Article: How should leaders manage emotions intelligently?


How should leaders manage emotions intelligently?

Emotions and how we manage them determines our success at work and in life, this also happens to be the singular differentiator between good and great leaders
How should leaders manage emotions intelligently?

There is no doubt that high performance leaders possess certain personal qualities and attributes that enable them to reach such great heights in their professional lives, but they also have high levels of emotional intelligence.

Daniel Goleman, states in his article ‘What makes a leader’, “very clearly indicates that emotional intelligence is the sine-qua-non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make it as a great leader”.  So what are these qualities which set them apart or make them great leaders?

High self-regard can be described as a realistic assessment of strengths and weaknesses combined with a healthy sense of acceptance, equanimity and capability. A leader who values himself high despite certain shortcomings and accepts himself completely, will reflect the same in his self- expression. Albert Meharbian’s study emphasises that 93% of our communication is nonverbal (55% on body language and 38% voice) and only a mere 7% is on words, so the bulk of our communication is outside of our control. 

A low self-regard would obviously reflect on the way you express yourself or communicate, and this incongruence between your verbal and nonverbal expression would result in a lack of authenticity in your leadership.

The next EI quality which is significant for effective leadership is empathy. The high performance leader is not only in regular touch with his own feelings but has the ability to readily empathize and understand the feelings of those around them.

This ability of a leader to step into the shoes of the other person helps him to gain perspective and a deeper understanding of others, improve the communication and identify problems before they escalate.

The importance of empathy in the present context can be understood from this statement by Daniel Goleman in his article ‘What makes a leader’ for the Harvard Business Review, “Empathy plays a key role in the retention of talent particularly in today’s information economy. Leaders have always needed empathy to develop and keep good people but today the stakes are higher. When good people leave, they take the Company’s knowledge with them.”

Another factor that high performing leaders exhibit in large measure is a significantly high level of optimism. Having a positive attitude and outlook in spite of setbacks and being resilient is what optimism is all about. Leaders who are optimistic have a supreme belief in their abilities. However, too much optimism is as detrimental as too little, to find out how much is adequate, a good indicator is Dr.Reuven Bar-On’s extensively researched, The Emotional quotient inventory (Multi Health Systems).

High performing leaders score high on another attribute called reality testing. 

This is the ability to see things as they are or in other words understanding the world as it really is, not the way you want it or wish it to be, we are sometimes so overwhelmed by our prejudices, biases and assumptions that we view the world with those filters. 

A leader should be so finely tuned into the real world so as to be able to read and pick up nuances from the environment. Subtle messages are constantly transmitted to us through behaviour, body language and a plethora of other ways, but we are so caught up in our own world that we fail to interpret it correctly.

Great leaders have the ability to size up a situation the way it really is and then act accordingly.

Another crucially important factor of emotionally intelligent leaders is the ability to defer gratification, also referred to as Impulse control.

The importance of this quality was seen at a study conducted at the Bing Nursery School located in Stanford University sometime in the seventies. Walter Mischel and Ebbe Ebbesen conducted this experiment which came to be called the famous ‘Marshmallow Test’, with the sole purpose of understanding the concept of self-control, deferred gratification, or impulse control amongst children. Children in the age group of four to six were put in a room, empty of distractions, where a marshmallow was placed in front of them, on a table, the children could eat the marshmallow, the researchers said, but if they waited for twenty minutes without giving in to the temptation, they would be rewarded with a second marshmallow. Over 600 children took part in the experiment, and a small percentage ate the marshmallow immediately. Of those who attempted to delay, one third deferred gratification long enough to get the second marshmallow.

The children with a strong self-control were able to sacrifice the immediate pleasure of a marshmallow in order to indulge in two marshmallows at some later point. Willpower can be thought of as a basic ability to delay gratification. How this simple test played out in later years was fascinating, when Mischel revisited these children later in their teens, He found that children who had waited longer for the marshmallows scored considerably higher on the SAT, and they were more likely to be rated as having a greater ability to plan, handle stress, respond to reason, exhibit self-control in frustrating situations and concentrate without becoming distracted. They were also able to secure better colleges and in turn better jobs.

In general, children who were less successful at resisting the marshmallow all those years ago performed more poorly on the self-control task as adults, and were more likely to be derailed.

Leaders with a robust impulse control can proactively create a vision for the future and systematically and diligently work towards achieving it, forfeiting immediate pleasures for something greater that they can achieve.

Research results to date indicate that nearly 90% of high performance leaders have high emotional Intelligence when tested. While poor-performing or borderline leaders have relatively lower levels of emotional intelligence. A lack of emotional intelligence is what limits some people in their ability to manage themselves, manage others, or manage situations. Leaders with strong emotional intelligence skills rise above any situation. They don’t let other people push their buttons, and they connect with others more effectively.

Studies have also revealed another very interesting insight, high performing organisations have a large number of high emotionally intelligent leaders in key positions, and conversely low performing enterprises appear to have low emotionally intelligent leaders at the helm.


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Topics: Leadership, Leadership Development

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