Are great leaders born or made?
We’re firmly in the camp that leaders can develop greatness. And today, being a great leader requires expertise, acumen and a range of soft skills — skills that leaders can use to motivate their people, thrive through challenges and deliver superior performance. We call these soft skills emotional intelligence.
Our research shows that leaders with high levels of emotional intelligence can improve their team’s performance and boost employee engagement. The more challenging and disruptive the organizational and business climate, the more leaders will need to call on their emotional intelligence skills.
The 4 behaviors that emotionally intelligent leaders show
Our research has identified 12 emotional and social intelligence competencies that distinguish outstanding performance in a variety of jobs and organizations. These are the behaviors that allow people to withstand the pressures of challenging roles, deal effectively with change and negotiate increasing career demands.
Our Emotional and Social Competency Inventory (ESCI) is a 360-degree survey that measures these emotional intelligence competencies. The ESCI groups the competencies into four interrelated behavioral areas: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and relationship management.
1. Emotional self-awareness
Self-awareness describes your ability to recognize and understand your emotions, drivers, strengths and weaknesses. It enables you to sustain your positive efforts over time, despite setbacks. A singular competency encapsulates these abilities: emotional self-awareness.
Self-management describes how you manage your emotions and behavior with focus and restraint. It consists of four competencies.
- Your emotional self-control refers to how well you manage disruptive emotions and impulses and maintain your effectiveness in stressful or hostile conditions.
- Your achievement orientation measures how well you strive to meet or exceed a standard of excellence. People with a strong achievement orientation always look for ways to do things better, set challenging goals and take calculated risks.
- A positive outlook means you’re able to see the best in people, situations and events and pursue goals despite obstacles and setbacks.
- Adaptability is how flexibly you handle change, juggle multiple demands and adapt your ideas or approaches to shifting conditions.
3. Social awareness
The two competencies that make up social awareness help you recognize and understand others’ emotions.
- Empathy is your ability to sense others’ feelings and perspectives, take an active interest in their concerns and pick up cues as to what they’re feeling and thinking.
- Organizational awareness is your ability to read a group’s emotional currents and power relationships, identifying influencers, networks and dynamics.
4. Relationship management
The five relationship management competencies affect how we motivate others to perform. They reveal how we apply our emotional understanding in our dealings with others.
- Influencing is how well you positively influence others and gain their support by persuading or convincing them.
- Coaching and mentoring is how well you give feedback and support that fosters others’ long-term learning or development.
- Conflict management is your ability to help others through emotional or tense situations, airing disagreements tactfully and finding solutions that appease everyone.
- Inspirational leadership is your ability to inspire and guide individuals and groups to get the job done and to bring out the best in others.
- Teamwork is your ability to work with others toward a shared goal. It requires you to participate actively, share responsibility and rewards and contribute to the team’s overall capability.
Leaders with high degrees of emotional intelligence often improve their organization’s performance, profitability and talent recruitment. And the more ESCI competencies that leaders develop, the greater their flexibility in switching between leadership styles.
How emotional intelligence affects leadership
The right work climate and culture drive employee performance. The work climates that best foster performance have six characteristics in common:
- Employees know what their managers expect of them and how they contribute to overall goals.
- Employees have challenging but attainable goals.
- The company embraces new ideas.
- The company empowers people to do their work and holds them accountable.
- Leaders recognize good performance and show their people how to improve.
- People are proud to belong to the team and work together toward a common purpose.
As you can tell from these characteristics, leaders have a profound effect on their employees’ environment and thus on employees’ motivation. The leaders who are most effective at creating this climate are adept at using many of the six leadership styles:
- Visionary: Providing long-term direction and context
- Participative: Building commitment and generating new ideas
- Coaching: Supporting long-term development
- Affiliative: Creating trust and harmony
- Pacesetting: Accomplishing tasks to high standards
- Directive: Gaining immediate compliance
Of these, the Visionary, Participative, and Coaching styles are best for working toward long-term goals. They focus on building employee engagement and developing their team members to deliver results. The Affiliative style forms a solid basis for long-term working relationships. On the other hand, the Directive and Pacesetting styles serve leaders best when they need to address short-term problems, such as employees who aren’t doing their work or meeting expectations. Long-term use of these short-term styles can damage the team climate.
