The ROLE of Emotional Intelligence in Effective Leadership Today

Zig Ziglar is known for saying, “You must manage yourself before you can lead someone else.” Leaders who didn’t have that figured out before 2020 have certainly had a crash course—or crashed and burned.

In this time of unrest and change, the role of Emotional Intelligence (EI) in leadership has emerged as the critical skill set for leaders. At every level of the organization, EI’s pivotal role is to help the leader:

  • Manage self
  • Manage others
  • Manage work

MANAGE SELF

Having watched the corporate leadership landscape for over 25 years now, I am relieved to see EI getting the attention it deserves! Previous blogs in this series (Importance of Emotional Intelligence and Why Leaders need Emotional Intelligence Training) have cited research proving the most successful leaders have strong EI profiles. In the EQi-2.0® assessment, we see the first two realms deal entirely with self—understanding what is in me and acknowledging how it comes out of me.

What is the role of emotional intelligence in leadership today?

If you don’t have a good grasp of the emotions that “make you tick and tick you off,” you will not have a solid foundation on which to establish personal power, let alone positional power, with those you seek to lead.

MANAGE OTHERS

The other three realms of the EQi-2.0® instrument address interpersonal, decision making and stress tolerance, which all go to the heart of managing people. Remember that the EQi-2.0® assessment is not a report card of how healthy your relationships are, or how successful your decision making has been, or how well you handle stress! The focus is on how we manage and leverage our emotions in these realms to be balanced and effective. Or not. To act appropriately. Or not. They are hardly “squishy” or “fluffy” and cannot be ignored. In fact, just like gas in a vehicle, emotions are the flammable substance that powers our every thought and move, in personal and professional arenas alike! They are resources to be highly respected and wisely stewarded.

Peter Drucker in “Management Challenges for the 21st Century” stresses that, “Self-awareness and the capacity to build mutually satisfying relationships provide the backbone of strong management.”1 Managing others today requires relationships with four generations and to best meet the needs of and interact effectively with each leaders must rely on EI.

Every generation has experienced their own challenges this year based largely on their stage of life—Gen Z graduates trying to start careers and pay bills; millennials trying to switch jobs and move homes while rescheduling weddings; Gen Xers having grown children returning home while keeping career and finances afloat; and baby boomers providing care for parents and grandchildren while deciding how and when to retire. What they share, however, is sorting through the almost immeasurable impact—physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, social and financial—of a pandemic that has turned every industry and institution completely upside down.

Take in these wise words from HBR’s 2002 article Leading in Times of Trauma2: “You can’t eliminate such suffering, nor can you ask people to check their emotions at the door. But you can use your leadership to begin the healing process. Through your presence, you can model behaviors that set the stage for the process of making meaning out of terrible events. And through your actions you can empower people to find their own ways to support one another during painful times. This is a kind of leadership we wish we would never have to use, yet it is vital if we are to nourish the very humanity that can make people—and organizations—great.”

MANAGE WORK

Even as we stretch to support our colleagues, the work goes on! Deadlines and deliverables must be met. Customers expect uninterrupted excellence. Targets and goals that were adjusted now loom large as year-end approaches. EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) still matters as does the P&L (profit and loss statement) and the deadline for 2021 projections (who can imagine?!) is just around the corner.

The most successful leaders bring both IQ and EQ (EI) to their work and the most effective decision makers engage both sides of their brain. An emerging focus on neuroscience for the workplace shows that both the analytic (AN) and emotional networks (EN) of our brains need to be engaged for a person to maximize their potential and capability3. Both involve cognition, reason and various speeds of thinking, but whereas AN reasoning is more about information and analysis, EN reasoning is more about people or qualitative observations. And, lest you beat yourself up for not naturally having these well in hand, know that these two networks not only oppose but suppress each other. When one activates, the other deactivates. Oh, great!

In their book, “Helping People Change,” authors Smith, Van Oosten and Boyatzis offer hope “that the most effective leaders do indeed use both and they are able to toggle back and forth between them in a fraction of a second … the ease with which … depends in part on their self-awareness, deliberate practice and conscious intent.”

That sounds like a solid case for Emotional Intelligence training and coaching for leaders if I ever heard one!

Spending time, effort, energy and discipline to develop your Emotional Intelligence while flexing with fluidity between your analytic and emotional networks will be well worthwhile as you lead yourself, your people and your organization into the 2020s. It’s a strategy for soaring—not crashing.

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1Stein S, Book H. The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence and Your Success. 3rd ed. Jossey-Bass; 2011:30.

2Dutton JE, Frost PJ, Worline MC, Lilius JM, Kanov JM. Leading in times of trauma. Harvard Business Review. Jan 2002.

3 Smith M, Van Oosten E, Boyatzis RE. The best managers balance analytical and emotional intelligence. Harvard Business Review. Jun 2020.