The human species is incredible and complex, and entrepreneurs are no exception. Our brain is the most efficient computer on the planet, outperforming the world’s most powerful supercomputer 100,000 times over. It evolved to be logical, emotional, and prosocial – three key areas that have helped us survive and move toward self-actualization for tens of thousands of generations. We have adapted and evolved to become part of one of the most social species on the planet, and it’s no surprise that recent work in the psychological sciences is uncovering the unparalleled importance of emotional intelligence in leadership, wellbeing, and overall success in life.
As the most recent edition in our long line of social ancestors, entrepreneurs are changing the global landscape and culture in ways that no group of people have ever been capable of before. What are the key factors in developing an Emotionally Intelligent leadership style? Four key areas are emerging as the most important aspects of human emotion to cultivate as a leader – and a successful human being:
1. Self-awareness – one of the most influential writers to bring Emotional Intelligence into popular culture was Daniel Goleman, who wrote that “If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.” Self-awareness is the profound and non-judgmental understanding of our behaviors, triggers, and deeply-ingrained emotional patterns. Self-aware leaders recognize what truly motivates them, what upsets them, and what keeps them in balance. They understand how others influence their emotions, and why. Self-aware leaders accept the reality that they create each day, since they have the tools within themselves to recognize and manage their body, mind, emotions, and relationships.
2. Empathy – Charles Darwin was fascinated by empathy and compassion in the human experience, and considered these behaviors as some of the most highly prized attributes of our species. Nearly 150 years after Darwin, psychology experiments are revealing that the all-around most effective business leaders are the ones who demonstrate the greatest understanding and care for their colleagues, staff, and collaborators. Studies are also showing that companies with empathic leaders thrive in the global market by producing products and services that are both economically, socially, and ecologically valuable. Empathic leaders have mastered the art of understanding the emotions of others, taking on multiple perspectives, responding to social distress, and meeting people wherever they are emotionally.
3. Mindful Behavior – good leaders know how to inspire their team; great leaders know when inspiration is appropriate and when it is not. Your team will experience an incredible spectrum of emotions each day, ranging from excitement to anxiety to exhaustion to relaxation. A leader who understands mindful behaviors can motivate their team when motivation is appropriate, but also respond accordingly when it is not. When was the last time you took the social and emotional temperature of your team? You may feel the need – and have the personality and drive – to constantly push, build, create, and move. If some members of your team aren’t like you, however, the overall team effort will be less efficient. It is important to really get to know each member of your team, and understand how to interact with them in a way that maximizes comfort, care, and authenticity.
4. Emotion Regulation – if you decide to pick only one of the skills from this list and work on it, let it be this one. Emotion regulation is the ability to successfully manage your emotions and the emotions of others to create a personal and social climate that is conducive to everyone’s needs and wellbeing. Do you know anyone who is reactive or has few tools in their toolkit to manage their own emotional responses? Most of us can think of at least one person, and they’re probably not the one you’d want to work with for the rest of your life. Leaders who master the art of emotion regulation tend to be flexible, adaptive, and accepting of wave after wave of emotional changes that happen throughout the day.
As the leader of your organization, if you and your team are feeling burnout, anxiety when working together, or get the sense that the culture of your organization could use a little uplifting (or a complete reboot) – it may be time to look into enhancing your team’s Emotional Intelligence skills. Through self-awareness, empathy, mindful behavior, and emotion regulation we can build a more compassionate, collaborative, and effective organizations – and societies.
Dan is a co-founder at Good Startups and scientist in the field of emotion psychology at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence. Drawing from nearly a decade of experience studying human emotions around the world, Daniel is committed to sharing the joy of emotional self-awareness, and scientifically measuring the progress of Good Startups entrepreneurs so we can tell a new story about entrepreneurship utilizing the mainstream language of our modern society.