How Emotional Intelligence Can Make You A Stronger Leader In A High-Stakes Business Environment
By Shefali Raina
Does high emotional intelligence make you a “soft” leader?
If you are a senior executive operating in high-stakes, fast-paced and competitive environments, you might have encountered this corporate myth.
I suspect this comes from the misconception that “emotional intelligence” is only about empathy, positivity and compassion and that it will somehow take away your critical thinking, toughness, decisiveness or leadership edge.
The reality is that emotional intelligence fuels stronger leadership in high-stakes environments. In my experience, those who have greater emotional intelligence can often better focus strategically, eliminate cognitive biases, make tough decisions, manage conflict and have difficult conversations with ease and effectiveness. From my perspective, emotionally intelligent leaders have the greatest edge, especially in high-stakes environments.
Below are four ways I’ve observed embracing emotional intelligence has helped my clients become stronger and tougher leaders and how it could help you, too:
1. Improved Resilience And Mental Toughness
The ability to show grace under fire, be mentally tough and lead effectively in uncertainty, chaos and crisis is the hallmark of a strong leader.
The primal emotional intelligence skills of self-awareness and self-management are the gateway to becoming mentally tough. To begin working on these skills, pay attention to your stress triggers and emotional blind spots. Create new habits that help you manage your capacity to be calm in a crisis, bounce back quickly from challenging events and signal strength to your people. Building a daily mindfulness practice or taking on a regular contemplative routine like journaling, for example, is very helpful in building resilience.
When executives are wary about starting a mindfulness practice, it is best to start small. Consider scheduling a few minutes daily for a visual breathing exercise, which is a great beginning point. Mindfulness is about intentionally paying attention — without judgment — to the present moment.
When you practice emotional intelligence as a leader, you learn to stop internalizing stress and reacting to incoming noise. With emotional intelligence, you minimize your feelings of frustration, anger and even mental exhaustion in your day-to-day life, and you learn to operate at your best and also let others operate at their best.
2. Sharpened Thinking
Emotional intelligence helps you to pay attention to the patterns, biases and blind spots in the way you think, form opinions and make decisions. By creating new self-awareness habits, you also learn to isolate the role your emotions are playing in your approach to decision making.
Practices such as mindfulness, taking new perspectives and emotional self-management which are a part of the emotional intelligence repertoire, help you enhance your ability to focus on what is most important. You can choose to zoom into a micro-perspective or zoom out and look at the big picture.
These are essential critical thinking skills for any leader who wants to succeed in a high stakes’ environment.
3. Greater Ability To Read External Cues
Many leaders default to leading from their areas of expertise and spend too little time synthesizing the cues from the operating environment.
As a leader in high-stakes environments, if you don’t pay greater attention to others and tune into their mindset, drivers and preferences, you will not be able to read organizational and market signals. Emotional intelligence helps you develop social awareness and become more aware of cues, patterns and influencers of the people around you, whether they are clients, stakeholders, teams, adversaries or your board.
The first key step is to intentionally spend time understanding organization dynamics in your company and engage with empathy with those around you. Both practices give you a big picture and a micro view of external factors. This insight into the external environment helps you make more effective decisions around strategy, talent, organizational transformation and execution.
4. Increased Effectiveness With People
Relationship management is a key facet of emotional intelligence. The focus on managing relationships with others by building upon self-mastery and social awareness helps you hone your relationship management ability. You learn how to influence others, have difficult conversations, manage conflict, develop and coach your talent, inspire your teams and generally become more effective with others.
Leaders in high-stakes environments are expected to be effective and create results quickly. Once they learn to seamlessly forge and navigate relationships, it makes them even stronger in their leadership.
I believe strong leadership in high-stakes environments can only be built on a foundation of emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence is a unique and powerful gateway for both self-mastery, as well as your effectiveness with others. If you operate in a high-stakes environment, you would be remiss to not add it to your toolkit.
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