What Great Bosses Know about Emotional Intelligence

Employees like to work for bosses with “people skills.” That’s a super-shorthand term for emotional intelligence. It’s far more than being nice, kind or polite. Emotionally intelligent people:

  • Know how to read and understand the emotions of others and put that knowledge to work
  • Know how to read the emotional climate of a team of people and respond constructively
  • Are aware of their own emotional strengths and challenges
  • Go beyond just being self-aware; they are self-managing so they build on their strengths and overcome their weak spots

When bosses lack emotional intelligence, they reduce their chances of being seen as real leaders. That’s why, when I published five resolutions for aspiring great bosses to keep in 2010, building emotional intelligence had to be on the list. The other resolutions are doubling your feedback, leading strategically, doing a systems check and learning something new and scary.

Emotional intelligence, sometimes called “EQ“, had to be included because you could do the other four well, but undercut your effectiveness if you are known as emotionally tone deaf. What does that look like in the workplace? I’ve written about this before, so permit me to quote myself. Emotionally un-intelligent managers:

  • Jump to wrong conclusions while others reason clearly
  • Shift into crisis mode when others remain calm
  • Fly off the handle when others keep their cool
  • Expect people to deal with their frequent mood swings or outbursts
  • Use hyperbolic language that ill-defines a situation
  • Are oblivious to the feelings of others
  • Are aware of feelings of others but unconcerned about them
  • Fail to build alliances and partnerships across work groups
  • Think they are behaving as a good leader should while doing all the above

When I read feedback about bosses, I’m struck by how often managers who have admirable expertise in their field are far less adept when it comes to interacting with colleagues.

Some might be hanging on to the antiquated notion that “rank has its privileges” — that bosses have the right to expect staffers to accommodate their whims and weaknesses. But I suspect that in most cases, they are simply not sufficiently aware of how damaging their behaviors are.

Self-awareness is, in fact, one of the keys to emotional intelligence, according to Daniel Goleman, who’s written extensively on the subject. It’s important to understand how your emotions affect you, for better and for worse. But it’s not enough to know you have a short temper or don’t want to talk when you’re under stress. You also have to be self-managing. That’s the tricky part — learning to change the behaviors that get in the way of your effectiveness, rather than expecting people to embrace, endure or work around them.

I remember a conversation with a very capable and earnest newsroom manager who wanted to work on this. He was aware that he didn’t read people well. He didn’t pick up the cues from their words, tone or body language that signal they are happy, sad, stressed or scared. But he had a boss who was expert at it, who always seemed to know what people were feeling and just what they needed to hear from him in the moment. His goal was to build those skills and I respected him for asking for help.

It takes courage to become self-aware and self-managing, because you have to be open to constructive feedback and committed to acting on it. But I guarantee it will make you a better manager. As research into this field demonstrates, our emotions at work are contagious, and can affect creativity, job performance, negotiations, and even turnover.

Do you want to improve your own emotional intelligence? I share three tips in today’s podcast: What Great Bosses Know about Emotional Intelligence.

Poynter’s “What Great Bosses Know” podcast is sponsored by The City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. Poynter’s leadership and management expert Jill Geisler shares practical information on leadership and management that’s valuable for bosses in newsrooms and all walks of life.

You can subscribe to this podcast via RSS or download a complete series of these podcasts free on iTunesU.

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