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Emotional Intelligence – a fundamental leadership skill

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been thinking and writing about emotional intelligence and the fundamental importance it has for ourselves and our relationships with others.  Last Saturday we held a ‘business building’ course for professional leadership coaches and it brought home to me how fundamentally important the practice of emotional intelligence is to each of us.

I’ll explore some of these points over the next few days in more detail, but let’s start with the overview.

  • ‘Emotions’ – those feelings we all get in rapid response to a stimulus, good, bad, happy or sad.
  • ‘Intelligence’ – ‘choosing between’; using our innate intelligence to choose our behaviour based on the whole range of stimuli we receive from around and within us.

The basic EI model is attributed to Daniel Goleman and his associates, authors of ‘The New Leaders’, which looks at resonant and dissonant leadership styles through the lens of emotional intelligence:

  1. It starts with selfawareness: if we can name our own emotions, recognise the triggers that set us off, and identify our responses to emotions under pressure, we stand a much better chance of applying positive behaviours
  2. Choosing positive behaviours is an example of self-management: we don’t have to respond in an argumentative situation and we can choose to celebrate the good things that happen to us – even in tough times
  3. Being open to and aware of others is the next important EI step.  Because we’re improving our self-awareness, we’ve got a good idea how others might be feeling.  The good news is, we don’t have to assume, we can instantly improve our rapport and awareness by asking
  4. Rapport and empathy are examples of using our awareness to create better relationships.  The benefits of actively improving our relationships are all around us: better interactions with shop-staff, better phone conversations with service personnel, better customer service, beter account management – the list is endless.

Improving our relationships with our colleagues, staff and superiors has to be a  ‘win-win’, leading to better engagement at all levels in the organisation.  It may run counter to today’s ‘survival’ mentality – and that’s because when we invest in better relationships it’s an investment in future success, not just today’s.

Improving our emotional intelligence through these four steps is great for us at an individual level too: who wouldn’t want a better relationship with their partner or spouse – or close family members?

The most inspiring stories I hear from my clients are when they start applying their EI skills to their family: supporting children to pass their driving test, appreciating the very different choices young people want to make about their careers; sharing the disappointment of less than perfect exam results, or punching the air with joy over a moment of sporting success.

When I first encountered the concept of Emotional Intelligence – nearly ten years ago now – I recognised that I was starting from a very low point.  Yes of course I could point to incidents in my childhood, or blame my upbringing, but  that contradicts the notion of being aware of how I’m feeling in the moment and choosing between intelligent options now.  The very best news is that, with diligent practice, I can take four simple steps every day.

Over the next few days I’ll be looking at other EI fundamentals, with a particular focus on how we overcome fears such as rejection, failure, and how others perceive us.