Without people, leadership cannot exist.

Each person you communicate with, collaborate with, delegate tasks to, and ask for help from has a unique personality and experiences that influence their relationships and approach to work. If you discount the uniqueness of the people around you, you miss the single greatest opportunity to amplify your leadership effectiveness. Creating and nurturing authentic connections makes communication easier, encourages improved performance, and collectively increases an organization’s resilience during periods of instability and crisis.

To recognize the uniqueness of others, create and nurture professional relationships, and treat people how they want to be treated, leaders need to be aware of their own emotions and the effect of their feelings and actions on others. Emotional intelligence is the single most effective tool to amplify leadership effectiveness.

So how do you improve your emotional intelligence?

First, be aware of your situation and how you feel at that moment.

  • Observe the environment and understand the situation you are in:
    • Quarterly Budget Allocation Meeting. Department heads will be arguing for increased resources (at the expense of their peers in the room). Tension is high, and displays of frustration are likely.
  • Ask yourself how you feel at this moment:
    • As the decision-maker for allocating fiscal resources, I feel that everyone is watching me for indicators of what I am thinking, which departments I will support with additional funding, and which departments I will not. I feel excited about enabling the most important work this organization does. I also feel that I need to minimize the tension in the room and ensure that all the department heads see themselves as part of a team and not only as competing individuals.

Next, be aware of how others feel within the situation.

  • What behavior do you observe in the people around you?
    • I see excitement, tension, and engagement. Leaders appear confident and prepared.
  • Evaluate the words you hear, the tone of the words, and the body language of others. Recognize that the words spoken might not match a speaker’s tone or body language:
    • I hear logical, passionate arguments for funding new projects and for increasing staff size. Words match the tone and body language. I sense that the department heads place more importance on the success of their own department rather than the overall organization. They are sincere in their arguments, but their priorities might be off.

Then, be aware of the impact of your own words, tone, and body language on others.

  • Do your words match your tone and body language?
    • This is a tense environment. I keep my body language non-aggressive and my posture relaxed. I thank each presenter and compliment them and their departments on their work prepared for this meeting. I treat each presenter the same way. I want to lessen the tension in the room, not add to it. I observe others in the room to see if my words, tone, and body language are having the intended effect.

Finally, observe the cycle of communication and response and adjust your behavior.

  • Recognize that there will be a response when you communicate with someone (with words, tone, and body language). Observe the reactions of others and evaluate them against the reactions you are hoping for.
  • Be mindful of your response to the communication of others. They are listening to your words and tone and observing your body language.
  • If you are not observing the responses you want to see, consider how you can adjust your communication:
    • I want these leaders to see themselves as part of a team, not as individual competing efforts. I ask each department head how their work supports the other departments. They respond with pride, highlighting areas of complimentary efforts. I reiterate the organization’s priorities and ask the assembled leaders how their departments can best work together to achieve those priorities. I am watching to see who seems to embrace this idea and who appears annoyed by it (their words, tone, and body language). I will follow up with one-on-one conversations with each of the leaders to understand their thoughts and engage them in a manner that will resonate with their unique personality styles.

Leaders with high emotional intelligence will be more effective at resolving conflicts, teaching others, and leading organizations through instability and crisis. Where in your habits and routines can you improve your emotional intelligence? How can you teach your organization about emotional intelligence? How can you hold your leaders and teammates accountable for the effectiveness of their emotional intelligence?