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Emotionally intelligent leadership

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Our regular contributor Pete Lowe explores the idea when leading the importance of having emotional consistency, and how keeping your emotions in check will help those you manage feel more secure.

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As human beings, we can’t escape the fact that we are emotional creatures. When the pressure is on it can seem that we have a greater tendency to lose our cool without any apparent warning. Yet if we retain a high sense of awareness and a good understanding of our temperament, we’re more likely to be consistent in the way that we lead. And the thing about consistency is that it garners trust, which is fundamental in any team environment.

Sir Alex Ferguson maintains that there is nothing wrong with losing your temper – though there has to be a purpose and intended outcome, and it’s not a behavioural trait that should be witnessed regularly. Leaders who lose their temper time and time again become defined by this and lose impact. It also suggests a lack of ability to manage thorny issues in a rational and calm way.

A destabilising force

Letting rip by bawling and shouting may be a convenient release but it’s not a selfless gesture. People who regularly lose their cool in this way haven’t necessarily taken the time to know their team and recognise that this behaviour triggers different responses from individuals. For some, a dressing down can fire them up to show their leader what they’re made of, while others could retreat into their shell and become self-analytical, perceiving the aggression as a personal attack. There is a risk to unleashing anger on others as it can be a really destabilising force if not managed effectively.

Anger mode is often a default state for leaders who are feeling threatened or vulnerable. It’s a way of projecting this on to others as a means of avoiding taking responsibility. The higher an individual’s emotional intelligence, the more authentic they are. If you can be ‘the true you’ in times of pressure without reverting to default then you will maintain the respect of the team. This also prompts a move to collaborate and work together cohesively rather than setting up damaging factions within the group as a result of the finger of blame whirling round in a antagonising game of roulette.

A leader’s ability to maintain a perspective of the whole, while homing in on the detail takes great dexterity and agility. Understanding intentions and potential outcomes of varying approaches shows a leader comprehends how it can be translated by different personalities. It still comes down to the old adage of knowing your team and knowing them well.

Win or learn

Underpinning the emotional response to pressure is a culture that recognises the importance of making mistakes in order to improve. If we view failure as a ‘no-go’ area, then we lose the confidence to adopt a trial and error approach that is fundamental in high-performance environments. Adept leaders are prepared to let their teams fail in order to win in the long-term. It’s an interesting paradox but it applies to any industry that has a reputation for innovation.

You learn a lot more from facing up to adversity than winning. The ability to reflect and create a bank account of memories when you overcome difficult challenges is indicative of a culture that inspires people to ‘move to improve’.  A leader’s role is to support their team to handle pressure with confidence. It doesn’t mean you’re not sympathetic when things don’t go well, you just focus energy on learning from mistakes rather than dwelling on them and becoming defined by them.

Top tips to keep a cool head

When the pressure dial is pointing upwards, it’s helpful to:

  1. Take 10 seconds to create vital perspective and avoid going into default
  2. Zoom out from the scenario you are facing to think about the wider context and the potential repercussions of any actions
  3. Consider your team and how they might respond to the approach you take
  4. Ensure your actions don’t undermine others and they leave individuals with responsibility
  5. Feed forward and consider how you can learn as a team from any mistakes rather than over analysing and becoming consumed by negatives

Winning mindsets are those that understand the importance of emotional consistency and are able to be the same person under pressure as they are when everything is rosy. Outstanding teams work as a single entity, supported by a leadership culture built on trust which inspires continuous improvement.

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