Can leaders increase their EQ?

When it comes to ascending the corporate ladder, something less tangible is often required and it’s called emotional intelligence.

With Harvard Business School claiming emotional intelligence (EQ) is twice as important as intellectual ability (IQ) in the workplace, there’s no better time to start training your emotions. Here’s how.

Technical or “hard” skills may have served you well at the beginning of your career, but when it comes to ascending the corporate ladder, something less tangible is often required. It’s called emotional intelligence, measured as your emotional quotient (EQ), and it’s an increasingly common prerequisite for business leaders, says renowned leadership and emotional intelligence speaker and master trainer, Grant Herbert, founder of People Builders.

“Social and emotional intelligence is the ability to be aware of your own emotions and the emotions of others in the moment, then to be able to use that information to manage yourself and your relationships,” he explains. “It’s essential for business leaders, because business is not about products or services, it’s about relationships and people.”

Why EQ matters 

EQ is comprised of four elements: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management. These so-called “soft” skills determine how well business leaders build trust, influence others, communicate and respond to conflict, among many other things. But more than that, Herbert explains that they are strongly associated with job performance.

“People with poorly regulated emotions are operating more from their limbic brain, as opposed to their prefrontal cortex – the executive command centre for our decision-making, emotional regulation and creativity,” he says. “This affects not only how we get on with people, but also our ability to get things done, while being innovative and creative.”

Unsurprisingly, many of today’s most powerful business leaders are noted for their high EQ – a major shift from leaders of the past, who favoured a more autocratic approach. Since the inception of EQ in the 1990s, we’ve come to understand the power of emotionally intelligent leaders, with one study revealing that the ability of a leader to be empathetic and compassionate has the greatest impact on organisational profitability and productivity.

Consider some of the world’s best-known business leaders. Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella is known for his empathy and humility, and recently retired PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi often sent notes of gratitude to the parents of her executive team, acknowledging their contribution to the organisation's success.

How to increase your EQ

The good news is that EQ is not something you’re either born with or lack forever, but rather a set of competencies that can be developed over time. That’s why you’ll see soft skills as one of the focus areas of advanced leadership degrees such as MBAs.

“You can give people a process to follow just like you would when they’re learning to use a spreadsheet,” says Herbert. “The only difference between this and technical learning is that there are more variables, as people are unique in their brain wiring and emotional journey.”

Coaching is one method proven to have positive growth in EQ, relying heavily upon feedback to help people identify areas where they require improvement. Evidence likewise suggests that training can boost EQ; a meta-analysis of 18 studies involving empathy training, for example, demonstrated that such programs are effective.

In his own work, Herbert uses practical exercises, particularly to develop self-awareness among his clients. “You can take someone through a facilitated process in an environment where they can stop and think about the emotions they’re experiencing, and then teach them a strategy to manage the effect that emotion can have on their behaviour,” he says.

Paying attention to your thoughts and self-talk, by practising strategies such as mindfulness and gratitude, are also beneficial for developing EQ and, more broadly, wellbeing.

Whatever steps you take to advance your EQ, Herbert says it’s always going to be a work in progress. “It's all about incremental improvement in your level of competency, taking it one step at a time.”

Interested to find out how an online MBA can help you develop your soft skills? Download the brochure.

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October 2021
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