What do emotional intelligence (EQ) and leadership have in common? Everything. In its most stripped-down form, being emotionally intelligent means being an exceptional leader.

Yet emotional intelligence may not come naturally for many. Sometimes it's easier to not deal with emotional matters at work, as confrontations can get ugly and dramatic. It's so much more convenient to sweep things under the rug. But this approach is also a recipe for disaster because it leads to more drama and more conflict.

The most effective and results-oriented leaders leverage the strength of EQ for business outcomes. This is why soft skills are so crucial to develop in business. To put it another way, it's why "soft is the new hard." 

But the good news is that EQ is learnable. Like anything else, to raise yours will require a commitment to personal development, hard work, and lots of practice.  

5 questions to ask

If you're up for the journey, there are some honest, hold-up-the-mirror questions you first must ask yourself to determine your current level of emotional intelligence. If you answer these questions with a yes, consider this as a good opportunity for you to develop your emotional intelligence:

Do I hide who I truly am in the workplace?

Leaders exhibiting high EQ don't wear masks. I say this because a common tendency of people in management roles is to put on a mask that hides who they truly are; maybe through how they order people around, or how they forcefully command attention with a false charisma. An emotionally intelligent leader shows up with her best self -- with integrity, emotional honesty (vulnerability), and authenticity. 

Do I tend to run away from conflict?

Let's accept that conflict in the workplace is unavoidable. Unfortunately, it's also very human of us to create distance, not speak up, or stone-wall -- all horrifically bad, passive-aggressive ways to deal with conflict. On the flip side, being assertive and speaking up when we have to, to make things right is the way to conflict management. What leaders with high EQ do is courageously run toward the eye of the storm because they know that cutting through conflict to resolve a problem with respect, dignity, and listening to understand is easier than the negative consequences of running away from conflict.

Do I tend to make decisions without soliciting differing perspectives?

Leaders with high EQ take in the whole view of the problem. They look at all sides of the issue and tap into their feelings and those of others to choose a different, and better, outcome. They seek out varied perspectives and solicit opinions of others before acting. They talk to several people cross-functionally, up and even down reporting levels to get clarity and determine a course of action. To put it simply: They are self-aware.

Do I tend to brush off other people's feelings?

Let's face it, in a pandemic people are naturally scared. To help alleviate suffering, exercising your EQ helps you understand or feel what another person is experiencing from within his or her frame of reference, whether a customer or fellow employee. This is what leaders with EQ do -- they empathize with someone else's experience or challenge, which is key for uniting teams and banding together as we face new realities together.

Do I lack patience?

Leaders with a high degree of emotional intelligence use their patience for advantage. They have the learned capacity to process a situation about to go south, get perspective, listen to someone they disagree with without judgment, and hold back from reacting head-on. In practicing the virtue of patience, it may mean making the decision to sit on your decision. By thinking it over things with a rational and level-headed mind, you'll eventually arrive at another, more sane conclusion.