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Emotional Intelligence as a Leadership Skill

Rangam Feb 21, 2024 11:11:18 AM

Employees are trained to trumpet their technical skills and personal achievements on their resumé and talk about them in job interviews. However, being successful in work, either personally or as a team member, is an entirely different skill that’s increasingly coming to the forefront. Leaders these days are looking more for people with emotional intelligence (EI) that includes a wide range of competencies to understand and manage the feelings of each individual worker and build positive and productive connections. While EI as a skill has existed for more than three decades, it’s only in recent times that it has emerged as a key trait among leaders. Covid-19 was an eye-opener that made companies consciously cultivate EI in management.

EI was popularized by American psychologist Daniel Goleman in his 1998 article ‘What Makes a Leader?’ He wrote: “The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: They all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but...they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions.”

EI, also often termed as emotional quotient (EQ), is one of the most sought-after workplace skills today. A survey by CareerBuilder has revealed that 71% of employers value EI more than technical competencies while evaluating candidates. Meanwhile, a World Economic Forum (WEF) study claimed that workers with a high EI are more likely to stay calm under pressure, respond to co-workers with empathy and resolve conflict effectively.

Creating a Culture of Diversity and Inclusion

A case in point is Microsoft. The company’s Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Satya Nadella is known for his strong focus on EI and empathy. Since taking over the CEO’s baton, Nadella’s priority has been to create a culture of diversity and inclusion in the global software giant. He understands that EI is a necessity in corporate culture for sustainable success. In a media interview he said: "I fundamentally believe that if you're not able to develop empathy and have that emotional intelligence, you're not going to be able to build the right culture. And if you don't build the right culture, you're not going to be able to attract the best talent."

His focus on EI has paid rich dividends. Under Nadella’s leadership, Microsoft’s market value has more than tripled. It’s now the largest company in the world, with a $2.95 trillion market capitalization.

Fostering Employee Engagement and Wellbeing

According to a 2023 report by Business Wire, managers impact the mental health of employees more than therapists and doctors. In fact, the impact is the same as a person’s partner. A corporate leader with high EI recognizes emotions better and creates a positive and calm atmosphere. It leads to enhanced job satisfaction and increased productivity from team members. Emotionally intelligent leaders are active listeners and show genuine concern for their employees. When workers feel heard and supported, they are motivated to perform better and be loyal to the organization.

EI Drives Organizational Success

The impact of an emotionally intelligent leader, like Nadella, is profound and extends beyond individual teams. Such leaders cultivate a positive work culture based on trust, empathy, and collaboration. The ability to adapt to circumstance, face uncertainty, and guide teams through challenging situations can significantly impact organizational success. A work environment that promotes creativity, continuous improvement, and innovation can build strong teams that inspire others to achieve their best. And as the WEF’s Future of Jobs 2023 report states qualities associated with EI like curiosity, resilience, lifelong learning, self-awareness, motivation, are highly prized by organizations and will continue through the years.

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