Develop your emotional intelligence and become a better leader
“Everything rises and falls on leadership” – it’s one of John Maxwell’s most famous quotes. The unspoken part of that saying is that to lead people, you must establish relationships with those people. In fact, that’s Level Two of the Five Levels, the first step after being in the leadership position.
Emotional intelligence is your ability to understand not only your own emotions, but other people’s emotions as well. You might think, wait a minute, of course I’m in touch with my own emotions, but the reality of life is that we often get so busy simply keeping up with life’s tasks that we never stop to check in with ourselves and how we feel. When’s the last time you sat still without pulling out your phone or laptop, even for 60 seconds? When’s the last time you paused to look inwardly?
Now if we’re out of touch with our own emotions, we’re more than likely not checking in on other people’s emotions. And you might be wondering, why should I? After all, isn’t business all about leaving emotions at the door?
Absolutely not. In business we work with other people and other people, as stoic as they may be in certain situations, are ultimately driven by some kind of emotion. And when we look at our brains and the way they’re hard-wired to make decisions, well, you might be surprised to learn that we make decisions based on emotion, that we then back up with facts. It’s why we tell stories — because when we tell stories, we stir emotions in other people and it’s how we connect, relate, and create great work together.
So how can you develop your emotional intelligence and use that to grow as a leader?
Stop. Breathe. Pay Attention.
Next time you have a reaction to something, stop and pay attention to how you’re behaving. Is it how you want to behave? Why do you think you’re behaving that way? How are your emotions affecting day-to-day life, and your interactions with others? As with so many things in life, the first step is awareness.
If you doubt your gut at first, consider asking others for their perspective — think about a time you were in a heightened emotional state, and ask another person if they noticed anything different about your behavior.
Your feelings, your emotions, your behavior, they all have one thing in common — they are all yours. And it may be difficult to accept, but if somebody angers you or hurts you and you lash out — you own that behavior, not them. But something happens once you start to accept that kind of responsibility: the actions of others start to affect you less, and you start to have more control over your own happiness.
Empathy Starts With You.
Most of the time, we think about empathy in terms of others — it’s the act of putting ourselves in someone else’s shoes and considering how something makes them feel. This is good and true, but what we often forget is to practice empathy with ourselves. Empathy is more than self-awareness, it also involves forgiving ourselves for feeling or reacting a certain way. When we are kinder to ourselves, again, we are better able to control our reactions to other people’s actions. And what follows is the ability to truly be empathetic to others.
Whether it’s with yourself or with others, always ask why. Why did I feel that way? Why do they feel that way? Why do I feel differently than them? What is happening behind the scenes in their life that is motivating their response?
In this way, you can start the shift from self-focus to people-focus. When you do this, you start to appreciate your team members as individuals with individual value and worth, skills, belief systems, strengths and weakness, and motivations. When this happens, you start to build trust as well as influence, and then respect, laying a foundation for a stronger working relationship.
Stay open to criticism and feedback and stay open to change. Stay open to the fact that emotional intelligence takes time and practice to develop. Stay open to positive change and improvement.