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When you think about an influential manager or role model, how would you describe them? Were they someone who never lost their cool? Was this a supervisor who others looked up to, and trusted? Did they seem to listen to their team, and make careful, informed decisions? Although it may be surprising, these descriptions are all qualities of someone with a high degree of emotional intelligence, not necessarily technical capability.

Despite a collection of research on the topic, many managers will downplay emotional intelligence as a soft leadership skill. Evidence even suggests that high emotional intelligence is a stronger predictor of success than simple IQ or technical skill.  What is emotional intelligence, and how does it relate to strong leadership?

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Self-Awareness

Self-awareness is at the core of high emotional intelligence. If you don’t understand your own motivations and behavior, then it is difficult to begin to develop an understanding of others. Being self-aware also helps one think rationally, and apply technical skills. As a leader, being self-aware also means you have a clear picture of your strengths and weaknesses.

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Self-Regulation

During the work day, there are so many possibilities of emotional triggers: a comment made by a colleague, an email from a supervisor, and even just a funny look from someone in the office. Some of these examples may not affect you but could send others into an emotional tailspin. The point of self-regulation is staying in control of how you react to whatever emotionally triggers you. When you can keep your cool as a leader, you’re less likely to make rushed decisions or compromise your values.

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Intrinsic Motivation

What does intrinsic motivation mean? This is what pushes us to achieve our goals, initiative, or readiness to act on opportunities for self-improvement vs. money or status.  Those who are competent in this area tend to be action-oriented and take initiative. Self-motivated leaders have extremely high standards for the quality and consistently work toward their goals—which makes it easier to lead by example.

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Empathy

For successful leaders, having empathy is critical to managing a team or organization. This characteristic gives you the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, which provides insight into what motivates and inspires your team. Understanding why others feel or react to certain situations, the easier it is to communicate with them.

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Social Skills

Misunderstandings and lack of communication are usually the basis of problems between most people. The work setting isn’t any different—failing to communicate effectively at work can lead to frustration, bitterness, and confusion among your team. Leaders who have good social skills are also good at managing change and resolving conflicts. Developing your social skills, including communication, results in alignment and a shared sense of purpose for your team.

To be successful, leaders must understand how their emotions and actions affect those around them. Learning to relate and work with others is an immense advantage in building an exceptional team. Good leaders must be self-aware, learn to self-regulate, understand what motivates them and others, show empathy, and possess effective communication and social skills. Emotional intelligence is a powerful tool critical for enhancing your leadership abilities, building successful teams, improving relationships, and creating a productive workplace culture.