Leadership coaches tell leaders to improve their emotional intelligence (“EQ”). In fact, many say it is the single most important thing a leader can do to increase his or her effectiveness. Building relationships is the core of EQ, and since relationships are a two-way street, everyone contributes.
Teams can change in desired ways, but again, without purposeful desire, the changes may be slow or result in unwanted consequences.[i]
A leader has to get to know their employees better. Hopefully, this leads to an opportunity for you (as an employee) to share things about yourself: insights, personal stories, values, and a sense of humor. The best advice is to be ready because an interaction might occur at any time: in an elevator, the lunchroom, or a conference room. Avoid clamming up because you do not want to say something wrong, yet acknowledge the fear so you show due respect. Try being spontaneous, though be careful what you say because it can be sticky.
And just as important, it is an opportunity for you to learn about the leader; it is not all about you. If you get a chance, ask an open-ended question that prompts him or her to share a personal experience. A leader’s story might teach a lesson, establish trust, and/or simply make you laugh.
On a professional level, you want to learn a leader’s methods (practiced ways of applying skills) and get candid feedback. Volunteer to ‘reverse mentor’. Teach new technologies or social media applications where you may have more experience and a different perspective; become a valuable resource, beyond simply performing your duties.
When I was an early career professional, I used to coach my company’s sports teams. I remember a very well-liked leader played goalie for one of our soccer games. He was not much of a soccer player, but showed up on a rainy Saturday morning for us – no other reason. By the end of the game, he was covered in mud from making (or trying to make) saves. It was a thrill having him play with us. His simple participation cemented a bond with everyone on the team that day. Everyone remembers the game and, moreover, had an easy ‘ice-breaker’ to strike a conversation with him in the hall or lunchroom.
From a leader’s perspective, you make great strides in building relationships by doing things purely for the sake of the team. From an employee’s perspective, participating in events outside the confines of the office – such as company sport’s teams, happy hours, etc. – are excellent opportunities to get to know coworkers and leaders on a personal level.
The mood of a leader is contagious. It involves both emotional and social contagion. There are emotional triggers in our brain that fire immediately during an interaction; there is nothing we can do to prevent a physical reaction, like a rush of euphoria or discomforting ‘pit’ in our stomach. However, it is important to understand when we are flooded with emotions so we can react to them and improve our ability to learn. We might ask ourselves. Was my excitement from this presentation justified? Did I resonate with the leader? Did I resonate with the idea? Emotions can shut off clarity in our thoughts.
I remember an exercise in a leadership course (business school) where we broke up into teams and gave presentations with the objective of influencing an audience (the rest of the class). The winner was not a team with the most elegant solution, but rather the one generating the most buzz –a mediocre solution presented beautifully; a scenario that plays out every semester in this class exercise. Emotions influence our short-term decision-making.
Everyone benefits in improving their emotional intelligence. It affects all areas of our life, including: communications, career development, relationships, and happiness. In a way, EQ measures wisdom and IQ measures intelligence. A higher EQ is a sign of maturity and can be improved upon while you are pretty much stuck with your IQ.