Harvard Business Review defines a strategic leader as someone who is “both resolute and flexible, persistent in the face of setbacks but also able to react strategically to environmental shifts.”
What exactly does this mean? What does it take to be an adaptive, strategic leader? A study conducted by HBR found that the shared characteristic amongst the most successful leaders is emotional intelligence. Strong analytical skills and a high IQ are important, but the characteristic that differentiates intelligent people from great leaders is emotional intelligence.
Emotional intelligence, a term coined by Daniel Goleman in 1995, is the ability to identify and manage your emotions and others’ emotions in positive ways to not only communicate effectively, but to also overcome challenges that arise in the workplace. It is proven to have a direct relationship with measurable business results.
Emotional intelligence is comprised of five skills. The first three are related to self-management: self-awareness, self-regulation, and motivation. The last two, empathy and social skills, are about one’s ability to manage relationships with others.
Self-awareness is about understanding one’s emotions, strengths, weaknesses, needs, and drives. In other words, self-aware people are not too hard on themselves and do not have unrealistic expectations for themselves. Because they have a good understanding of their limitations, they know when to reach out for help and take calculated risks.
How does self-awareness affect one’s performance as a leader? It can help a leader understand his affect on himself, others, and his job performance, and it teaches a leader how to turn negative emotions into something constructive.
An example of self-awareness is when a person who knows that tight deadlines make her aggressive, will start working ahead of schedule so she does not have to deal with an overwhelming schedule.
The second skill, self-regulation, is the ability to control negative moods and emotional impulses and use them in positive ways. Why is it important? It makes the leader reasonable because he creates a fair environment for his employees.
Let’s say that your colleague ruined a presentation to a large investor. Instead of expressing anger, a self-regulated leader would acknowledge the poor performance, think about why it failed, tell his workers his feelings and his analysis, and then propose a well-thought-out solution.
The last of the self-management skills is motivation. According to HBR, motivated, emotionally intelligent people have a “desire to achieve for the sake of achievement.” They also tend to seek out challenges, are eager to learn, and live according to the mantra that there is always room for improvement. They are optimistic enough to overcome the frustration of the any challenges that they may face.
Octavia Books in Uptown New Orleans was one of the many small businesses destroyed as a result of Hurricane Katrina — and their comeback story is a great example of motivation and commitment.
Tom Lowenburg and Judith Lafitte opened the independent bookstore in 2000. “When you’re a small business, you have to be optimistic enough that you’re going to be able to survive,” said Lowenburg. “We get more optimistic as we go along.”
When Hurricane Katrina hit, they evacuated and did not return immediately. They tried to come back a couple weeks after Rita to check on their store, because they were “not going to be stopped again after Hurricane Rita.”
The National Guard soldiers did not let Tom and Judith enter the city because they were not an “essential business.” Despite the strict policy, they entered anyway. “If you were determined to get in, you could do it,” said Lowenburg.
Because of their dedication and commitment to their business, Octavia Books reopened only six weeks after Hurricane Rita. Lowenburg and Lafitte are great examples of emotionally intelligent community leaders, helping rebuilding New Orleans in the face of grave challenges.
Another skill essential to being a strategic leader is empathy, the ability to consider the feelings of others. Empathy allows you to understand the viewpoints of your workers, which also makes your company efficient. Most CEOs are finding that empathy is crucial to retaining top talented workers.
When leading a team, it is important to be empathetic by letting your team members know that their voices matter. For instance, when a new manager was hired to lead a disorganized restaurant, she noticed that there was a lot of tension amongst the workers. She interviewed everyone in the team to see what they thought about their boss and colleagues, what was bothering them, and what they thought needed to change in order to improve the restaurant. By letting the workers know that their opinions counted, she was able to help the workers make constructive criticisms, which not only made the restaurant run more efficiently but also increased profit.
The last of the five skills is social skill. Being social is not just about being friendly; it is about building a strong network of people and managing those relationships well because you may need help someday from these people.
A great example of leaders with social skills is here in New Orleans. One of the major reasons New Orleans was able to revive after Hurricane Katrina was because of the tight-knit community and strong network of people who were all dedicated to helping rebuild the city.
A combination of these five skills makes an emotionally intelligent leader, who not only runs his own life efficiently, but also adroitly manages entire organizations.
Emotional intelligence is crucial because it allows individual leaders to make a large impact, whether on a small business or an entire city.