The coronavirus pandemic has brought emotional intelligence to the fore and reminded leaders everywhere that humanity is more important now than ever before. Emotional intelligence is a crucial leadership skill: the unpredictability of the current environment requires a high level of self-regulation in order to manage fear, loss and uncertainty.
One of the elements of emotional intelligence is stress tolerance, or coping with difficult situations. “People are feeling crisis fatigue, and need a leader who helps them to build their resilience to effectively work through these extended times of stress,” says Sylvia Vogt, adjunct professor of management at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business in Pennsylvania.
She runs one of an increasing number of executive education courses that are helping executives to hone their emotional quotient. EQ can be defined as a set of emotional and social skills that shape our ability to understand how and why we feel the way we do; to manage our own emotions; understand the emotions of others and respond effectively.
Emotional intelligence has great impact in the workplace. “It is a critical contributor to effective teamwork, decision making, conflict resolution and leading change,” says Vogt. “It is also important outside of work: for how we effectively handle interpersonal relationships, deal with stress reactions, and cope with challenges and pressures.”
She runs the Leading With Emotional Intelligence program at the Tepper School, which is delivered online over two half-days. The course helps leaders to better leverage their emotional intelligence to support their teams through understanding their own emotional quotient.
“The good news is, you can purposefully strengthen and build your EQ skills, in order to better leverage your emotional intelligence as a leader,” Vogt says.
How to measure, and improve on, your own emotional intelligence
Measuring EQ is a tall order, but Tepper uses the EQ-I model of assessment that builds on years of research to support effective human performance and development. The test covers empathy, stress tolerance, emotional self-awareness and expression.
“Once people make sense of their results and the implications for their interactions with others, they can begin building the appropriate strategies to strengthen their EQ and adapt their behaviors to be more effective leaders,” she says.
There are other executive education courses that can help leaders develop their emotional intelligence skills. UC San Diego’s Rady School of Management runs two: Emotional Intelligence Part 1: The Art & Science Emotional Intelligence, and Part 2: Developing Relationships.
Course leader Ernest Mendes says managers set the emotional climate of their workplaces. “Emotions are contagious, and the leader’s emotions set the tone as subordinates look to the leader consciously and unconsciously for stability.”
The ability to read and perceive emotion states in others will allow a leader to formulate spoken, written and nonverbal messages. “Timing is everything,” says Mendes. “When you can read a situation in a group or with another individual, it can inform you as to when, and how to deliver a message that will have the greatest influence and impact.”
High EQ leads to trust, enhanced relationships, communication, and it ultimately affects the bottom line. “Employees who feel understood, respected, safe, and accountable will perform at higher levels,” Mendes says. “People don’t quit jobs: they quit supervisors.”
In his courses, executives learn the skills of recognizing and regulating emotion states in themselves and in others. They also understand where these emotions come from and which state is best for the activity at hand. Ultimately, they will harness the power of emotions to improve performance and motivation.
“Emotion states essentially effect everything we do,” says Mendes. “Being emotionally intelligent requires us to recognize, understand, label, express, and regulate emotions. They work together with thinking to help us make sharper decisions and good judgments. We can learn to recognize that information and use it.”
Managing ‘emotional contagion’
Professor Sigal Barsade is Wharton Executive Education’s expert in emotional intelligence, and teaches it across a variety of programs, including the Advanced Management Program and the Global Strategic Leadership course.
Among the topics she covers is “emotional contagion”, or how moods influence and spread across teams. She says executives can use their knowledge of contagion to create more positive team dynamics, increase performance, and decrease turnover.
“As positive emotions have most often been found to lead to better employee attitudes, creativity, and job performance, leaders will likely want to elicit positive emotional contagion within the team environment,” says the professor.
“Negative mood contagion may be sometimes necessary to achieve a specific team goal, but should be relegated to short-term situations.” For example, eliciting shared feelings of frustration when teams have lost to a competitor or have not reached their goals.
She recommends several steps to manage emotional contagion — for starters, being consciously aware of your own mood. She says leaders should use body language, facial expression and tone to communicate emotions, while making direct eye contact with everyone on the team to spread the positive vibes.
It may also be necessary to neutralize a negative employee to make them aware of the impact of their emotions. Barsade says: “Making it clear that destructive, negative emotions and the behaviors that come with them — bullying, back-stabbing, incivility — will not be tolerated can help create an environment in which they are less likely to occur, take root, and spread.”