We all know a story of a highly intelligent executive who gets promoted to a leadership position only to fail miserably doing the job. What happened here?

A few months later a new individual with average skills, capabilities, and talent leads the same team, the same organization to incredible success.

What kind of right attributes made a difference in the failure of a brilliant executive with amazing pedigrees and success of an average manager?

To be a great leader is more art than science. Leaders do come in all shapes and forms of course. Many tend to have unique skills, capabilities, and talents. Some are highly analytical, while others are big picture oriented, some are great negotiators, while other are authoritative, some are loud while other are terribly shy.

However, multiple research and studies have shown that regardless of the prowess of one mind. What matters most is the leader sensitivity to others, how others perceive him matters, how people respond to his ideas, insights and approaches matters a great deal.

Emotional Intelligence and Effective Leadership

Great leaders tend to have a significant degree of level of emotional intelligence, which allows them to have a high standard of self-awareness vis-a-vis their actions, words, behaviors and towards others. They also tend to self-regulate their approaches to meet the demand of their audiences without compromising their belief systems. Most successful leaders tend to be great motivators, and they easily empathize with others due to their above average social skills mastery.

Executives with high intellect and big-picture thinking can often drive outstanding performance. But, Executives with the same pedigrees can extract more of their people if they are more attuned to their needs and know how to impact them emotionally. Emotional intelligence creates loyal followers and kinder active employees.

David McClelland, the renowned researcher in human and organizational behavior, found that when senior managers had a critical mass of emotional intelligence capabilities, their division outperformed yearly earnings objectives by 20%. While division leaders that are lacking this emotional attribute underperformed by almost the same amount. This reality held true for US divisions as well as European and Asian units.

  • Self-awareness– Means that the executive understands his values and goals. He can self-assess realistically, speak accurately and openly with anyone. Self-aware executives know their limitations, and often ask for others, insights, thoughts, feedback, and help. Recognizing one shortcoming is a strength, not a liability. Executives that assess themselves accurately can evaluate the organization the same way.
  • Self-regulation– Impulses drive our emotions, the wise executive acknowledge reality and circumstances of all matters, steps back often, reflects then share his analysis of the event and how he feels about the situation without hurting anyone feelings. People love and follow leaders that are well tempered, analytic, careful in their thoughts and approaches as well as solution oriented.
  • Motivation– Allows executives to achieve their objectives as well as others beyond expectations. While people tend are motivated by intrinsic and extrinsic factors (money, reputation, etc.) Successful executives identify specific attributes in people that generate passionate advocates that drive the organization agenda. Motivation has to do with getting people to stretch beyond their comfort zone, continuously raising the performance bar by tapping into people’s internal motivation buttons.
  • Empathy- in our fast passed business world where everything is inter-connected. The executive who pays attention to their employee’s feelings tends to win them over. Empathetic executives create an environment where team cohesiveness is paramount, where people feel they are part of something bigger than them, where their efforts, viewpoints, ideas are valued and appreciated.
  • Social Skill– Means friendliness with a particular purpose and outcome. Socially skilled executive tend to move people towards the goals they want to reach and adopt enthusiastically the ideas they want to share. They often have a knack for building rapport and finding common ground with people of all sort. Social skills are the culmination of all other dimensions of emotional intelligence, ranging from the art of negotiation, persuasion, sound reasoning, collaboration to building lasting relationships and stable bonds.

Can emotional intelligence be learned?

The answer is, yes it can, but it will take a sincere desire to change, a concerted massive daily effort to face one reality while trying to change. Learning to emphasize with others takes time, asking how people feel about one approach and style will require the executive to humble himself first, listen to everyone feedback without holding grudges or subconsciously retaliate against individuals insights and feedback.

Emotional intelligence is born in the neurotransmitters of the brain limbic system, which governs feelings, impulses, and drives. Several scientific types of research indicate that the limbic system learns best through continuous genuine motivation, repeated practice and honest feedback.

Hiring a coach to shadow for a period to observe one behavior, and propose few recommendations and necessary adjustments is a splendid idea if within budget. Emotional intelligence improves with maturity. Organization and individual can improve by educating people on ways to break old behavioral habits and establishing new ones.

Learning emotional intelligence is a must. The process may take time, and it may take deliberate daily focus, practice, and commitment to achieve improvement. But the benefit of having a well-developed emotional intelligence capability is worth the effort.