What Part Can Emotional Intelligence Play in Leadership?

Understanding the needs of your followers and flexing to those needs plays a huge part in being an effective leader.

It is common knowledge that the No. 1 reason people leave a job is because of the relationship they have with the person who leads them. Historically, leadership has been mistakenly defined as “telling people what to do.” While this style of leadership may work during a fire, it will not work when a leader wants her or his followers to go above and beyond what is expected. I would like to suggest that understanding the needs of your followers and flexing to those needs plays a huge part in being an effective leader.

Imagine putting into the mix two leaders of great countries. Presidents Obama and Putin come to mind. They have not had a good history of working well together. At times I cringe when I read about their exchanges. In the spirit of full disclosure, I am biased toward Obama’s point of view, but definitely see the need for both leaders to reconsider their approaches. This past July, reporter Brian Hughes wrote in the Washington Examiner, “What once was an uncomfortable courtship…has given way to the reality that Obama and Putin are done with each other.”

The clearly personal nature of their mutual rejection makes me think that exploring the emotional intelligence (EQ) model might bring to light a bit more information. The term, “emotional intelligence,” was first coined by John Mayer and Peter Salovey in 1990. It was Daniel Goleman who wrote “the” book on the topic (“Emotional Intelligence,” 1995). I’m certified in the EQ-i 2.0 (formerly BarOn EQ-i), a model that defines emotional intelligence as “a set of emotional and social skills that collectively establish how well we perceive, express, develop, and maintain relationships; cope with challenges; and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way.” This definition has evolved into five interconnected composite scales: self-perception, self-expression, interpersonal, decision-making, and stress management. Of course, we can’t all be rock stars in each composite. We can, however, consciously apply each composite as appropriate instead of overusing one composite at the detriment of another. We all know leaders who excel in one area, but are not so great in another. I will leave it up to you to ponder which of these areas Obama and Putin excel at and which they don’t. In truth, it is really up to them, as it is for each of us, to consider where our emotional and social strengths and weaknesses are.

Developing Soft Skills Through Emotional Intelligence

Emotional intelligence has become a formal model in its own right, but the ideas it taps into are also found in many other frameworks. For example, data from Korn Ferry Leadership Architect suggests there are many leadership competencies that correlate best with EQ, and yet we tend to value most highly the competencies that are related to “hard skills.” Just like with EQ, we can’t all be good at all competencies, but we can at least give more attention to workplace competencies that can make us better leaders. In case you are curious, the “soft skills” competencies most correlated to emotional intelligence are:

  • Managing Conflict
  • Managing Ambiguity
  • Driving Engagement
  • Interpersonal Savvy
  • Valuing Differences
  • Organizational Savvy
  • Instilling Trust
  • Situational Adaptability
  • Collaborating

Where does personality type fit in all of this? The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator tool connects to emotional intelligence. While I do not know the MBTI types of Obama or Putin (nor would I think it ethical to guess), I do know that all of our personality type preferences connect to potential “gifts” of emotional intelligence, and all our preferences have potential blind spots. When I think of my own INFP preferences, I can see how these preferences help me, and how when I don’t use them in a developed way (i.e., over- or under-using them), they don’t work for me.

During times of stress (and leadership certainly can be stressful), we tend to overuse our preferences. More specifically, we tend to exaggerate the heart of our four-letter type. That part for me is Feeling in the introverted world. This means that I may get on my soapbox where only my values count and no others. I can come across as emotionally rigid and not open to anyone else’s point of view. If you are curious how this might relate to you, download the graphic below for examples for all of the preferences from a resource titled, “Introduction to Type and Emotional Intelligence,” by Roger Pearman.

I’m not so naïve to think that taking in all this information and becoming “brilliantly” emotional intelligent is as easily done as said (or written). I think that is one reason I would never want to take on such a huge leadership responsibility as president of a country. So anyone who thinks it is easy, open your eyes and give these leaders (or at least one of them—you pick) a little bit of a break. Just a bit, of course, because they have a lot of work yet to do.

Michael Segovia is the lead trainer for CPP, Inc.’s MBTI Certification Programs. In his quarter-century career at CPP, Segovia has conducted hundreds of certification courses in the MBTI, and speaks and writes regularly on the subject of personality type, leadership, and development. He recently presented a TED talk reflecting on how type theory has informed his understanding of his own life’s story.

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