Time for an honest self-appraisal. Would most people who’ve worked with you say that you bring out the best or the worst in them?

When I reflect on my own career and the various reasons I either left companies or was willing to move laterally, it was always because of a poor relationship with a manager.

For most of us, it’s easy to name the individuals who’ve brought out the best in us — and maybe easier still to name people who’ve brought out the worst. These memories are significant because of the way these managers made us feel.

The late Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

Leading With Emotional Intelligence

Whether we’re at home or at work, our emotions are woven into our every interaction. They influence how we react to challenges and opportunities. They determine whether or not we collaborate to resolve conflict. They prompt our willingness to forgive ourselves and others. As we move through our days, our emotions play a role in the amount of effort we demonstrate, our psychological health, and our moods.

Emotional intelligence is defined as our capacity to be aware of, to control, and to express these emotions. It enables us to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically.

infographic outlining emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness with the 4 key components of emotional intelligence

Emotional intelligence has the following 4 key components:

  1. Self-Awareness
  2. Self-Management
  3. Social Awareness
  4. Relationship Management

The managers who’ve had a strong impact on my job satisfaction had high emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness. They brought out the best in me because they were strong communicators, they were empathetic, and they made me feel appreciated.

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Why High Emotional Intelligence in Leadership Drives Employee Engagement

The ability to connect emotionally with employees is essential for leadership effectiveness. In part, that’s because the way a leader makes you feel can impact your engagement as well as your productivity.

According to Closing the Engagement Gap, a book by the researchers Julie Gebauer and Don Lowman, only one-fifth of the global workforce is considered fully engaged. That’s especially problematic when organizations go through challenging times like the recent pandemic because in times like these, employers depend on their employees to help the organization come through strong and equipped for the future.

If employees are committed and engaged, they’re more productive, which positively impacts organizational profitability.

In a study conducted by CCL researchers, we found that empathy in the workplace (a factor correlated with emotional intelligence) is positively related to job performance. Managers who show more empathy toward direct reports are viewed as better performers in their job by their bosses. On the other hand, disengaged employees can become a liability.

When I think of my manager who lacked critical people skills, I remember a time in my life that included daily stress, dissatisfaction, and lack of engagement from the types of assignments I am normally passionate about. During that period of my career, my productivity was low. Instead of applying innovation and creativity to my tasks, I was focused on completing my work as quickly as possible — putting in my 8 hours and limiting my interactions with my manager — just to get a paycheck.

How Leaders Can Show Emotional Intelligence

Leaders at every level in an organization benefit from high emotional intelligence. Taking the following actions will help you build your emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness:

1. Connect with employees on a personal level.

When you demonstrate a willingness to help your employees and to recognize their efforts, you show that you care about them as individuals. This act of caring builds trust between leaders and their employees.

Empathy has long been a soft skill that’s overlooked as a performance indicator. Research from CCL, however, has shown that today’s successful leaders must be more “person-focused” and able to work well with people from varying teams, departments, countries, cultures, and backgrounds. (Learn more about the 4 ways leaders can show empathy in the workplace.)

2. Unlock motivations.

As important as compensation and benefits are, we know they are not the only things that matter when it comes to keeping employees productive and engaged. These benefits are a part of a larger motivation equation. Most of the time, understanding what motivates your employees is as easy as asking them and listening to their responses. Once you understand your employees’ motivations, you can improve retention, influence job satisfaction, and help them navigate uncertainty. (Learn 3 ways to boost employee motivation.)

3. Seek to understand.

Your ability to understand where your employees are coming from — their social identity and how their experiences may have informed their perspectives — demonstrates a willingness to see the world as others see it, without standing in judgment. Leaders who want to harness the power of their employees’ diverse experiences and succeed in the new talent economy must understand and consider peoples’ different lived experiences to help their teams achieve their full potential.

Even if you have high emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness, it’s not easy to get to know every employee below the surface. It’s challenging to see the world as others see it, and to accept a variety of perspectives in a nonjudgmental way.

Building those skills requires increasing your self-awareness, strong active listening skills, and a willingness to learn and recognize our own emotional triggers. Leader effectiveness is constrained or amplified based on how well leaders understand themselves, their awareness of how others view them, and how they navigate the resulting interactions.

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