Newsletter May 2024

Emotional Intelligence Leadership – Does it make leaders appear weak and vulnerable?

One of the critical skills we offer in our advanced leadership development trainings is Leading with Emotional Intelligence (EI). The typical participant in this training has years of leadership experience and has taken part in multiple leadership-building skills over the years. In the last decade, I have never met a leader who has not heard of emotional intelligence. In fact, when participants see it on the agenda, they all seem to nod knowingly. Yet, I have not met many who actually know how to use EI effectively on the job. This article is designed to tell you about the advantages and, yes, dangers of Emotional Intelligence Leadership and share a few tips with you regarding how to use it effectively on the job.

What is Emotional Intelligence Leadership?

Emotional Intelligence Leadership is the ability to monitor one’s own and others’ feelings and emotions and use the information to guide one’s thinking and actions. The key here is the word monitor – not actually feel the other person’s feelings; rather, be consciously aware of and acknowledge them.

How is Emotional Intelligence Leadership beneficial?

Studies indicate that leaders who lead with emotional intelligence are better able to:

  • Build stronger relationships
  • Resolve conflicts more quickly
  • Boost team motivation and engagement
  • Be more adaptable and flexible in times of change and uncertainty
  • Make better decisions
  • Foster their psychological resilience
  • Enhance employee wellbeing (= boost happiness)

Do leaders who use emotional intelligence appear weak and vulnerable?

Not at all. On the contrary – they build trust, deeper connections, and loyalty with their employees.

What are the dangers of Emotional Intelligence Leadership?

Studies indicate that leaders who lead with emotional intelligence may be more prone to emotional exhaustion and burnout if they cross the line from monitoring to actually feeling the feelings of others too often. In such cases, leaders are encouraged to set boundaries and prioritize self-care.

Moreover, constantly being in touch with the feelings of others may make it challenging to give critical feedback when necessary. If leaders feel the feelings (vs. monitoring and simply being aware of feelings), they may feel sorry for certain employees and avoid difficult but necessary critical feedback. In other words, the elephant in the room gets bigger and bigger, and it eventually tramples over the morale and motivation of the whole team. In this case, training in non-violent communication may support this leader’s professional development.

How can a leader use Emotional Intelligence on the job?

One of the most critical skills that falls under the umbrella of Emotional Intelligence Leadership is being able to validate another person’s feelings. Validating an emotion doesn’t mean that you agree with the other person or that you think their emotional response is warranted. Instead, you demonstrate that you understand what they are feeling without trying to talk them out of or shame them for it.

The opposite is emotional invalidation, which happens when a person’s emotional experiences are rejected, ignored, or judged.

Here are a few examples of both:

Validating Statements

Invalidating Statements

“I can see how you would feel that way.““What’s the big deal?”
“I understand you are hurt.”“Suck it up. Get over it and stop whining.”
“How frustrating!”“You should count yourself as lucky. I’ve seen even worse situations.”
“I bet you’re frustrated/overwhelmed/sad.”“Well, if I were you, I would have handled it differently.”
“That must be really hard/challenging.”“I don’t want to hear it.”
“Thank you for sharing how you feel.”“Get over it.”
“That sounds very frustrating/overwhelming/difficult.”“And? Do you think my job is easy?”

It’s helpful to choose one or two phrases that personally work best for you. If you genuinely don’t understand why an employee feels a certain way, then definitely don’t say you do.

My personal favorites are the last two on the  green  list.
These two phrases help me set safe boundaries yet acknowledge/validate their feelings.

Warning! Two pitfalls to avoid as a leader:

#1 Leaders are very good at solving problems and thinking solution-oriented. However, in Emotional Intelligence Leadership, this needs to be put on the back burner. Leaders tend to slip into the role of giving advice: “If I were you, I would….“ Or “Have you tried to ….?“ You are not in the role of the advice giver or mentor. Emotional Intelligence helps employees understand that you appreciate their openness to share their feelings with you, but the accountability for their feelings is with them, not you. You are not responsible for their feelings, which leads to the second pitfall.

#2 Stop apologizing when people share their feelings with you. Many people tend to say, “I’m so sorry“ or “I’m sorry you feel that way.“ Please don’t apologize for their feelings. Save your sincere apologies for things you did wrong or could have prevented. For example, “I apologize that you were left out of the email. Knowing this information earlier would have made things easier. I’ll make sure you are included in future emails on this topic.“ NOT: “I’m sorry you’re frustrated.“

Emotional Intelligence Leadership can be trained and practiced in the context of a workshop, leadership development program, or coaching. There are exercises to practice validation and to experience what it feels like when your feelings are not validated. Validation is one aspect of Emotional Intelligence Leadership, and I would be happy to tell you more about it in a needs analysis conversation. If you would like information on this and how to implement it in your team of leaders, please get in touch with me.

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