Leadership is defined as influence. Our ability to influence is dependent upon the quality of the relationships that we build with potential followers. These relationships are largely a result of our effective use of our emotional intelligence. In a previous article on leadership we used the analogy of a “structure” to describe leadership as the combination of character, emotional intelligence, mental intelligence, and subject-matter expertise. The combination of these four elements embodies our ability to effectively lead. We described character as the foundation of leadership and then labeled emotional intelligence as the framework of leadership.
The term “emotional intelligence” has become more widely known because of the writings of Daniel Goleman, beginning with his book of that name published in 1995. While “emotional intelligence” (or its abbreviations of either EI or EQ) as an idiom may only be twenty or thirty years old, the skills or traits of EQ are not. Look at any good leader in history and you will see strong EQ. Read Dale Carnegie’s “How to Win Friends and Influence People” and it is full of EQ. The recent literature on emotional intelligence simply provides us with definitions and a framework for understanding EQ and evidence of the value of strengthening it.
One definition of emotional intelligence is the capacity of individuals to recognize their own as well as others’ emotions, to discriminate between different feelings and appropriately label them, to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior, and to manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or achieve one’s goals1. Salovey and Mayer define EQ as the ability to perceive and understand emotion, integrate it to facilitate thought, and regulate it to promote personal growth. Emotional intelligence thus encompasses the behaviors and competences to effectively manage people.
The EQ Domain Hierarchy
There are a wide range of traits and skills in the EQ realm. These can be grouped into four domains based on their focus – self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. These domains work in a way as a hierarchy, where self-awareness is a prerequisite for self-management and social awareness. In turn, self-management and social awareness are prerequisites for relationship management.
Self-awareness, the first domain of EQ, is when one possesses a deep understanding of his or her emotions, strengths and limitations, and values and motives. People who are strong in self-awareness are honest with themselves without being either overly self-critical or naively hopeful. They know what they are feeling and understand the source of those feelings. They also understand their values, goals, and dreams. Self-aware people have a propensity for self-reflection and thoughtfulness.
From self-awareness flows self-management, a critical skill for strong leadership. Self-management keeps us from being prisoners of our feelings. It does not mean burying or hiding our emotions but, rather, mastering them. Leaders with good self-management skills can stay optimistic and upbeat under pressure; they are adaptable. Self-management contributes to an environment of trust and fairness and enables transparency, an important expectation of followers.
The next domain of emotional intelligence, also built upon self-awareness, is social awareness. Social awareness goes beyond just recognizing the emotions of the people with whom we interact; it extends into interacting based on the emotions in others. The primary skill in this area is empathy – the ability to sense others’ emotions, understand their perspectives, and take an active interest in their concerns. Other social awareness skills include organizational awareness, which is the ability to read the interpersonal currents and politics at an organizational level, and service, which is the ability to recognize and meet the needs of others.
The fourth domain in EQ, and perhaps the most important, is relationship management. A leader’s success in influencing is based on establishing positive relationships. It is unrealistic to expect to be highly proficient at all of the skills in EQ, but because the first three domains are prerequisites for relationship management, an effective leader must have at least some skills in all four domains. Relationship management includes skills such as conflict management, developing others, building bonds, teamwork and collaboration, and change catalyst. In short, this is the domain in which results are produced if we believe that the real results of leadership are people and teams who live up to their potential.
EQ Skills Strengthen Leadership
In summary, EQ provides the strength that shapes our leadership. Our ability to lead or influence is based on our ability to build productive relationships with our constituency and these relationships can only be effective if we have a range and depth of emotional intelligence skills. As with the character traits that we discussed in the previous article, these skills are not built by reading a book or attending a seminar. Emotional intelligence must be built into our lives through an intentional change process. In a future article, we will discuss how you can assess your own EQ and develop a plan for improvement. If you can’t wait that long, please give us a call and we will put you in the accelerated course.
Our analogy of a structure to describe the components of leadership lists character as the foundation and emotional intelligence as the framework. In the next article we will address mental or cognitive intelligence, the element that gives leadership its function.
1From Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emotional_intelligence
Ken is a business strategy consultant and leadership coach. His passion is helping companies and people grow and succeed. With an engineering degree and an MBA, he spent more than 20 years working in M&A and business development in the corporate world before founding New Horizon Partners, Inc. in 2002. His consulting practice works with a wide variety of industrial companies, helping them make good decisions about where and how to compete and building their leadership capabilities. To read other articles by Ken on business strategy and leadership, visit the New Horizon Partners website.
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