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Emotional Intelligence in Our Leaders

Have you ever found yourself in the precarious position when you are faced with dilemmas or situations that cause your emotions to run rampant? As a leader we may opt at times to make a reactive judgment or mercurial decision based on our instinct or what we perceive to be the correct response.

What truths are we grounded in, and do we have the mental capacity (emotional intelligence) to make decisions which create win/win outcomes? What differentiates this style of leadership, or style of management, whereby one can interpret their surroundings and react in ways that demonstrate a personal understanding, developed over time, that show an ability to understand their own actions and ultimately improving their ability to lead? Often we refer to this as transformational leadership, but more often this is typical of those leaders who have a great capacity of emotional intelligence (EQ), which influences their decision-making skills and overall ability to lead more effectively.

Emotional intelligence is vastly different from what we refer to as general or more common intelligence (IQ). We see this demonstrated in a leader’s ability to not only monitor their own emotions, but others as well. Having a high level of established emotional intelligence is an essential aspect of effective, authentic leadership. This managing of one’s emotions will allow a leader to see the ebb and flow of not only their emotions, but that of others as well and be able to monitor their reactions to it. This ability to manage emotions is tied closely to self-control. Having self-control has a high tendency of predictability, which is desired in today’s leaders.

By definition, emotional intelligence is the capacity to recognize and effectively manage personal emotions in ourselves and in others. Research has shown that a strong propensity in emotional intelligence increases one’s ability to make sound decisions, build and sustain collaborative relationships, deal effectively with stress, and cope to a greater degree with constant change. This same research has proven that our emotional intelligence (EQ) is more reliable in predicting overall success than our intelligence quotient (IQ).

Components emphasized most often in emotional intelligence models focus on personal and social skills. As we take a closer look at these components we are able to distinguish a number of indicators or subsets of these skills. These components can be broken down into the following categories:

  • Self-awareness: being able to understand the circumstances of the cause/effect of why we are emotional, how the brain processes emotions, and more importantly, how our brain perceives our surroundings and environment. Being aware of our own emotions, both limitations and strengths, will fuel our drive, values, and goals.
  • Self-management: the ability to manage emotions such as anger, frustration, and confusion. These are emotions that all leaders deal with on a daily basis. The emotional intelligence of self-management will allow effective leaders to control, or at times redirect emotions that send a message of being patient, even keeled, and persevering. All are characteristics of those we wish to have in leadership positions.
  • Empathy: one of the most desirable skills of those in leadership. Can we say that we truly take in and consider the feelings of others in our leadership style and in our circle of shared decision making deliberations? Procuring empathy is a high indicator of possessing genuine emotional intelligence. It becomes evident in a leader’s ability to communicate, build relationships, show authentic support, and offer constructive encouragement. A leader with a persona of possessing empathy will influence a followership in immeasurable ways. A staff will trust more and have more confidence in a leader who truly understands the physiology of empathy and how that can influence an organization’s ability to move forward and maneuver through difficult change management situations.

As we take stock of our (EQ) emotional intelligence, it would be foolish to think that traditional IQ and overall technical abilities are not important. Goleman (2001) stated that there has to be a good balance and blend coming from each in relation to building and sustaining strong leadership. Rather than thinking that skills of EQ would be nice to have, the mindset has shifted during the past 20 years or so, to more of a need to have.

For information on earning your M.A. in Educational Leadership degree, contact an enrollment counselor at 877-308-9954.

About the Author

Craig Sundberg, Ed.S. is the Program Director of the M.A. in Educational Leadership at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. Craig has been the director for the past 5 years. Prior to that he spent 17 years as a principal in the Mounds View School District. Craig has been instrumental in creating curriculum and teaching an elective course focusing on Emotional Intelligence within the frameworks of leadership.