Emotional intelligence (EQ or EI) is an essential attribute for any business leader. When you cultivate emotional intelligence, you are able to identify, understand, and manage your own emotions – as well as the emotions of others. You are aware of how your words and actions affect the people around you, and you know how to respond to others’ feelings and needs with empathy.

In the past, some business leaders dismissed emotional intelligence as a noncompulsory soft skill – nice to have, perhaps, but not crucial to professional success. A large body of research now suggests the opposite: that EI is the trait leaders need to build strong teams and achieve their goals.

Why EI is Valuable

Emotionally intelligent leaders are self-aware; they recognize that what they say and what they do has positive and negative repercussions within their organizations. They are invested in meeting the needs and expectations of their team, and they cultivate good communication, trust, and engagement in their company culture.

“High EI bolsters the hard skills, helping us think more creatively about how best to leverage our technical chops,” writes Laura Wilcox, the director of management programs at Harvard Extension School. “When I co-teach the program Strategic Leadership, I ask participants to list the characteristics of a great mentor or role model and to classify each characteristic into one of three groups: IQ/smarts, technical skills, or emotional intelligence. Almost invariably, the majority of characteristics fall into the EI bucket.”

How to Measure and Improve EI

According to a popular assessment tool, the EI Profile, Emotional intelligence is made up of four components: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management:

  1. Self-Awareness – recognizing your own emotions and internal states, as well as how others perceive you
  2. Self-Management – managing your emotions and impulses, while adapting to changing situations
  3. Social Awareness – sensing, comprehending, and reacting to others’ emotions, needs, and concerns
  4. Relationship Management – influencing and developing connections with others, as well as managing conflict

All of these attributes are important, but emotional intelligence must begin with self-awareness. Research indicates that when you have a clear vision of yourself, you make better decisions, communicate more effectively, build stronger relationships, and foster profitability and satisfaction within your organization. Work on improving your self-awareness by putting these tips into practice:

  • Focus on strengthening both internal and external self-awareness. Develop an honest understanding of your EI strengths and weaknesses. Ask for feedback from colleagues and employees on how they see you – and how you can react differently in situations to improve your interactions.
  • Check in with yourself to define your emotions. Ask yourself questions, such as What am I feeling right now? Can I name my feelings? What is the cause or trigger?
  • Ask “what,” not “why.” To keep your introspection productive and action-centered, ask “what” questions instead of “why” questions. For example, instead of thinking, “Why is there so much conflict on my team?” ask, “What situations seem to spark conflict on my team? What are the common patterns?”

As you learn how to tune into your own emotions and those of the people around you, you will continue to build your emotional intelligence and become a more effective leader.

Interested in building your emotional intelligence and leadership skills? Learn more about the Think IT Association.