How to be a More Emotionally Intelligent Leader

Emotional intelligence is the ability to see, control and evaluate emotions in yourself and to also understand, interpret and respond to the emotions of other people. As a leader, this seemingly “soft skill,” can make entire culture shifts happen within an organisation.

Let’s take a look at ways you can become a more emotionally intelligent leader and reduce team stress.

Recognise the emotions in others

When you look at others ask yourself what is that person feeling, and how did those feelings arise? Notice we do not ask ourselves WHY they feel the way they do. Instead, we open the gates of exploration with a HOW question. How did the feelings happen?

We do this because it helps create a sense of understanding for the other person’s emotions. If we ask why they are feeling a certain way, we may never know the answer as we’re not them. But if we change the lens to ask ourselves how the feelings happened, it becomes easier to surmise the inciting action or circumstance.

Train yourself to see the hidden signs. Be on the lookout for the tone of voice, body language, body proximity, and eye contact of other parties. Can you determine when your employee is nervous or seems distracted by something? These nonverbal cues can help you determine the best way to respond in a supportive and authentic manner.

Channel Your Empathy

A surefire way to strengthen your in-person office relationships is to support your employees emotionally as best as you can. Remember that the emotions others feel are true to them. Try to put yourself in your colleagues’ shoes for a moment to see things from their perspective. Then you can find what might be the root cause of their behaviour.

Remember You Can Be Seen

Leaders are always on stage. Your colleagues look to you not only for direction but also for nonverbal cues. Be aware of your body language. When you believe you are wearing a neutral expression, you may actually be scowling. You can help your colleagues eliminate stress by being keenly aware of your body language.

This is especially important for employees returning to the office after months (or even years) of remote work. Certain “off-stage” behaviours may occur such as multi-tasking, facial reactions and audible sighing. Pay attention to these cues in yourself and your team. Acknowledge them with compassion as you do not want to add more stress to your team as they adjust to the new normal.

In the event your team is still virtual, encourage informal face-to-face gatherings to maintain team morale such as trivia lunch or twenty-minute happy hours. It is imperative to stay connected with your team. Feeling like you’re on a remote island can lead to undue stress.

Lean into Vulnerability

Vulnerability makes many leaders uneasy. The fact is when it comes to vulnerability, it is rarely “all or nothing,” but rather offering the most relevant pieces of the self to others in an effort to foster connection. Vulnerability is not “too much information,” or a laundry list of past failures. True vulnerability is far more contained. Simply put, vulnerability needs boundaries. Share your past mistakes and teachable moments. This paves the way for your employees to feel safe to make mistakes and learn from them as well.

Ask for help

We often think we have to go through work alone and that asking for help is a sign of weakness. There is great strength in asking for help. It says, “I value others.” Whether you need help completing a project or are curious about outside resources that could benefit your company, asking for help shows strength and self-awareness. When leaders ask for help, they signal to employees that it is acceptable to ask for help as well. This model behaviour can help lessen stress simply by “granting permission” to ask for help when needed.

Create a safe work environment

What you say as a leader is just as important as what you do. Employees want to feel psychologically safe in their work environments. To feel comfortable speaking up when they have an idea or notice an error, they need to feel as if they will be taken seriously. Fear of reprimand or damage to the ego/reputation, are the primary causes for disengaged and stressed-out employees. Encourage your team to speak openly and honestly and in return, emulate this behaviour. Ask team members to bring their true selves to the workplace, not just a filtered idealistic version of how they “think” others want them to be.

Acknowledge Stress

Transparency is a great tool to help employees feel psychologically safe. Knowing what to expect and when gives individuals a perceived sense of control. And control typically equals comfort to some degree. Therefore, as a leader, you must acknowledge stress within the company exists and offer proactive ways to manage the stress such as prioritising, time management and delegating. Training and help in these areas should be provided to support your team members

Support Employee Development

When you invest time and effort into your employees’ futures, you are demonstrating you value their contributions. Routinely set up time and space for employees to develop their own career trajectories and training plans. Provide resources to help them meet their goals. Career advancement is not just for human resources, it is for leaders to act as mentors, helping their team members get to the next step to fulfil their potential.

Encourage Time Off

In our competitive society, everyone feels the need to be “on” all the time. Whether it is after work hours, during vacation, or in the middle of the weekend, most professionals have a tough time not checking their work email. To help minimise employee stress, encourage team members to take time off and use their PTO or holiday time as a way to refresh and recharge. Clearly articulate the fact that time off isn’t a sign of weakness, but rather a necessary component to ensure peak productivity.

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