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6 Steps to Improving Your Emotional Intelligence and Leadership Ability


Based on many years of experience in business as an executive and consultant, I have long been convinced that emotional intelligence (EQ or EI) in leadership wins over logical intelligence (IQ) every time.

The experts define emotional intelligence as a leader’s ability to recognize individual and team emotions, to understand their effect, and manage your own to guide your next move.

However, when aspiring leaders ask me how to ramp up their emotional intelligence, I’ve never been able to offer any real formula. Thus, I was pleased to see the steps detailed in a new book, The Emotionally Strong Leader by Carolyn Stern. She is the president and CEO of EI Experience and has years of experience training business leaders across the continent.

I enjoyed her recommendations and real-life stories as well as her self-coaching advice, which I will paraphrase here, combined with my own insights from the field:

1. Take a hard look in the mirror to see yourself today.

Self-assessment is necessary to confirm the disconnect between what kind of leader you are today versus how you want to be. This will allow you to see your strengths, weaknesses, and development opportunities, and break down internal barriers to growth and change without judgment or criticism.

It is especially important for you to recognize your life’s purpose and understand how it is driving your leadership. I find that some leaders are so driven by purpose that they fail to relate to other people or recognize what it takes to motivate other team members.

2. Understand how trusted colleagues perceive you.

We all have blind spots, so it is impossible to assess yourself totally objectively. Identify and interview a few trusted advisers to gather their perceptions of your current reality. Always assume positive intent, stay present, be open-minded, actively listen, and thank the person for their feedback.

It’s important not to be defensive in listening to feedback. I recommend that you suppress your own emotions and ego during this process, look for the deeper message behind the feedback, and play back what you hear in your own words to make sure it is understood.

3. Confirm your goal to be an emotionally strong leader. 

Now that you know your leadership gaps, it’s essential that you accept the challenge to change your behavior. The next step is to ask why you do and say what you do. You are more likely to succeed if you accept what you need to do, believe you can do it, and are motivated to get there.

It may help to review the evidence that emotionally strong leaders have a consistent advantage in business. For example, many have found that they are suddenly able to turn other people’s fears into gratitude and even loyalty, rather than nonengagement.

4. Identify the roadblocks which may limit success.

This process is an iterative, two-step cycle of brainstorming the possibilities for action and outlining the barriers in the way of that action. Barriers open up new possibilities, which themselves will likely have barriers. The end goal is to dissolve the roadblocks getting in the way of your success.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help during this process. Mentors and coaches are always willing to help you find creative ways around roadblocks, even ones you don’t even see. In addition, now is the time to call on advocates and friends who want you to succeed.

5. Craft an action plan with milestones and target dates.

To achieve our goals, we all need an action plan, broken down into bite-sized chunks, to plan a course and end result. This will help you stay motivated, overcome procrastination, and ensure that you are on track to achieve your goal. Plan for a few stumbles and pivots along the way to success.

6. Commit to following through on your goals and plan. 

This step is all about accepting accountability, which needs your constant attention and nurturing. In my experience, most leaders have a few relapses and often need to find an accountability partner to check in with who can call you out on any excusatory language to get you back on track.

I can attest from my own personal experience that changing your emotional style is hard and should be seen as a journey rather than a destination. Yet from what I see and feel, using these tools effectively will allow you to boost your own productivity and well-being, as well as your team engagement. There is no time like the present to get started.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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