Learning & Development

3 Ways Emotional Intelligence Can Improve Leadership

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees started to see work culture in a new light. We saw the Great Resignation and later the birth of quiet quitting culture. According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 47 million American employees quit in 2021 and another 50 in 2022. Workers are on the move for their next job—why is that? According to DDI’s Frontline Leader Project, 57% of employees quit due to their boss. In the American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2023 Work in America Survey, 92% of workers said it’s very (57%) or somewhat (35%) important that an organization value their emotional and psychological well-being. It also found that 57% of respondents experienced negative impacts of work stress that resulted in 31% suffering from emotional exhaustion, 26% feeling unmotivated to do their very best, and 22% having a desire to quit.

emotional intelligence

With employees looking for more empathy and feeling less motivated, many organizations have work culture problems. Motivational speaker Sylvia Baffour believes it’s time leaders gain more emotional intelligence to better connect with each individual team member. Baffour says that “leadership cannot be one-size-fits-all as each employee has their own style of learning, working and communicating.” When it comes to defining emotional intelligence, she says that “we need to be more intune with what others feel and need. How aware are you of your emotions at any given moment and how aware are you of the impact they have on you and others around you?” As for leaders stepping up in emotional intelligence, Baffour states that “when it comes to how leaders can raise their level of emotional intelligence, it’s important for them to keep in mind that they need to focus on specific practices to improve the following: their level of self-awareness, emotional regulation and empathy.”

1. Self-Awareness Exercises

Reflect on your emotions. Regularly take time to identify and understand your own emotions, including their triggers and patterns.

Keep a journal. Maintain a journal to track your emotional responses to different situations, allowing you to gain insight into your emotional tendencies.

Seek feedback (enhance your external self-awareness). Ask for honest feedback from colleagues, mentors, or coaches about your emotional behavior and how it impacts your leadership. Our blind spots are called that because we don’t see them ourselves and rely on others to share insight into how they experience us. I like to call this the prism perspective. It follows the idea that no matter how you shine a light on a prism, it refracts beautiful rays of colors; much in the same way, when we shine a light on how others experience us, it gives us a richer and more expansive view of ourselves.

2. Emotional Regulation Exercises

Adopt shifting phrases. We all have emotional triggers, so it’s very important as a leader to understand what triggers you. Then, think about how you talk to yourself in the immediate moments following the trigger. In all likelihood, that self-talk is pretty negative. Consider adopting what I call shifting phrases to help you better manage what you’re doing with how you feel during a trigger moment. Shifting phrases help us assume positive intent about people/situations and allow us to lengthen the gap between impulse and action. So for instance, if you’re triggered by feeling excluded, instead of defaulting to self-talk like “they don’t like me and are shutting me out,” consider self-talk that says something like “there may be a legitimate reason I wasn’t included.”

Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation can help you become more aware of your emotions in the moment and improve your ability to control impulsive reactions.

Manage stress. Develop stress management techniques such as deep breathing, time management, and setting realistic expectations to stay composed under pressure.

Set clear boundaries. Establish boundaries that help you separate work and personal life to prevent emotional spillover.

3. Empathy Exercises

Leverage the 2-by-2 rule. As a leader, you’re always having to make decisions that impact others. Leverage what I call the 2-by-2 rule. For every decision you’ve made or plan to make, ask yourself what two reasons are that someone might agree with your decision. Then ask what two reasons are that someone might disagree with your decision. This ensures you’re taking dissenting voices into account. This doesn’t mean you must side with those who disagree with you, but it certainly allows them to feel heard and enables you to listen without ego because you’ve done your own work behind the scenes.

Active listening. Pay full attention to others when they speak, and show empathy by paraphrasing their feelings or concerns to demonstrate understanding. Every so often, as you’re about to engage in a conversation with someone, ask yourself whether you can commit to truly listening to them instead of just waiting your turn to talk.

Engage in perspective-taking. Try to see situations from others’ points of view to better appreciate their feelings and motivations. Every so often, ask yourself this question: “What must it feel like … ?” For example, if you’re a leader with a very simple name like Mike Smith, you might ask yourself “What must it feel like to wake up every day and have people take liberties with the way your name is pronounced?” This kind of “what must it feel like” thinking can help you grow your empathy and compassion for others who are different from you or who you can’t relate to.

Engage in diverse interactions. Interact with people from different backgrounds and perspectives to broaden your understanding of human emotions.

Build rapport. Develop strong interpersonal relationships by demonstrating genuine interest in others and their well-being.

Sylvia Baffour is a motivational speaker, an executive coach, and the author of I Dare You to Care. She uses emotional intelligence teachings to help organizations strengthen their work culture. She has been ranked in Hubspot’s Top 15 Female Motivational Speakers among the likes of Oprah, Jane Fonda, and Mel Robbins. She has delivered over 460 keynotes and has been a speaker for organizations like Capital One, The World Bank, Wells Fargo, the U.S. Department of Defense, Whirlpool, Nationwide, and SAP. In 2014, she placed among the top 18 speakers of 35,000 at the World Championship of Public Speaking.

Cwamne Howard is a freelance publicist who specializes in media relations. He is known for moving the needle on publicity campaigns and has landed media placements and opportunities with outlets like Forbes, CBS New York, ABC Denver, NextShark, EuroNews, Inc., Ripley’s Believe It or Not, The Hustle, Business Insider, and more. Outside of PR, he contributes to KCrush for KCrush America, an online publication that promotes Asian entertainment.

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