Over the past two and a half decades, researchers have studied the positive impact of emotional intelligence (EI) on enhanced leadership performance. Yet, EI is still often underappreciated because many continue to associate the concept with “soft skills” unrelated to concrete business outcomes. As we leadership development practitioners well know, EI is a characteristic underlying much of the success of top business leaders. In today’s complex business environment, the key differentiator between good and great performers is their strength in social and emotional competencies.1
What is emotional intelligence? According to psychologist Daniel Goleman, EI is the ability to perceive, understand, and manage the emotions of oneself and those of others with whom we have interpersonal relationships.1 Goleman identifies these five components underlying emotional intelligence: 2
- Self-awareness: the ability to recognize and understand the emotions of oneself as well as that of others
- Self-regulation: the ability to control one’s emotions and impulsive actions
- Motivation: a passion driving one’s desire to pursue goals that go beyond money or status
- Empathy: the ability to understand and respond according to the emotional reactions of others
- Social Skills: managing relationships and building rapport
Emotional intelligence matters in organizational settings. Employees are much more responsive to leaders who are good communicators, show empathy, and take responsibility for their actions without blaming others. Leaders scoring high on EI have demonstrated greater bottom-line business results, such as higher sales and profit margins, and studies have shown that a greater percentage of these outcomes can be attributed to the leaders’ emotional competence than technical or cognitive ability.1
The healthcare industry is beginning to pay close attention to EI given the shift towards patient-centered care and focus on physician, patient and employee engagement. Research on physicians’ emotional intelligence shows marked improvements in clinical outcomes, as well as greater patient satisfaction and adherence to proposed treatments.3 Emotional intelligence, including empathy, is a critical skill in addition to physicians’ scientific/technical knowledge.
Unlike intelligence, which remains generally stable over the lifetime, emotional intelligence can be developed throughout a person’s lifetime. Below are tips on how to develop EI:4
- Take time to self-reflect. Paint a picture of who you are as a leader, including your strengths and weaknesses, needs, goals etc. Realize that there is no harm in acknowledging one’s own limitations, as it makes it easier to identify with others and gain an understanding of their needs.
- Be curious. Expressing intrigue in the lives of others demonstrates interest and allows you to connect with them on a deeper level.
- Build relationships. Spending time face-to-face with others goes a long way. Set the phone aside, and fully engage your attention in conversation to build a true connection with the people in your life.
While intelligence can play a large role in a person’s success, an understanding of one’s own emotions and those of others is what sets top performers apart. Over time and with practice, emotional intelligence can become a developed skill that has a positive impact on the individual, those around him/her, and the organization at large.
1. Hay Group, “Being Clever Isn’t Everything” (PDF file), downloaded from Hay Group website, http://atrium.haygroup.com/, accessed April 27, 2015
2. Goleman, D. (2004, January). What Makes a Leader? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from https://hbr.org/2004/01/what-makes-a-leade
3. Sita Ananth, “Emotional Intelligence: A New Requirement for Physicians,” Hospitals & Health Networks. October 31, 2013, http://www.hhnmag.com/display/HHN-news-article.dhtml?dcrPath=/templatedata/HF_Common/NewsArticle/data/HHN/Daily/2013/Oct/ananth103113-6410005489 accessed April 2015
4. Craig Dowden, “It turns out empathy can be taught: 5 tips to improve business leaders’ emotional intelligence,” Financial Post. July 17, 2013, http://business.financialpost.com/executive/it-turns-out-empathy-can-be-taught-5-tips-to-improve-business-leaders-emotional-intelligence accessed April 2015