Emotional Intelligence as an Executive Leader

This post discusses the need for Emotional Intelligence as a executive leader


Mike Conley

1/10/20245 min read

brown egg
brown egg

Emotional intelligence is a crucial skill for executive leaders

If you've looked at any leadership job posts lately, you may have seen that a lot of them are seeking emotionally intelligent leaders. Many modern companies believe it is a critical part of leadership and is a fundamental requirement for Servant Leaders.

But what is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions, as well as recognize the emotions of those around you. Within business you use this understanding to effectively manage and express these emotions in a positive and productive manner. Doing so helps you build trust, communicate clearly, resolve conflict, and inspire others.

Can anyone be emotionally intelligent? That's a hard question. The answer is everyone can try to improve their emotional intelligence. In real life, some people naturally have a high-level of emotional intelligence. Others develop emotional intelligence as they mature and sometimes a perspective changing life event can lead to building emotional intelligence.

Every leader, regardless of their level of innate emotional intelligence, can benefit from purposely trying to improve their emotional intelligence.

Here are 10 great tips to improve your emotional intelligence as an executive leader:

1. Self-awareness

Self-awareness is conscious knowledge of one's own character, feelings, motives, and desires. And it is fundamental in improving your emotional intelligence. This can be a big subject and deserves taking dedicating time to work on. At a high-level, you take time to reflect on your own emotions, strengths, and weaknesses and then use those reflections to understand how your emotions impact your decision-making and behavior.

If this doesn't come naturally for you, perhaps consider dedicating some time to help become more self aware. Here is one book I found interesting in this space: Finding Awareness

2. Active listening

Active listening is the practice of listening with complete attention and with an engaged mind and body. For leaders you should use active listening when interacting with your team members. Pay attention to their verbal and non-verbal cues, and show genuine interest in their thoughts and feelings. This will help you understand their perspectives and build stronger connections.

Again, this comes natural to some. The rest of us, we can intentionally work on it. Here is one book I put on my reading list: Active Listing Techniques: 30 Practical tools to Hone your Communications Skills

3. Empathy

Empathetic leadership means having the ability to understand the needs of others, and being aware of their feelings and thoughts. Historically, this was a soft skill that rarely got attention in leadership. However, being a emotionally intelligent and servant leader requires a great deal of empathy. Essentially, you cultivate empathy by putting yourself in others' shoes. And, by trying to understand their emotions and experiences while also validating their feelings. This will help you build trust and create a supportive work environment.

For someone who is not innately empathetic and hasn't developed empathy over time, building empathy can be challenging. Many modern leadership books such as: Compassionate Leadership: How to Do Hard Things in a Human Way, help build empathy and is a good place to start. I would also consider having conversations with individuals you know that are extremely empathic and try to understand how they approach problems.

4. Emotional regulation

Learn to regulate your own emotions, especially in challenging situations. Stay calm and composed, and avoid reacting impulsively. Take a moment, or longer, to pause and think before responding.

If we reflect on it, we all should recognize when we are emotionally charged we don't always say or do the right thing. This is true in our personal and professional lives. Have you ever had a leader yell at you when a meeting went wrong? I have. Have you ever had a teacher yell at you when they made a mistake. I have. Both of those samples would have benefitted if the aggressor was emotionally regulated.

In my post on Servant Leadership - Giving Feedback, I go through some tips to help emotionally regulate. A bestselling book that addresses emotional regulation in adults is: Master Your Emotions: A Practical Guide to Overcome Negativity and Better Manage Your Feelings (Mastery Series)

5. Conflict management

Conflict management is the process of identifying, addressing, and resolving disputes or disagreements between individuals or groups. That's easy to say, but takes effort to realize.

As a emotional intelligent leader, you should develop effective conflict management skills. There are several styles of conflict managements, but there are two styles I would recommend for a servant leader:

  • Collaborating - The needs of all parties is considered to find a negotiated solution that everyone can agree to. This is one of the most long-term successful approaches, but takes the most time and effort. This is sometimes called win-win.

  • Compromising - Seeks middle ground by asking parties to each give up some aspect of of their desires to reach an agreement on a larger issue. This is sometimes referred to as lose-lose.

Using either approach a leader should encourage open communication and facilitate constructive discussions when conflicts arise for the purpose of keeping the team focused on finding mutually beneficial solutions.

This post from peopleHum.com on Conflict Management is a good resource to help improve your conflict management skills.

6. Social awareness

Social awareness focuses on recognizing and understanding others' feelings. And if you recall this is very similar to having empathy, but the scope is larger. With social awareness you must be aware of the dynamics within your team and the broader organizational context. You also must understand the needs and concerns of your team members and stakeholders. This will help you make informed decisions and navigate complex situations.

A good post to dig a little deeper Insperity.com post about 8 social awareness strategies that will make you a better leader.

7. Authenticity

Being authentic mean your personality at home is similar to your personality at work. This helps you to be happier and improves the overall work environment. It also encompasses being honest and genuine in your interactions and showing vulnerability to admit when you make mistakes. This will foster trust and encourage others to be open and honest with you.

A good staring point for building authenticity can be found on Indeed Career development post - 13 Ways To Be Your Authentic Self in the Workplace

8. Resilience

Resilience is the ability to recover from a challenge and to use that challenge to learn. Developing resiliency allows you to bounce back from setbacks and challenges. If you do this with a positive attitude and focus on finding solutions, it will inspire your team and help them navigate difficult times.

Your journey to improving your resilience can start at this Indeed Career development post Resilience in the Workplace: How To Build It in 6 Steps

9. Continuous learning

Embrace a mindset of continuous learning and improvement for yourself and your team. Seek feedback from others and be open to new ideas. This will help you expand your emotional intelligence and become a more effective leader.

Throughout this post i have been giving you links to additional material, those are a good start to your continuous learning. In your continuous learning, as a emotionally intelligent leader, you should consider continuous learning in your vertical but also continuous learning around being a emotionally intelligent servant leader. You can find more resources on my blog and if you want to know of new blog posts get posted, please subscribe to my newsletter (found at the bottom of every page in my site).

10. Lead by example

Finally, lead by example. I know that sounds cliche but it works. If you can become a more emotionally intelligent leader, that will inspire other on your team to also increasing their emotional intelligence. Just demonstrating the behaviors and qualities you expect from your team members encourages them. Also consider sharing any valuable resources around emotional intelligence with your team members. Everyone can benefit from being more emotionally intelligent at work.

Improving your emotional intelligence as an leader does take time and effort, but the benefits are well worth it. By developing these skills, you will build stronger relationships, make better decisions, and create a positive and productive work environment.