Head of Content The School of Life
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Leadership: how to become an emotionally intelligent leader

Leadership isn’t an innate ability – we all have the capacity to lead, if we have the right emotional skills. Here are the seven skill sets all leaders need to cultivate.  

24th Oct 2019
Head of Content The School of Life
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female manager leading a meeting
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Newly ousted WeWork’s controversial chief executive Adam Neumann has been in the spotlight recently for his eccentric management style. Indeed, many people and organisations struggle due to imperfect management or ineffective leadership.

This problem isn't inevitable, because leadership is less an innate ability and more a set of specific emotional skills like decisiveness, purpose, and resilience. These are skills (rather than talents) managers and leaders can develop them over time, both informally and through formal training.  

Leaders not only demonstrate a vision and help others relate to it, but build leadership in others, allowing others the autonomy to develop their own ways of working and of managing themselves.

Emotional skills are especially important in an age where, due to technological, economic, and cultural changes, organisations are becoming less hierarchical and more people are freelancing.

Today, more and more of us can expect to be leaders in some capacity over the course of our working lives.

The new WeWork co-CEOs, Sebastian Gunningham and Artie Minson, will naturally want to set the business on the right track. There are seven emotional skills that may prove especially useful.  

1. Leadership

Managers usually do more than just organising and monitoring a team’s work. To truly do well, they usually must also share a vision and inspire others to learn and grow. In other words, they need to be leaders too.

Leaders not only demonstrate a vision and help others relate to it, but build leadership in others, allowing others the autonomy to develop their own ways of working and of managing themselves.

2. Self-awareness

Managers must possess not only a clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses, but also how they are viewed by others. This skill is often being able to gather more accurate feedback about oneself and incorporate it into the way one works. This is difficult because not everyone wants to say anything negative to their boss or manager.

It is therefore important, for example, when asking for feedback to ask very specific questions that cannot be answered with an ‘everything’s alright’ or a mere yes or a no. Instead, ask things that require a meaningful answer, like ‘would you rather I check in about this more often or less often?’

3. Purpose

Management requires not just a strong sense of purpose, but the ability to communicate and inspire it in others. This is, in part, the skill of showing appreciation for the work others do so that they know the impact of their work is clear to others.

For an organisation to thrive, its leaders need to encourage and facilitate fresh thinking at every level.

In situations where employees may be undermotivated, leaders not only need to remember to give praise consistently, but also effectively.

4. Decisiveness

To lead means to make decisions: at speed, under pressure and with both wisdom and conviction. There is a need for a balance between instinct and reason.

When facing a decision where one option is popular but another may ultimately be wiser, managers should consider key people whose judgement they deeply trust and consider what those trustworthy people might make of the decisions they are facing.  

5. Resilience

When times are tough, and problems look insurmountable, people look to leaders to guide them through. Leaders need to be able to build and lead resilient teams in the face of challenges of change and difficulties.

Good managers can best support their teams during times of personal difficulty or turbulence by modelling resilience in particular, by prioritising physical health and periods of rest, and by sharing and acknowledging difficulties in (appropriate) ways.

6. Supportiveness

Management demands that we adopt something of a parental perspective, to assist and empower as much as we discipline and instruct. Among other things, this skill involves demonstrating availability.

Many leaders say they have an ‘open door’ policy, but it takes far more to make employees feel that they are truly available. Visiting meetings, to checking in individually with every member of the team, are great ways to be supportive.

7. Innovation

For an organisation to thrive, its leaders need to encourage and facilitate fresh thinking at every level. Managers must not simply implement but actively lead change. Employees are often nervous during times of change in the organisation, and usually focus on the many possible risks and downsides of the change.

Managers can encourage them to focus not only on what some of the upsides of the change might be, but also on what the risks of not changing might be—from being outcompeted to living with the same old frustrations.

These are essential skills that everyone can develop that will make them better able to manage teams and lead others to new and better ways of working. No matter where we work, how we start out as leaders, or the types of challenges that we face, these skills will help us to overcome difficulties and excel - and this in turn can help our organisations to succeed.

Interested in this topic? Read Emotional intelligence: navigating today’s leadership challenges.

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