‘meeting with self’ every week to reflect on what’s going well, what hasn’t, and gain some insight and learnings. It also provides an opportunity to look ahead and be more intentional about what you want to achieve.

Start implementing some of these small steps and you will see results within a few weeks. Now more than ever, positive business outcomes depend on positive people outcomes. Ultimately the way you show up determines how you and others feel which will ultimately dictate how well you lead. Maya Angelou puts it beautifully: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.’’