In his groundbreaking book Emotional Intelligence from 1995, Daniel Goleman explains that emotional intelligence is about twice as important as cognitive ability for positions at every level. The higher you go in the organization, the more it matters. For top-level C-suite jobs, up to 90% of the abilities that are essential for a leader’s performance are emotional competencies.
Back in the 90s, Goleman’s work was radical. People asked themselves if emotional intelligence was really more important for someone’s performance than their IQ? Today, we know that if someone has a low level of self-awareness, isn’t able to manage their emotions well and finds it difficult to relate to others, they won’t be as successful nor be looked upon as a great leader.
Gone are the days when managers and leaders are expected to be generals giving orders to the troops solely based on their cognitive intelligence. In today’s complex world, team members want to be involved in the work they do. They want autonomy to decide exactly how and when they do the work and want to be understood and appreciated by those who manage them.
I invite you for a moment to think about some of the great leaders or role models you have worked with or know. Would you agree that they have something over and above cognitive intelligence? Would you agree that they can somehow read the room, make people feel at ease, and motivate them to focus on a common goal?
What exactly is Emotional Intelligence?
Emotional Intelligence is defined as the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. This means that people with a high level of EQ can accurately identify and understand their own emotions and those of others. When talking about EQ, you may immediately think about someone’s ability to empathize with others. While this is certainly a big part of emotional intelligence, the definition shows us that there is so much more to it. EQ is also about our ability to look inwards, notice how we feel, and regulate our emotional responses.
Let’s also establish that emotional intelligence is not about pushing aside our emotions, nor is it about letting our emotions dominate everything we do. Some people mistakenly believe that an authentic leader is someone who always speaks their mind and who always shows you how they feel. That isn’t entirely accurate. An authentic leader is someone who is true to their inner values and who expresses what’s on their mind in an emotionally regulated way. The key here is being aware of how we feel so we can consciously choose how much emotion is appropriate to express in any given situation.
For instance, imagine a team member hasn’t delivered the work they agreed to. An emotionally unregulated project manager might instantly get angry and openly display that anger. What they are showing is an automatic unfiltered reaction. A well-regulated project manager, on the other hand, may notice the same anger arising inside of them, but instead of a knee-jerk reaction, they pause, breathe deeply, and make sure that they don’t react unduly. In other words, they buy themselves and their emotions sometimes. They spend that time calmly asking the team member what happened. Is the team member simply lazy, or were they unable to finish the work due to external dependencies? Or perhaps they were overloaded with conflicting priorities and influenced by another manager to complete their work first?
Slowing down your responses gives you time to notice what is really going on – inside and outside of you – and to use that information to respond appropriately. An appropriate response will rarely cause you to break the emotional connection with your co-workers. It is entirely possible to give negative feedback to a team member without shaming them or causing them to withdraw emotionally.
Use your EQ to manage your team’s workload and stress levels
Another situation that would require you to draw on your emotional competencies is during one-to-one catch-ups. This is a great opportunity to understand a team member’s workload and stress levels. A big part of a leader’s job is to monitor people’s motivation levels, help ensure that they have a healthy work/life balance, and that their project load isn’t negatively affecting their mental health.
When I entered the workforce about 25 years ago, the pace and pressure to get work done weren’t at the same elevated levels as today. In my book The Power of Project Leadership, I explain that every time the global economy goes through a recession, jobs disappear, and workers are expected to deliver more with less. This puts huge pressure on project teams and requires the project manager not only to effectively balance the team’s workload across many projects, but also to manage the associated emotions.
Monitoring each team member’s workload, and keeping an eye on their mental health, is a shared responsibility between each team member and manager. To a certain extent, each employee is responsible for their own mental health and for speaking up when they have reached capacity. The problem, however, is that many people find it really hard to set boundaries and to express when they have reached capacity. They worry about the ramifications of saying no and being seen as not willing or not capable of doing their work.
Ensuring your team has a balanced workload can be difficult without proper project management software. LiquidPlanner has created project management software that is designed to provide a balanced workload. Workload views allow project leaders to see bandwidth for each person so you can easily see if someone is overloaded with work, has a constraint, or has too many competing priorities. Their automatic resource leveling feature optimizes the project schedule and alerts leaders of bottlenecks and resource risks early.
Your role as a manager and leader is to use your emotional intelligence to ensure your team is content at work and to connect with them on a personal level. Create a friendly atmosphere and ask open questions about how they are really doing. Don’t just ask about the completion of tasks, but how they are feeling. Are they thriving, or do they feel overloaded or under-appreciated, for instance?
Connecting with another human being is, in many ways, very simple. What’s most important is that you take the time and show genuine interest in each person. Ask open questions and listen without interrupting. And remember that if you show some vulnerability yourself by sharing a bit about your own challenges, it’s much more likely that your team will open up and share about theirs.
In summary, emotionally intelligent leaders are fully aware of what they feel in any given situation, and instead of automatically reacting out of fear or anger, they take a deep breath and slow down their response. Doing so helps them consider what the right response is in order to foster trust, collaboration and motivation so teams can flourish on their project. In addition, emotionally intelligent leaders are able to deeply empathize and show concern for their team member’s welfare, stress levels, and workload. During one-on-one conversations, they give people their full attention, ask open questions, and listen without interruption. An emotionally intelligent leader with these characteristics will be a true inspiration to us all.
About the Author
Susanne Madsen is an internationally recognized project leadership coach, trainer and consultant. She is the award-winning author of The Power of Project Leadership (now in 2nd edition) and The Project Management Coaching Workbook. Working with organizations across the globe she delivers leadership development programs and executive coaching to help project and change managers step up and become better leaders.