Leadership essentials: how do you become emotionally intelligent?

Published on November 3, 2023

You may have heard that good leaders are emotionally intelligent, but what does that mean? And how do you develop that?

Whatever level of leadership you operate at, there is one simple thing you can do: say out loud what you feel.

If this makes you cringe or worry that your people will think you’re weak, don’t worry. There are ways to say this that convey things in exactly the right way: with honesty, while also creating safety for others. Robust ways of being vulnerable and emotionally intelligent, in a way that reassures those you lead that feeling something does not mean being unable to take action or make decisions.

For example, you might lead a meeting on organisational changes and you might say: 

“I know there’s anxiety here. I feel it too. Let’s acknowledge its presence. Not pretend it doesn’t exist. It’s a perfectly human experience, despite it not being welcomed or talked about in organisations like ours. The more we normalise this for ourselves and each other, the more connected we can become in this shared experience of anxiety. This shared experience of humanity.”

What we do here is simply acknowledge the emotion and normalise it. We make it safe for ourselves and others to feel that emotion.

And from here, you can gently move the discussion towards the action that is needed. So you might say:

“Although we acknowledge and allow anxiety, let’s also make room for the desire to make the best of this situation, especially for the people who will be affected by the reorganisation. So rather than focusing on the anxiety we feel, we can focus on them and create the conditions for them to feel looked after even in this difficult situation. What are some creative ways to do this?”

Statements like this reaffirm that it’s OK to feel the emotion in ourselves, but that doesn’t mean we can’t focus on others and doing something good for them. In fact, shifting the focus away from ourselves and onto others is often a good way of getting out of our heads and out of the stuckness we can feel as a result of a negative emotion.

You don’t need to change that emotion for yourself or people. You simply need to apply the simple skill of acknowledging it and allowing it to be there. 

And a good place to start is with the 4 core emotions: fear, anger, joy, and sadness. From here, you can develop your emotional vocabulary to all 80+ emotions by practicing with readily available resources online, such as the feelings wheel.

Love,
Monica

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