Summit Team Building

Why is Emotional Intelligence Important in Leadership?

If I were to ask you to think of anyone – real or fictional – that you consider to be a great leader and describe 3 qualities that make that leader great, what would you say?

Over the 20+ years that Summit has been leading team building and leadership development workshops, we’ve asked this question to many teams we’ve worked with, and the answers people have provided us over the years have always been consistent.

Most of the qualities that people describe in great leadership do not fall under the technical skills or intellectual smarts categories. Great leadership qualities mostly fall under the Emotional Intelligence characteristics category.

Of course, technical and intellectual skills are important, in some jobs more than others. But technical and intellectual skills are the baseline to getting hired. Interestingly, some leaders with the same technical and intellectual capabilities excel while others don’t. Why do you think that is?

In the book the EQ Edge, author Daniel Goleman who is a leading authority of Emotional Intelligence confirms our experience in asking people the qualities of a great leader. Goleman describes emotional intelligence competencies and skills as the ability to perceive, navigate, effectively manage, cope, and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way. A few examples of the qualities of a great leader we hear are self and others awareness, good listening, the ability to problem solve in charged situations, effective communicator, adaptable, inspiring, etc. When asked about characteristics in great leadership, emotional intelligence characteristics are overwhelmingly present over technical and intellectual skills.

The Difference that Emotional Intelligence in Leadership Makes

Emotionally intelligent leaders and managers are not necessarily overly nice, pleasant, or emotional. But there is a vulnerability in perhaps being the first one to model the soft skills of effectively navigating emotionally charged situations. For example, an emotionally intelligent leader is able to deliver difficult feedback with the intent of growth, the betterment of the team or for awareness in a way that fosters learning or success.

The vulnerability that it takes for a leader going first counts. We can’t expect our teams to act in emotionally intelligent ways if we are not modelling it ourselves. This gets practical in many ways such as expressing feelings (perceived positive or hard ones) in effective ways, showing empathy and compassion in relationships, controlling impulses when making decisions and under stress. How we model behaviour in teams matters.

Emotionally Intelligent Leadership Impacts Team Behaviour

In his book Permission to Feel, Dr. Marc Brackett, founding Director at the Yale Centre for Emotional Intelligence examined emotionally intelligent behaviour of supervisors and whether it was predictive of their employee’s behaviours and feelings at work. Brackett found that a supervisor with strong emotion skills has the following impact on their employees:

  • Inspiration, respect and happiness: 50% or more
  • Frustration, anger and stress: 30 – 40%

Brackett’s study illustrates that as a leader, modeling effective emotional intelligence skills has a huge impact on team experience and even behaviour.

Should there be a “Top 5” Emotional Intelligence Characteristics List?

If emotional intelligence in leadership matters, are there some emotional intelligence characteristics that are more important than others? If you google it, you will find pages and pages of “top 5 emotional intelligence characteristics” type posts.

The 5 main competency or characteristics of Emotional Intelligence using the EQi2.0 assessment tool are:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Regulation or Self-Expression
  • Interpersonal Relationships
  • Decision Making
  • Stress Management

We wrote more about the 5 main competency areas of Emotional Intelligence and the key things to consider previously. Each of those 5 main areas has 3 sub-scale or competencies within it. Even though many lists on google claim to be the top 5 characteristics, they are just listing the 5 main areas of competency. Many of those “top 5” posts can be misleading as they include all areas of emotional intelligence.

If asked which emotional intelligence characteristics are most important, I’d say, “it depends”. I couldn’t say for sure any one EI characteristic is most important because part of the Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQi2.0) model that we use for our Emotional Intelligence training workshops would state that all characteristics are inter-related; no one characteristic is more important than the others. In addition, finding relative balance between the various EI characteristics or competencies leads to higher functioning, rather than focusing on just one or a few competencies. If we consider what happens when any one competency is much higher (or lower) than most, others may see that as overdone or a weakness.

Rather than look for a top 5 emotional intelligence characteristics list, ask yourself,

“What emotional intelligence characteristics do the people I lead need right now”?

Where are they at in their development? Skills and willingness level? Their wellbeing? Their ability? Ken Blanchard’s Situational Leadership requires a leader to adapt their leadership style based on what the person being led needs. Growing awareness of our preferred leadership style as well as the ability to adapt that style combined with the ability to flex different EI characteristics in different situations with different people is perhaps more important than any top 5 emotional intelligence characteristics list.

We are here to help you and your team grow your emotional intelligence. We’d love to talk with you to hear more about what your challenges are and where you want to grow as a leader and within your team. Whether that is through an emotional intelligence training workshop or perhaps other training workshops or team building experiences, we come alongside to support you as you build and maintain high performance in teams and in your leadership. Connect with us to learn more!

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