You’ve heard the phrase, and possibly even read the book, but how would you rate yourself as an emotionally intelligent leader? How would you rate those around you?

I recently put a short post regarding emotional Intelligence into my social media and it was one of the most accessed posts I’ve had so I thought I would expand on it here.

Nine characteristics of Emotionally Intelligent Leaders:

1. Label behaviours not people: One sign of mature interpersonal skills is to avoid labelling people. Once we do label someone as ‘lazy’, ‘hopeless’ and so on we actually stop them from changing their behaviour. There are two parts to this

      • The more we negatively label people the more they lose confidence in themselves and identify themselves as that behaviour and it becomes a self fulfilling prophecy.
      • Secondly we all suffer from a particular cognitive bias called “Confirmation Bias”, so the more we label someone, the more we seek data to ‘confirm’ our bias and the more we mistrust or reject any data that conflicts with what we ‘already know to be true’. If we label someone as a poor time manager and they get a piece of work done on time, we view it with suspicion … ‘it can’t be much good’, or ‘someone else must have helped’.

The solution is to avoid labelling the person and label their current behaviour. This implies that it is not ‘who’ they are, and is a temporary issue that can be worked through or retrained.

2. Take responsibility for their own behaviour: I often refer to this as one of the defining characteristics of a functional adult. It is unfortunately rare in this age of denial and blame shifting. Staff are often fearful of taking responsibility for their own behaviour in the mistaken belief that it will permanently damage their reputation and ruin their chance for promotion.

In most organisations there is no requirement for leaders to be perfect (if there is – get out), and as a leader blame shifting and denial will do so much more damage than taking responsibility ever will. Staff cannot trust a leader who avoids responsibility … and trust is essential to leadership.

The solution seems simple – take responsibility – but for some defensiveness is the default position. We need to unlearn that response, and question it’s value before we can learn to take responsibility.

3. Respect other people … regardless of differences: Emotionally intelligent leaders look beyond stereotypes and understand that difference and diversity are an asset. Perhaps I would go one step further and say Emotionally Intelligent Leaders are fascinated by the differences represented in their team. They also create a deal culture that doesn’t tolerate disrespect.

To develop in this area, explore the differences amongst your team. Perhaps even ask yourself (or them) how you can best utilise or celebrate the differences.

4. Know that other people are different not wrong: Following on from that, emotionally intelligent leaders have opinions on things, but they are mature enough to know that other opinions exist, and they have no more claim to knowing the ‘whole truth’ than anyone else does.

It is dangerous to believe that ALL your opinions are ALWAYS right. Bertrand Russell said: “The whole problem with this world is that fools and fanatics are always certain of themselves but wiser people so full of doubts” and much earlier, it was Voltaire who said: “Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.”

Emotionally intelligent leaders are intrigued by different perspectives and opinions and are more likely to explore them than reject them.

5. Develop a growth mindset not a fixed one: Leaders know the importance of a ‘growth mindset’. They value curiosity, continuous learning and a focus on what could be, rather than what is. A growth mindset is essential for risk taking, organisational growth and seeing the potential in others.

To develop a more growth focussed mindset takes some effort. First you must become aware of your own dominant thought processes (metacognition), unlearn all your fixed mindset processes, and then practice your growth mindset until it becomes a habit.

6. Show empathy for others: Empathy is so much more powerful than sympathy. Empathy requires that you are able to put yourself into the ‘frame of reference’ of the other party and understand the situation from their perspective. It requires a great deal of emotional intelligence to be able to do this, but it demonstrates to the other party how important they are and is a great indicator of respect for others (tip 3).

To develop more empathy, take an active interest in others (practice tips 1, 3, 4 and 5) and try to understand another person’s values and their world view. Ask insightful questions.

7. Ask “What can we learn from this?”: Being emotionally intelligent doesn’t mean that everything goes smoothly. But an emotionally intelligent leader avoids blame shifting, employs their ‘growth mindset’ and sees the issue as a learning opportunity.

This requires one additional skill – the skill of reflective practice – taking the time out to objectively assess what has happened and develop a plan to move forward.

8. Don’t judge others: In keeping with number 4 (know that people are different not wrong), emotionally intelligent leaders avoid the impulse to judge others by their own values as they are aware that personal values are not universal.

Don’t just take an interest in the values of others, endeavour to understand them and the world view that formed them.

9. Don’t try to manipulate and control: Of course, being emotionally intelligent means that you have the good of the team or organisation at heart, so the thought of manipulating others is far from mind. That doesn’t mean that you don’t use your influence and persuasion. The difference is the intention. Manipulation is ‘self serving’. When we influence people we do it to benefit them, or the wider team.

In the same way, emotionally intelligent leaders don’t seek to control others, however there are always consequences for an individual’s behaviour. Positive consequences for positive, team or outcome focussed behaviour and negative consequences for selfish, toxic or undermining behaviour.

An emotionally intelligent leader works WITH the team to produce the best possible outcome for the organisation, the team and the individual team members.

The reason for this swing away from the command and control leadership of the 1950s is simple – we’ve learned some stuff since then and there is plenty of research available to back up the claims below:

Firstly, people don’t leave organisations, they leave managers. So considerate, respectful leaders are naturally going to increase staff retention and for most organisations, staff turnover is one of the largest expenses.

Of course, staff who don’t feel respected, listened to or valued may not quit, they just take every opportunity to not show up (absenteeism) or they show up, but don’t perform or do the bare minimum (presenteeism). These are both huge organisational costs. Leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence increase staff engagement and reduce this immensely.

The flip side of this is that emotionally intelligent leadership increases productivity. “A person who feels appreciated will always do more than expected.” Staff need a sense of purpose and belonging and they can’t get that from insensitive and self absorbed leadership.

So improving your emotional intelligence makes so much sense – and you CAN improve it. It is a skill to be learned and a muscle to be exercised. Do some reading, practice some skills and if you would like some practical training in this area,  go to our contact page.


Article by Adam Le Good, Director of Fundamental Training and Development