As a leader, one of your most important qualities is your emotional intelligence, or EQ. Emotional intelligence refers to your capacity to handle internal and external emotions. If you have a high EQ, you’re able to recognize your own emotions and keep them under control. You’re also able to recognize the emotions of others, and respond to those emotions in a healthier, more productive way.
Ultimately, high-EQ leaders are able to maintain better relationships with their team members, think clearer in stressful or emotional situations, and come up with better ideas for how to manage personnel issues.
You might think that emotional intelligence is an inherent quality, present due to genetics or personal history. But like any skill, it can be developed and honed over time with the help of good habits and dedication.
These are some of the most important habits for developing and improving your emotional intelligence as a leader:
1. Active Listening
The most important tool in your arsenal is active listening—the practice of listening to others while remaining fully engaged. If you’re actively listening, you’re not distracted with your phone or other tasks. You’re also not simply waiting to talk. Instead, you’re investing your full attention into listening to what someone else has to say. This allows you to better understand their reasoning and motivation, and better read their tone—which can help you interpret their emotions and find solutions that work for them.
Emotionally intelligent leaders also practice patience. Too many leaders are action-oriented, responding to questions, concerns and issues as quickly as possible. But leaders with a high EQ are patient, and comfortable allowing more time between a new situation and their response. This patience allows you more time to monitor and respond to your own emotions, making you calmer and more rational. It also helps you establish a calmer environment for your employees.
For most people, empathy occurs naturally; you can’t help but subjectively feel a shade of the emotions that others are feeling. For some people, this is challenging or impossible. Regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, you can make it a habit to practice “active empathy.” In other words, spend more time imagining how other people might feel, given their personal circumstances. Can you see why they might be stressed, impatient or excited? The more you practice this, the easier it’s going to be. Empathy is regarded by some as the most important leadership skill a leader can have.
4. Attention to Body Language
Though obviously difficult to quantify, some researchers have estimated that as much as 55% of communication is conveyed through body language. Accordingly, emotionally intelligent leaders actively pay attention to the body language of their employees. An employee may tell you they’re fine with your decision, or that they aren’t stressed, but their crossed arms and nervous handwringing may tell a different story. It’s up to you to notice these subtle behavioral differences, and note whether they’re an indication of a deeper sentiment.
There are many ways to meditate, but most of them serve the same purpose: giving you greater awareness of the present moment, and greater control over your own thoughts and feelings. Meditation isn’t something that provides you with immediate benefits; instead, these must be cultivated over time, with consistent practice. If you practice meditation just 10 or 15 minutes per day, eventually you’ll become more in tune with your own thoughts and feelings. Many studies have found a strong correlation between meditation and emotional control, which can help you stay calm and rational even in demanding situations.
6. Journaling (Self-Awareness)
Along similar lines, emotionally intelligent leaders often practice journaling, or a similar habit that allows them to confront and sort out their personal thoughts and feelings. This is important for recognizing and controlling your own emotions, but can also help you process what you observe in the members of your team. For example, through personal writing, you might come to realizations about their motivations and feelings of an unproductive co-worker; this can lead you to more thoughtful and more successful resolutions.
7. Work-Life Balance
Emotionally intelligent leaders also realize the importance of work-life balance, and practice it in their lives while supporting it in the lives of their employees. They’re willing to take breaks and walk away from high-stress situations, and they aren’t afraid to take vacations to avoid burnout. They also prioritize healthy habits like sleep, exercise and a balanced diet—which allows them and their teams to stay more stable, both mentally and emotionally.
Emotional intelligence isn’t helpful exclusively for leaders; almost anyone can benefit from having a higher EQ. Accordingly, part or your responsibility is educating your team members about the value of EQ and helping them establish habits like these.
Make emotional intelligence a higher priority in your organization, and/or on your team, and you’ll all stand to reap the rewards.
Photo by @criene/Twenty20.com