December 2019

4 Things Emotionally Intelligent Leaders Don’t Do

Unlike cognitive intelligence, social intelligence can be improved, and that can start with breaking some bad habits.



People, from all walks of life and around the globe, are creatures of emotion. That’s why it’s not enough for leaders to only score high on intelligence tests. The other necessary “brilliance” has to do with emotional intelligence (EI), defined in 1990 by two American professors, Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, as a form of social intelligence involving the ability to monitor the feelings and emotions of oneself and others, to discriminate among them, and to use this information to guide one’s thinking. The emotionally intelligent person is skilled in four areas: identifying emotions, using emotions, understanding emotions, and regulating emotions.

A lack of emotional intelligence has been said to limit some people in their ability to manage themselves, manage others, or manage situations. According to the Center for Creative Leadership, 75 percent of careers are derailed for reasons related to emotional competencies, including the inability to handle interpersonal problems; unsatisfactory team leadership during times of difficulty of conflict, or the inability to adapt to change or elicit trust.

American Psychologist and New York Times Best-Selling Author of “Emotional Intelligence” Daniel Goleman found that for jobs of all kinds, emotional competencies were twice as prevalent among distinguishing competencies as were technical skills and purely cognitive abilities combined. “In general, the higher a position in an organization, the more EI mattered: for individuals in leadership positions, 85 percent of their competencies were in the EI domain.”

The wonderful thing about EI is that it can be improved upon, and that growth can then be pivotal to leadership success, according to experts. While there is much to be studied on the importance of EI and its usefulness to leadership, there are some simple “don’ts” that leaders can immediately strive for in their quest to becoming smarter on the emotional front:

Don’t let people antagonize you.  The trick is to respond, not react. Gaining control over one’s emotional reactions can be very powerful in leadership, just as in life.

Don’t decide anything in anger.  Benjamin Franklin said, “Whatever is begun in anger, ends in shame.” So, when you do feel negative emotion starting to build, make sure to take a pause, and refrain from making any decisions until time has passed and you’ve cooled off. Give yourself at least 24 hours to “sleep on it.”

Don’t give in to impulse, positive, or negative.  There is perhaps no psychological skill more fundamental than resisting impulse, according to Goleman. “It is the root of all emotional self-control, since all emotions, by their very nature, lead to one or another impulse to act.”

Don’t take yourself too seriously.  Never underestimate the value of humor in business. A good joke or clever play on words can cheer up dismayed employees, win over skeptical customers and draw positive attention to your brand. If you have emotional intelligence, it will be easier to tell what people find funny.

What distinguishes star performers in every field, from entry-level jobs to executive positions? The single most important factor is not IQ, advanced degrees, or technical experience, according to the latest career studies. “Of the competencies required for excellence in performance across jobs, 67 percent were emotional competencies,” said Goleman. So, it’s worth raising yours up.


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