10 ways to improve your emotional intelligence and become a better leader

When I was first promoted to a leadership position, I was so proud and yet so unprepared.

It was my technical skills that had gotten me the job, not my leadership skills, as these had barely had the chance to develop.

I remember my first day in this new role, one of my direct reports came to see me, and she said she wanted to talk to me urgently.

So trying to be a good boss, I took her into my office and asked her what was wrong. I was expecting to hear that we were having technical problems, customer satisfaction issues or that our latest project was behind schedule.

What she said left me speechless and also helpless. She looked me in the eye and said, “I have found a lump in my breast, I think it might be cancer, I don’t know what to do.”

Now, I had taken several leadership and management training courses, but none of them had prepared me to be able to deal with this situation. Leadership is a people business, and emotional intelligence is becoming more and more important.

Studies show that women have the edge over men in this area, and I want to help redress that balance by giving you ten tips to improve your emotional intelligence and consequently your leadership.

1. Listen twice as much as you speak

My grandma always used to tell me, you have two ears and one mouth, and this is the ratio in which we should use them. When we listen, we show people that they are valued. It gives them a chance to get grievances off their chests, which might otherwise impact their productivity.

We don’t always have to do something, and often just listening is enough. Also, when we listen, we can learn a lot, remember our teams are much closer to the action than we are and can often have valuable information.

2. Respond, rather than react

There is a subtle but paramount difference between reacting and responding. Reacting is when we unconsciously experience an emotional trigger and behave in an unconscious way that causes us to expresses or relieve that emotion. This may cause us to chastise someone because we are irritated that we have been interrupted.

However, when we respond, we notice how we are feeling, and we consciously decide how we will respond. In the case of the interruption, we could politely let them know we are busy and to come back in 10 or 15 minutes. We don’t want to let our emotions control all our interactions.

3. Put yourself in the other person’s shoes

The more we understand the perspective of others, the easier it will be for us to understand any resistance or issues that they will have. It allows us to be more sensitive to their needs, that doesn’t always mean that we need to give into them, often this is not possible. But when we understand other people’s positions it can help us communicate in a much more empathetic manner that will help us get better results.

4. Apologize directly if you are at fault

Nothing helps build trust and rapport quicker than owning up to our mistakes and apologizing. Too often, people look to blame others, but this destroys trust and relationships. If it’s your fault, admit it, apologize and move on.

5. Don’t interrupt or change the subject

When we have difficult conversations, or we discuss difficult topics these can unveil uncomfortable feelings within us. When that happens, we may want change the subject to avoid these feelings. Don’t do that, stay with conversation, listen, feel the emotion but try not to let it control you. I know it’s not easy, but it does become easier with practice.

6. Be vulnerable

Leaders don’t have to be superman or superwoman for that matter. When we show vulnerability, it allows us to make better connections with people. We have all made mistakes or have failing, don’t look to hide them. Own them, share them, people will respect you more for it.

7. Empathize with others

Empathy is about understanding why someone feels or behaves in a certain way, and being able to communicate that understanding to them. To better understand empathy, we must first understand our feelings and why we react the way we do. Start to increase this understand by noticing the way you feel, and asking yourself why do I feel this way, or what triggered this feeling? The more we understand our emotional responses, the better we will be able to comprehend and deal with others more empathetically.

8. Create a positive environment

We can create a more positive environment just by smiling more. When we smile we releases endorphins that make us feel less stressed and more relaxed. Smiling is contagious, when we smile at someone, it encourages them to smile back, which then makes them feel less stressed and more relaxed. A happy environment not only has positive health benefits for everyone, but happy people are productive people.

9. Ask don’t tell

No one likes being told what to do. Everyone knows you’re the boss, so when you ask people to do something they are not likely to refuse. When we ask people, we show them respect, it also changes the tone in which we ask. When we tell people, it’s much more like a command, and no one wants to be commanded.

10. Praise more
While it’s true that flattery will not get you everywhere, praising people when they do a good job certainly does. We all crave recognition, and what we recognize gets repeated. So be aware of what’s going on around you and look to praise people you see doing a good job. It’s also good for us to understand the individual needs, some people like to be praised in private, others in public. The more in tune our praise is to the individuals need, the more impactful it will be.

If you follow these tips, they will significantly help to improve your emotional intelligence and the more you practice, the better you will become and the better the leader you will be.