By Brett Lyons
Research on emotional intelligence in the workplace has found links between a leader’s emotional maturity and business success. A leader’s emotional style sets the tone in the office. Through their moods, leaders have the power to create a work culture that is either positive and productive, or negative and under-achieving.
According to research by HBR, high levels of emotional intelligence amongst leaders tend to facilitate a workplace climate where information sharing, trust and learning flourish. Alternatively, low levels of emotional intelligence create a distrusting, fearful workforce because tense employees struggle to remain productive in the long-term.
All of this boils down to sub-conscious neuroscience. Moods are contagious: when someone is laughing, we often find ourselves wanting to know what’s funny so we can join in the laughter too. This is because shared happiness reinforces social bonds and has allowed humans to survive in supportive groups throughout history.
We’re only human
If a leader is frequently in a bad mood or does not attempt to create comfortable working relationships with their direct reports, their team are likely to keep a low profile, not raise problems or questions and stay out of a leader’s way. This creates an unhealthy work culture and segregates the leader from the rest of the team. Consequently, there is an atmosphere where employees believe they are working for their leader, rather than working with them. In time, this will grind a team down.
However, what’s more worse is when a leader is disingenuous and smarmy in an attempt to appear upbeat. Even though they might believe their team views them as friendly and optimistic, the reality can often be that team members see their happiness as forced. In order for leaders to truly know how their team views them, they must ask for feedback – mechanisms for obtaining anonymous feedback on leadership performance are detailed later on. Many managers are surprised by the results.
Being happy all the time? Really?
No. This is unrealistic. Just because leader’s moods affect those around them, it doesn’t mean that they aren’t allowed to have bad days. We’re all human and everyone has ups and downs – in business, it’s not always appropriate to be chipper, especially if sales are below target and the end of the quarter is looming.
Furthermore, it’s not always the leader who may have cause for concern. If team members are unhappy or stressed about something, it’s more important for leaders to display empathy with their direct reports; this is called ‘dynamic resonance’. It displays a leader’s ability to read the emotions of their team and behave appropriately with respect to how they’re feeling, all the while gently guiding them to stay on track and focused.
The four components of emotional intelligence
- Social awareness
- Relationship management
There are four components of emotional intelligence, originally developed by Daniel Goleman, and the most successful leaders will utilise them all. Although some people naturally seem to be more emotionally ‘intelligent’, these skills can be enhanced in leadership courses and training.
Self-awareness is the ability to understand one’s own emotions. It allows leaders to recognise their strengths and limitations, whilst maintaining a healthy level of confidence about their self-worth. Self-aware leaders know the effect their words and actions will have on others, and are unlikely to say hurtful things that “came across wrong”.
Self-management is the ability to control one’s emotions and act in a reliable and honest way, for example, leaving a bad mood outside the office, or at least making the team aware that something is bothering them and not taking personal issues out on unknowing team members.
Social awareness involves empathy and organizational intuition. Socially aware leaders don’t just detect other people’s emotions; they interact with those people and demonstrate that they care. They understand how their words and actions make others feel, and are sensitive enough to change them when that impact is negative.
Relationship management is key when it comes to managing particularly large teams. Successful relationship managers can communicate clearly and convincingly, resolve conflicts and build strong personal bonds. Humour is often used as a tool for doing this, but good relationship management also means breaking bad news to people in a tactful way.
Emotionally intelligent leaders are the catalyst to business success, and such advanced social skills take years of practice and refining before they can be successfully used before a team. Managers must be comfortable with a deep level of self-reflection, and understanding the deficiencies in their emotional intelligence so they can improve their leadership skills. They are flexible and adaptable leaders, able to respond to all situations on a human level.
Self-reflection is the first step to improvement
Strong self-reflection allows managers to identify problems in their behaviour, and modify them accordingly in order to improve their professional and personal success. A key aid in this type of workplace self-reflection is 360 degree feedback, and the most committed managers will clench their teeth and implement this development tool in their workplace.
Although direct reports do not comment on their leader’s moods as such, they do give anonymous, honest feedback on their experience of their leader, their behaviour, actions and personal performance. The best way to understand your ‘soft’ strengths as a leader is to simply ask the team.
The best way to start any 360 degree feedback process is for the senior leadership team to be open to receiving feedback on their own performance first. This already influences how the rest of the company perceives them, encouraging people to think they are prepared to listen to what their teams really think of them, and are willing to adapt their behaviour.
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‘Primal Leadership: The Hidden Driver of Great Performance’ – Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R. and McKee, A.