Emotional Intelligence and Leadership: Why EI Is Important for Leaders

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Throughout our series on emotional intelligence, we’ve discussed different aspects of EI as it relates to individuals and teams. Now it’s time to focus the discussion on a crucial topic: the connection between emotional intelligence and leadership

Just to review, emotional intelligence stresses that understanding and learning how to regulate or influence our emotions and the emotions of others is as important as intelligence. It also leads to the development of empathy and the ability to shape relationships positively, through collaboration, conflict resolution, and motivation. 

As you can see, there is a clear connection to leadership. We’ve talked about leadership before, but emotional intelligence adds lots of valuable insights into how leaders should act, and how good leaders can best influence their teams in order to achieve their goals.

The connection between emotional intelligence and leadership is therefore quite a strong one. Leaders obviously need to interact with team members and understand what they are going through. At the same time, leaders must be active in shaping the environment of the team to make it psychologically safe and a space for motivation.  

Emotional intelligence and leadership qualities

In one of our blog posts on leadership, we addressed the qualities of good leadership. As a jumping off point for our discussion about emotional intelligence and leadership, let’s look back at those qualities and see how they intersect with emotional intelligence.

  • Vision–coming up with a vision for your team requires self-knowledge and an understanding of yourself and your limitations. 
  • Communication–the ability to communicate your vision to other team members necessitates knowing and understanding them so you can properly motivate them to accomplish these visions. 
  • Responsibility–holding yourself accountable for your actions requires self-awareness and self-reflection, as well as the ability to understand how your actions affect the emotions of others.
  • Empathy–the ability to put yourself in another’s’ shoes is directly related to your awareness and understanding of others’ emotions.  
  • Knowledge and Intelligence–while these are often presented as being juxtaposed to emotional intelligence, your knowledge of the task at hand still needs to be communicated well to your team, and the way that you pass on this knowledge or intelligence through mentorship and training is also related to your ability to understand emotions.

It’s clear then that emotional intelligence is important for good leaders to have. In fact, it might even be a prerequisite. Of course, there are many leaders out there who may not be emotionally intelligent. But in order to be a good leader, emotional intelligence is a must. Luckily, emotional intelligence is something, like good leadership skills, that can be learned.  

Emotional intelligence and leadership skills

If you think about it, emotional intelligence and leadership actually use very similar skills fundamentally. 

As you may recall, emotional intelligence has four attributes:

  • Awareness of your own emotions
  • Managing/influencing your own emotions 
  • Awareness of others’ emotions
  • Managing/positively influencing others’ emotions

At first glance, these are many of the same attributes that leaders possess. They have to be aware of themselves and regulate themselves (self-leadership, which is in itself a prerequisite of leadership), as well as understand the team they are leading and work to influence them as well. 

So emotional intelligence and leadership map onto each other very well. Many of the same skills that are useful in one are also useful in the other. Which again confirms that emotional intelligence and leadership are connected in more ways than people think.

1. Self-knowledge and self-leadership

In order to become a good leader, you need to have an awareness of yourself–your personal weaknesses, strengths and limitations. Such an awareness is central to emotional intelligence as well. 

Emotional intelligence teaches people to be observant and aware of their inner emotions, as well as to reflect on their reactions to situations and other people. This type of awareness and reflection can therefore lead to growth, which can turn into self-leadership, where you are in control of your actions and can harness your emotions to achieve your goals.

2. Motivation and inspiration  

Emotional intelligence can also allow leaders to better motivate and inspire their teams as well. First of all, emotional intelligence helps leaders become more aware of themselves and their emotions, which means that they are more capable of finding projects and visions that inspire and motivate them in their daily lives. 

More than that though, emotional intelligence gives leaders the tools to motivate and inspire the rest of their team, by being able to influence team members’ emotions positively. Emotionally intelligent leaders are aware of the emotions of others, and so they are more capable of taking them into consideration when communicating with the rest of their team.

Emotional intelligence and leadership thus work well together as a way to create a motivated and creative team that can flourish.

3. Creating the right environment

We’ve talked a lot before about psychological safety, and how leaders play a large role when it comes to shaping a team environment that allows team members to feel safe, while promoting openness and creativity.

In order to build this type of environment, leaders have to be more emotionally aware and able to influence the emotions of team members so that negative emotions can be handled in positive ways. When emotional intelligence and leadership are tied together, leaders can work with teams productively to shape a team environment that allows everyone to flourish.

4. Conflict resolution

As we’ve noted before, emotional intelligence does not mean shying away from confrontation and conflict. Emotional intelligence gives people the skills to manage conflict, which means that conflicts are deescalated, and solutions to problems between members are mediated in a way that promotes collaboration. 

Still, teams need to be honest with each other, and open about criticism, or else problems will fester. This is why emotional intelligence and leadership need to work together hand-in-hand. Emotional intelligence makes leaders more capable of understanding team members’ needs, while leadership can add the impetus to find solutions and work towards creating a more productive path forward.

Conclusion: Emotional intelligence and the courage to ask tough questions

As you can see, emotional intelligence and leadership are both needed on teams. Emotional intelligence creates the basis for a shared understanding and the ability to form more cohesive and fortifying relationships. But leadership is also needed to ask tough questions from team members, and to help guide and influence them.

At Invite Japan, we believe that the best way to strengthen both emotional intelligence and leadership is through regularly doing team building activities. Team building activities inspire leaders to step forward and get their team to accomplish challenges together, while also allowing team members to communicate and build on their capacity to understand each other emotionally. The result is teams that are resilient, capable, and able to meet the challenges of the moment.          

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