Leadership is one of those mysterious qualities that some people seem to just naturally possess while others just don’t. The truth is that you can be loaded with educational or business degrees and still be a terrible leader.
That’s because leadership has very little to do with intellect or technical skill. The best leaders are the ones who have emotional intelligence, the ability to lead not with the mind, but with the heart, the soul, and the gut.
This article explores emotional intelligence, why great leaders need it, how they use it, and how you can too!
What is Emotional Intelligence (EQ)?
Emotional intelligence, as the name suggests, is the aptitude for understanding people’s feelings and responding appropriately. It means having empathy and compassion with the rare knack for making people feel heard, understood, valued, and safe.
Emotional intelligence isn’t only outwardly-directed, either. It also focuses inward, allowing you to be more self-aware and in touch with your feelings, emotions, and motivations. That means your actions will be more deliberate and purposeful. Emotional intelligence, in short, gives you choices. Your leadership decisions are driven not by some knee-jerk reaction to emotional impulses you may not understand. It helps you to be more grounded, purposeful, and mindful.
It allows you to understand your needs and wants, as well as those of others. That understanding is the first step toward getting those things you really need or want.
Cultivating Your EQ
At first glance, it might seem that EQ is a quality you’re either born with or you’re not. Some people just seem to have an instinct for connecting with others. They seem to have an innate talent for compassion towards others and they never seem to lose control of their own emotions.
That’s definitely not the kind of profile most of us would fit. Fortunately, you don’t have to retreat to some treetop monastery in the Amazon to increase your emotional intelligence quotient. There are things you can start doing today to help you become a more centered and emotionally attuned leader.
Sleep On It
One of the best and fastest ways to cultivate your EQ is to make sure you are getting adequate, restorative sleep. Studies have shown that insufficient or poor-quality sleep leads to a host of emotional and psychological harms.
If you’re not getting enough good sleep, you’re at a significant risk for depression and anxiety. You’re also likely to have difficulty concentrating, and all of these factors lead directly to a decrease in EQ. After all, if you’re exhausted, how can you find the energy to worry about your own emotional needs, let alone the emotional needs of your team?
Of course, getting quality sleep is sometimes easier said than done. If you’re experiencing significant stress in your personal or professional life, you may need a little additional help, such as through sleeping aids like Ativan or other anti-insomnia medications.
Medications specifically for sleep can be highly effective during periods of extraordinary stress, allowing you to regain your emotional equilibrium and overcome stress-related insomnia. Such medications, however, should be used only when all other efforts have failed. In addition, they should be taken only as prescribed and for very short periods of time.
Another terrific way to boost your EQ is to learn to practice mindfulness. There are many ways to do this, but it boils down to being present, alert, and aware. Rather than allowing worries, fears, and misperceptions drive your emotions and behaviors, mindfulness requires you stay in the moment. Staying in the present moment prevents you from leaping ahead to envision future catastrophes that are unlikely to happen, or falling back into memories of the past that are long gone and no longer relevant.
When you are mindful, you are able to take stock of the reality of your current situation, assess it objectively, and formulate a mature, appropriate, and controlled response. This allows you to practice the kind of emotional self-regulation you need to be an effective leader.
If you are looking to increase your EQ game, one of the best ways is to surround yourself with people and talk. Really talk. Frequent, robust, and open communication is how we learn about others’ hopes and dreams as well as their fears and disappointments and their needs and values.
Building your leadership strategy around collaboration and knowledge-sharing isn’t just going to make your team more effective. It’s also going to hone your ability to understand them and yourself on a deeper, more intuitive and personal level. You’ll get to know them, and not just intellectually but emotionally. You’ll learn what’s inside their brains as well as in their hearts, souls, and guts.
Being a strong leader is about more than technical skills or intellectual ability. Above all, being a good leader means having high emotional intelligence. It means understanding yourself and your team at the deepest levels. It means understanding not only how your employees think, but also how they feel.