How Emotional Intelligence Has Become a Key Leadership Trait

Understanding and applying emotional intelligence can go a long way to improving your leadership skills. A new report from Wray Executive Search spells out the basics of the concept and offers some tips for building your emotional intelligence and success as a leader.

June 6, 2022 – Effective leadership is critical to drive and grow our rapidly changing organizations. Emotional intelligence has been identified by many as a crucial element needed for effective leadership. By definition, emotional intelligence is the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically. Popularized by psychologist Daniel Goleman, emotional intelligence is the ability to improve the connection between how we feel and how we act.

Both nature and nurture feed emotional intelligence, says Bob Gershberg, CEO and managing partner of Wray Executive Search, in a new report.Part genetic predisposition, part life experience, and part old-fashioned training, emotional intelligence emerges in varying degrees from one leader to the next, and managers apply it with varying skill,” he said. “Judiciously and compassionately deployed, emotional intelligence spurs leaders, their people, and their organizations to superior performance. Conversely maliciously applied, it can paralyze leaders or allow them to manipulate followers for personal gain.”

Mr. Gershberg said that emotional intelligence has the following four key components:

  • Self-Awareness: The ability to know your emotions, as well as your strengths and weaknesses, and recognize their impact on performance and relationships.
  • Self-Management: The ability to control both positive and negative emotions and impulses and be flexible and adaptive as situations warrant.
  • Social Awareness: The ability to have empathy for others, navigate politically, and network proactively.
  • Relationship Management: The ability to inspire through persuasive communication, motivation, building bonds, and disarming conflict among individuals.

“The ability to connect emotionally with employees is essential for leadership effectiveness,” said Mr. Gershberg. “In part, that’s because the way a leader makes you feel can impact your engagement as well as your productivity. Emotions can weave through every work situation you experience.”

As business becomes more complex and the global talent pool gets ever tighter, the success indicators used in talent search are changing, according to Mr. Gershberg. “In years past, physical prowess and strength were the leading attributes required. Intelligence, experience and past performance became the next group of essential requirements,” he said. “Our testing focused on IQ, verbal, analytical and mathematical to determine fit. Specific competencies were at the forefront of the subsequent shift. Emotional intelligence trumped IQ in leadership roles.”

The late Maya Angelou once said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

“Whether we’re at home or at work, our emotions are woven into our every interaction,” said Mr. Gershberg. “They influence how we react to challenges and opportunities. They determine whether we collaborate to resolve conflict. They prompt our willingness to forgive ourselves and others. As we move through our days, our emotions play a role in the amount of effort we demonstrate, what behaviors we display, our psychological health, and our moods.”

Related: What’s Different About Hiring Leaders Today

According to Closing the Engagement Gap, a book by researchers Julie Gebauer and Don Lowman, only one-fifth of the global workforce is considered fully engaged. “That’s especially problematic when organizations go through challenging times like the recent pandemic because, in times like these, employers depend on their employees to help the organization come through strong and equipped for the future,” said Mr. Gershberg. “If employees are committed and engaged, they’re more productive, which positively impacts organizational profitability.”

Selecting the Right Candidate Begins with Emotional Connection

Understanding a prospect’s motivations and incorporating emotional intelligence into the recruitment process gives companies a step up in landing top talent. According to a new report from Catalyst Advisors, the changes and transitions of a new job are emotional matters.

Mr. Gershberg points to recent studies have found that empathy in the workplace, a factor correlated with emotional intelligence is positively related to job performance as well as our own and other’s emotions. Managers who show more empathy toward direct reports are viewed as better performers in their job by their bosses. On the other hand, disengaged employees can become a liability. Mr. Gershberg says that to be more empathetic, and to drive higher engagement in the workplace, emotionally intelligent leaders should strive toward these four qualities:

  • Try to see the world as others see it.
  • Be nonjudgmental.
  • Work to understand another person’s feelings.
  • Communicate your understanding of that person’s feelings.

“Whether your own behaviors or the actions of others are driving positive or negative emotions, it’s important to understand that both are impactful in different ways,” said Mr. Gershberg. “Before you can apply new practices and strengthen your emotional intelligence, assess your current emotions and consider the outcome you want.”

Leaders at every level in an organization benefit from high emotional intelligence. Mr. Gershberg says that taking the following actions will help build your emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness:

1. Connect with employees on a personal level. When you demonstrate a willingness to help your employees and to recognize their efforts, you show that you care about them as individuals and that you’re an emotionally intelligent leader, according to Mr. Gershberg. This act of caring builds trust between leaders and their employees. Empathy has long been a soft skill that’s overlooked as a performance indicator.

2. Unlock motivations. As important as compensation and benefits are, we know they are not all that matters when it comes to keeping employees productive and engaged. “These benefits are a part of a larger motivation equation,” said Mr. Gershberg. “Most of the time, understanding what motivates your employees is as easy as asking them and listening to their responses. Once you understand your employees’ motivations, you can improve retention, influence job satisfaction, and help them navigate uncertainty.”

3. Seek to understand. Your ability to understand where your employees are coming from — their social identity and how their experiences may have informed their perspectives — demonstrates a willingness to see the world as others see it, without standing in judgment, according to Mr. Gershberg. “Emotionally intelligent leaders who want to harness the power of their employees’ diverse experiences and succeed in the new talent economy must understand and consider people’s different lived experiences to help their teams achieve their full potential,” he said.

“Building those skills requires increasing your self-awareness, strong active listening skills, and a willingness to learn and recognize your own emotional triggers and weaknesses,” said Mr. Gershberg. “Leader effectiveness is constrained or amplified based on how well leaders understand themselves, their awareness of how others view them, and how they navigate the resulting interactions.”

For 50 years Wray Executive Search has provided executive search and advisory services, recruiting leadership teams for many of the nation’s top restaurant, foodservice, hospitality, franchise, and retail companies. Wray is a purpose-driven executive search firm and human capital advisory, specializing in C-level, senior executive and functional leadership search. The firm is headquartered in St. Petersburg, FL.

Mr. Gershberg has been a driving force behind the brand for over a decade. He specializes in searches for C-level positions, functional leadership roles and M&A integration. Mr. Gershberg has extensive knowledge and experience in restaurant, food service, retail, and consumer industries, and has successfully completed assignments in finance, human resources, IT, supply chain, real estate, franchising, operations, and marketing.

Related: 3 Insights for Leaders on the Importance of a Personal Connection in 2022

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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