Why Emotionally-Intelligent Leaders Still Struggle (and Why They Don’t Have To)

Why Emotionally-Intelligent Leaders Still Struggle (and Why They Don’t Have To)

For 21st-century business leaders, emotional intelligence — generally understood as the ability to understand, control, and express one’s emotions — is increasingly indispensable. Emotionally-intelligent leaders are thought to be better-equipped to respond, rather than react to the crises and unexpected upheavals that now tend to overwhelm most organizations.

But over the years, I’ve seen many emotionally-leaders struggle when addressing staff conflicts, especially when these conflicts involve emotional volatility or personality differences.

While these leaders may be adept at managing their own emotions, many seem to stumble when having to confront charged situations involving others.

For these leaders, the problem may be that their own self-awareness, while critical, is simply not enough.

If these leaders are going to be effective, they will need a broader understanding of emotional intelligence and its impact. Then, when facing difficult situations, they can apply this broader awareness to take a more active role in shaping the behavioral climate of their organizations.

Expanding the Definition of Emotional Intelligence

These days, most business leaders are familiar with the term “emotional intelligence.” Typically most leaders know that emotional intelligence refers to awareness of one’s own emotions and reaction patterns.

But as Daniel Goleman defines it, emotional intelligence typically extends well beyond mere awareness of one’s self. In his best seller Working with Emotional Intelligence, Goleman — the renowned authority on the subject — has described emotional intelligence as having five unique dimensions.

Only three of these dimensions — self-awareness, self-regulation, and motivation — pertain to self. The other two — empathy, and social skills — focus on interacting with and responding to others.

For leaders, these latter dimensions are critical for managing others and effectively responding to the inevitable personality conflicts and tensions that come up in organizations.

Expanding the Definition of Leadership

Yet it makes sense that many leaders would have difficulties with situations such as these.

Throughout their careers, many individuals promoted into leadership positions acquire a basic level of competency for effectively working with others.

However, many leaders also tend to think of these so-call “soft skills” as secondary to the technical or bureaucratic aspects of their job. This may explain why so leaders become baffled or even become disengaged when dealing with the tougher interpersonal demands of the job.

But, for today’s organizations to be effective, this has to change.

What 21st Century Emotionally-Intelligent Leaders Can Do

Given the complex challenges leaders now often deal with, it is critical they become comfortable with a broader, more emotionally-attuned vision of leadership.

This expanded role identity must first take into account that in 21st-century organizations, leaders need to become the central architects of an organization’s emotional climate. This means taking a more active role in creating a harmonious alignment between the organization’s goals and peoples’ feelings and reaction patterns.

Taking on such responsibilities may not be easy for some. Seeking support or skilled guided from a trusted coach or mentor may make the process much easier.

As leaders undertake such growth and engage in a more fully-formed expression of emotional intelligence, they may find that the benefits resonate widely and help empower staff throughout the organization.