In these times, whether you are trying to save your company or your career, the soft skills of emotional intelligence pay hard dividends

In these times, whether you are trying to save your company or your career, the soft skills of emotional intelligence pay hard dividends. There is ample evidence linking emotional intelligence to effective leadership. Emotional intelligence is arguably the hottest topic in leadership development. There is also research conducted by the Center for Creative Leadership that shows how a lack of emotional intelligence underpins the most common reasons for career derailment. Clearly emotional intelligence matters. Yet, despite this well established fact, there is little practical guidance on how to actually become a more emotionally intelligent leadership. This article, written by the Australian Leadership Development Centre team, will give you the guidance you need.

To become a more emotionally intelligent leader you need to:

1. Accept the role of emotions in the workplace
2. Understand how emotions work
3. Become more aware of how you feel
4. Develop your ability to master your own feelings
5. Become better at reading how other people feel
6. Start using the universal language of emotions to talk those you lead


People are emotionally driven creatures. As a leader, emotions affect your own personal actions and the actions of those you lead. Emotions underpin many of our choices and they affect the quality of thinking. Any attempts to relegate the place of emotions in the workplace behind the more acceptable roles of logic and reason are grounded in a delusional view of reality. The first step in becoming a more emotionally intelligent leader is to accept, and even welcome, the fact that emotions are a central aspect of organisational life that can work to help or hinder performance.


Trying to become a more emotionally intelligent manager without first understanding how emotions work is like trying to diagnose a patient without ever having attended medical school. Many people think that emotions are nothing more than irrational forces that should be subdued. In fact, emotions are both logical and predictable. You feel an emotion in response to something that has happened. When you lose something of value you feel sad. When someone has done you wrong, you feel angry. When you are threatened by the possibility of something bad happening in to you in the future, you feel worried or scared. In fact, all primary emotions (i.e. happiness, sadness, fear, anger, surprise, disgust, belonging and interest), have universal and logical causes. We also know that different emotions promote different forms of thinking and prime us to react in ways that are good for our survival. For a better understanding of emotions, visit my free hot list on emotional intelligence for managers.


This does not mean obsessing about your feelings. Rather, it means being able to put a precise label on your feelings at given point in time, and to be conscious about the impact of that feeling on yourself and others. You can start to build your emotional awareness by getting in the habit of asking yourself how you feel several times each day. This may sound simple, but with the many competing demands on your time, it not likely to be easy. To help you decide upon the best label for your current feelings try these 3 steps. First, decide which of the eight primary emotions (listed in pint 1) best describe how you feel right now. Then, think about which words accurately describe the intensity of your feelings (e.g. annoyed and enraged reflect different levels of intensity within the primary emotion of anger). Finally, think about the impact that emotion has on you and others. What is the emotion prompting you to do (e.g. to stand up for yourself, to act now in order to stop something bad from happening, to pay closer attention or to reach out to others for support)? How is this feeling impacting on your thinking? Generally, happy moods facilitate creative, big-picture thinking, while more sombre and apprehensive moods help us to critique whatever is before us. What impact does your mood have on those around you? Anger sparks fear. Other emotions, especially when expressed by a manager, trigger mirror neurons in the brain. Like sparks like, happy managers induce happiness in others, sad managers induce sadness in others etc.


While you should always acknowledge emotions, and consider their value, there will be times when you decide that your feelings are hindering rather than helping your leadership. Suppressing emotions does not work and the mental effort involved actually hinders your performance. To manage emotions, you actually need to change the way that you feel – not just slap on a happy face. There are two ways to do this. The first involves harnessing the power of memory. When we remember an emotionally charged experience from our past we re-experience the feelings we felt at that time. If you want to feel more confident, think of time in your life when you felt incredibly proud of what you had achieved. If you want to feel happy, think of time when you felt on top of the world. Actors use this method to help them get into role. To be truly effective, you need to step back into the experience and recall as much vivid detail as you can. The second way that you can change how you feel involves reframing the experience that has led you to feel the way you do right now. Quite often, when we feel strong disruptive emotions, we have skewed perspective of the situation at hand. Our skewed perspective feeds disruptive feelings and it becomes a vicious cycle. Reframing involves seeing the situation from a more accurate or a more helpful perspective. Threats become opportunities to be seized, weaknesses in one context become strengths in another and catastrophes become temporary setback on the eventual toad to success. One proven way to help you reframe your experience is to write about it for 20 minutes non-stop. While writing, use lots of cause and effect words (e.g. because, as a result, therefore) and ask yourself questions about the validity and usefulness of your views. Then, at the end of such an exercise, use the memory technique to replace the ill feeling with a more helpful emotion.


Armed with your enhanced understanding of what causes different emotions, you can predict how they feel by listening carefully to their perception of the situation at hand. This ability to read between the lines works both ways. If you are able to identify how they feel, you already know a great deal about what happened (or leats their perception of it). You can complement this ability to read between the lines with increased attentiveness to non-verbal cues – particularly tone and facial expression. Slow, monotone speech is indicative of sadness and boredom, while happy people speak in more lively tones. A terse and abrupt manner is indicative of anger, while ascending tones are associated with surprise. Facial expression is even more reliable, especially the involuntary micro-expressions that cross a person’s face before they have time to consciously mask how they feel. Paul Ekman is the authority on these micro-expressions and you can undertake some simple online training called METT online. Just Google Paul Ekman METT. Empathy.


It is actually easier than you may think. First, talk from the heart and put some expression in your voice. When we truly feel the words we speak, that feeling comes through. It also follows that you should not say anything that you do not really mean or feel. This is why emotional mastery is so important. As well as talking from the heart, you must learn to capture the hearts of those you are talking to. People like to feel appreciated and valued. They like a challenge and to know how well they are doing. Further, they like to feel in control of a future that they are creating for themselves. By stepping into the emotional shoes of those you lead, you can shape your words in a way that resonates with those you are talking to. This can be as simple as ‘thank-you’, or far-reaching as a vision communicated as a solution to their challenges.

In these hard financial times, developing soft emotional skills of leadership is more important than ever.

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