By Stuart R. Levine
Published In, The Credit Union Times

What traits and behaviors will impact your success as a leader and the ability of your organization to successfully transform itself?  Can these behaviors be learned? An ever-increasing number of studies show that people at all organizational levels can improve their careers and ability to lead successful teams and companies through self-awareness, self-control, motivation, empathy and social skill.  These five qualities comprise emotional intelligence (“EI”).

Effective leaders possess significant EI.  The traditional leadership qualities and a high “IQ” are not enough.  David Goleman, who popularized the term in his 1995 book “Emotional Intelligence” stated: “…emotional intelligence is the sine qua non of leadership. Without it, a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.”  Goleman’s research and that of many others demonstrate that it is exactly the “soft skills” associated with EI that are tied to measurable business results, including higher profitability and ROI.

The EI Consortium, founded by Goleman, has found that higher EI leads to better business outcomes.  “The higher the rank of a person considered to be a star performer, the more emotional intelligence capabilities showed up as the reason for his … effectiveness…nearly 90% of the difference in their profiles was attributable to emotional intelligence factors rather than cognitive abilities.” The consortium also found that once a standard IQ test level of “intelligence” is reached, additional “intelligence” does not have as direct an effect on performance as Emotional Intelligence was found to have. In other words, at a certain point, a leader is “smart enough” by conventional definition, however increasing one’s emotional intelligence continues to reap performance benefits.

How can leaders increase their emotional intelligence?

1. Become more Self-Aware – Self-awareness provides perspective on your own behaviors and processes.  Executives who are aware of their strengths and weaknesses can hire people to fill these voids.

The American Management Association recently cited a 2010 study examining 72 executives at public and private companies with revenues of $50 million to $5 billion.   The strongest predictor of overall success, producing better strategic and financial outcomes, was a high self-awareness score.

2. Practice Self-Regulation and Self-Control – These two skills enable you to manage and control your reactions regardless of your current emotions, allowing you to redirect disruptive inclinations and feelings.  Leaders with high levels of self-regulation “think before they act” assuring their reactions are appropriate and not emotionally driven.

3. Focus on your Motivation – When you have a “burning goal” or purpose, you will be motivated to succeed with a strong determination to grow, maintaining optimism in the face of failure and a willingness to learn from disappointments.

4. Become more Empathetic – Empathy enables you to understand, share and recognize the emotions of other people and treat them accordingly.  When you read the subtext and actual meaning of a person’s words and body language in addition to hearing the words, your ability to communicate effectively, build trusting relationships and get to the right outcome is enhanced.

5. Build Social Skills – Your social skills enable you to create and navigate social networks.  You can effectively build rapport with others when you find common ground through active listening, persuasion, and the ability to relate to people effectively.

Leaders who hold the bar high and demand strong performance in a respectful manner provide the best environment for achieving strategic results.  Creating the right environment for organizational growth, effective strategic execution and customer satisfaction is dependent upon the behaviors of the executive team and management. Those executive teams that have high levels of Emotional Intelligence as well as the mindset to grow and develop these skills, strengthen the organization’s ability to drive hard results.

Leaders need to recruit those with high levels of EI as well as develop these skills within their current ranks.  Having even a single high level team member that does not have an adequate EI can be toxic to the organization and be both de-motivating and devastating to staff engagement.  When people are painful to work with, it impacts trust and effective strategic communication, both critical to achieving results.

The collective behaviors of an organization reflect your team and organization’s culture. Culture matters.  Organizations that place a high value on interpersonal strengths and how leaders do their work will have the greatest positive impact on human and financial metrics. As Green Peak Partners’ study on soft skills shows, “when it comes to business leadership, nice guys finish first.”