Many of the competencies in the ESCI database correlate with these six emotional intelligence and leadership styles and the climates that drive team performance. The great news is that current and future leaders can take five steps to develop their emotional intelligence competencies and maximize their effectiveness.
1. The more EI competencies you develop, the more flexibly you can move between leadership styles
Our research showed that the more emotional intelligence competencies leaders demonstrate consistently, the more leadership styles that they can deploy.
Leaders with one or two ESCI strengths typically use only one or two leadership styles. Often, these are Directive and Pacesetting, the two short-term styles that may lead to a negative climate. Leaders with between three and nine ESCI strengths tend to use the longer-term leadership styles, Visionary, Participative, Coaching and Affiliative, more often. Finally, leaders with 10 or more ESCI strengths most often use the long-term styles and use the short-term styles only when a situation requires them.
2. You can optimize your leadership style by developing specific emotional and social competencies
Our data showed strong links between specific emotional intelligence competencies and long-term leadership styles.
Leaders who scored high in conflict management and emotional self-awareness tend to primarily use the Coaching, Visionary, Affiliative and Participative styles. Inspirational leadership and empathy also correlate highly with these styles.
Leaders who score highly in empathy, teamwork and emotional self-control rarely use the Directive style. And leaders with a positive outlook moderate their use of the Pacesetting style.
3. Emotionally intelligent leaders create work climates that strengthen employee performance
We study organizations’ Climate Index scores to assess how well leaders create an environment where employees can deliver their best work. We measure this ability by asking their team members to compare their current climate against their ideal climate. We then benchmark the results against other leaders to calculate the Climate Index score.
We’ve found that Climate Index scores correlate positively with the emotional and social competencies that strengthen long-term leadership styles. So, for example, leaders who score high in conflict management are likely to create the most positive climates for their team members, followed by inspirational leadership and empathy. Emotional self-awareness is also key. Only 5% of leaders with low emotional self-awareness had climates that ranked in the top quartile.
4. How team members experience their leaders’ emotional intelligence is critical
Feedback from the ESCI shows how different groups evaluate a leaders’ skills. The ESCI collects ratings from their manager, team members, peers and others.
Typically, the largest gaps in scores occur in three competencies that are linked to positive team climates: conflict management, inspirational leadership and empathy. Interestingly, team members’ perceptions of their work climate and leader’s capabilities were likely more discerning than their leader’s boss. Team members scored their leader’s ESCI competencies more positively or more negatively than their leader’s boss, depending on whether they viewed their climate as positive or negative.
5. Leaders should develop emotional and social competencies to improve their team’s engagement
Our research also found a correlation between ESCI data and the results of the Korn Ferry Employee Effectiveness Survey. The survey provides insights into barriers to performance and into how employees feel about working for their company.
The data showed that leaders have a measurable influence on employee retention. Less than a quarter (22%) of all employees plan to leave an organization within two years. But that period grows longer with leaders who demonstrate ESCI competencies. Forty-two percent of employees of leaders who consistently show three or fewer competencies plan to stay for at least five years. That number jumps to 53% for leaders with four to seven ESCI strengths and to 69% for leaders with eight or more ESCI strengths.
Notably, the key differences between team members who planned to depart in two years rather than seven were scores on competencies that address engagement: coach and mentor, conflict management, inspirational leadership, organizational awareness, achievement orientation, teamwork and empathy.
How to start growing your leaders’ emotional intelligence and leadership flexibility
Leaders with six or more ESCI competencies contribute to a positive team climate, team performance and employee engagement. And our research shows that the emotional intelligence competencies of great leadership can be cultivated through training and practice. With the ESCI data at your fingertips, you can identify areas for improvement and training. In other words, the ESCI is the perfect starting point to develop your current leaders and grow your leadership pipeline.
To learn more about the interplay between emotional intelligence and leadership, and for a deeper dive into the data and case studies, read our white paper, “The power of EI: The ‘soft’ skills the sharpest leaders use.” And get in touch to discover how our ESCI assessment will sharpen your leaders’ emotional intelligence and leadership pipeline.