Leadership skills. Sales ability. Communication skills. Intuition. These are all manifestations of one critical skill--emotional intelligence (EI). 

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, understand, and manage your own emotions, as well as those of others. It is essential to decision-making and relationship-building. In fact, research shows emotional intelligence accounts for nearly 90 percent of what helps people advance their career when IQ and technical skills are similar.[1]

It is time to pay closer attention to this so-called soft strength. Doing so could make you a better leader and help your business grow.

The benefits of high emotional intelligence   

"Starting a business is all about intuition, and intuition stems from emotional intelligence," says René Lacerte, a seasoned entrepreneur who sold his first company, PayCycle, a payroll services provider, for nearly $200 million to Intuit in 2009. Next, he founded Bill.com and grew it into the largest business payments network in the country.

Lacerte explains that his ability to observe and identify behaviors and attitudes is what allowed him to develop successful business solutions. By listening closely, he realized most entrepreneurs want to control every aspect of their business but don't have time to manage all the back-end details. "This insight came from my empathy for entrepreneurs, and the solution came from my intuition on how to solve it," he explains.

Emotional intelligence also helps Lacerte make strong hiring decisions by recognizing prospects who are a good fit for the organization. Of course, he looks to hire emotionally intelligent people. They make good salespeople because they can understand and communicate with clients and prospects. They make good managers because they can read people accurately. They know when to push and when to pull back. And they are strong communicators who foster a culture of trust, one relationship at a time, he says.

EI has a ripple effect throughout the organization. It helps you make smart decisions and close deals that drive revenue. Team members feel safe to share ideas and talk about their feelings, resulting in more rational decision-making and a positive culture, which is good for retention. In all of these ways, honing in on emotional intelligence can create a more stable business.

How to cultivate EI

It is generally obvious when someone lacks emotional intelligence. Perhaps less obvious is what to do about it. A good starting place could be testing your emotional intelligence. There are free tools available online, but Elizabeth Mannix, Ann Whitney Olin Professor of Management at Cornell University's Johnson Graduate School of Management, recommends using MSCEIT, a comprehensive assessment akin to an IQ test for emotional reasoning.

Mannix has researched the role of emotional intelligence in business settings and believes the benefits of assessing and improving these abilities will be myriad. "The next time you have to work with a frustrated customer, or move your product development team past conflict toward collaboration, or mentor a colleague who is overly stressed, the tools of emotional intelligence will help you thrive."

To help develop these skills, Mannix suggests the following:   

  • Improving your ability to "read the room" by paying close attention to people's facial expressions, body language, and tone of voice. To practice, try watching a movie with the sound off and inferring what people are expressing.
  • Sitting quietly and remembering a time when you felt a strong emotion. Think about how your body reacted. For example, if you were angry, you may have felt hot and clenched your jaw. Try to recall these feelings the next time someone tells you about an emotional experience so you can better empathize.
  • Next time you are upset, try breathing slowly or taking a walk. This will help you manage your emotions so you can make clear-headed decisions. Music is another great way to change your mood.

Paying attention to emotions--your own and those of the people around you--can help you make smart decisions, improve recruitment and retention, better manage your team, and build relationships with clients and partners. Emotional intelligence may feel intangible, but its impact on how you run your business is not.  

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[1] "What Makes a Leader," Goleman, Daniel. Harvard Business Review, January 2004. Available here.

Published on: Aug 29, 2018