“No doubt emotional intelligence is more rare than book smarts, but my experience says it is actually more important in the making of a leader.” Jack Welsch, Former CEO of GE Electric
What does Jack Welsch mean emotional intelligence (EQ) is more important in making a leader? What do emotions have to do with leadership anyway? Weren’t we taught to leave our emotions at home and not bring them to the workplace? Have you been able to stay focused and productive while keeping your emotions shelved? It may work some of the time and certainly not all the time. Leaders are “human” beings expressing themselves physically, mentally, emotionally, and yes…spirituality.
The dictionary defines a leader as someone who guides and influences. Think of a role model who has inspired you down to your soul, guided you to make good decisions, or was always there to listen and support you. Get a clear picture of that person for a few seconds. Now, how do you feel? Happy, energized, confident, powerful, appreciated? If so, then chances are your role model was leading from the heart.
Leading from the heart versus the head requires a willingness to look within, to know ourselves, to be aware of our emotions, to identify them, to understand how they impact our behavior and decision making, and to manage our emotional reactions.
This level of self-awareness provides the opening for leaders to recognize others’ emotions, understand them, and manage relationships effectively. Unlike the Intelligence Quotient, research studies show that emotional intelligence can be improved because it is a set of skills that can be learned and practiced. Intelligence Quotient defines our innate ability to learn – a capacity we are born with.
We all are leaders guiding and influencing stakeholders, employees, customers, friends, and family. Then what skill should we work on first to improve our leadership abilities? Empathy is one of the most critical and powerful leadership skills to master. It is also often confused with sympathy.
Empathy vs Sympathy
Empathy is the ability to recognize and respond to others’ emotions in an open and nonjudgmental way. For example, with empathy, we can intellectually wear the shoes of a person who has experienced a loss, and have a sense of what the person is feeling. Yet we may not be able to run, jump, scream, or cry with those shoes on. With sympathy, not only can we wear those shoes, we can also run, scream and cry with them because we’ve experienced loss ourselves.
The people we lead want us to recognize the signs, to notice what they are feeling, and to validate their experience even if we don’t agree. Make the time to actively listen beyond the words that are spoken. Confirm the thought and the feeling by paraphrasing what they are saying, and respond genuinely from the heart.
Practice empathy and notice how your interactions get deeper and richer when you are leading from the heart.