Lean Into Your Emotional Intelligence When Leading Change

How we respond to stressful situations, such as challenges or obstacles in the workplace, makes a tremendous difference, impacting not only ourselves but the people around us. This is called Emotional Intelligence (EQ), which—according to Professor and Executive Coach Dr. Laura Belsten—is “the ability to be aware of our own emotions and those of others, in the moment, and to use that information to manage ourselves and manage our relationships.”

Because of this potential impact, it’s important to consider the role that EQ plays in your change effort, starting with understanding the correlation between high EQ and leaders.

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

Today’s workforce is incredibly varied, and different groups of employees – like full-time or part-time or in-office and remote, for example—all have different expectations and preferences. Leaders must display high EQ to understand the different wants and needs of these groups and effectively connect with their employees.

Prioritizing leaders with high EQ allows you to reap the benefits of:

  • Less leadership derailment – According to Ed DiZazzo’s research with the Center for Creative Leadership, fatal flaws for executives include mostly interpersonal and communication skills.
  • Higher employee engagement and retention – In First, Break All the Rules: What the World’s Greatest Managers Do Differently, authors Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman explain that employees join companies and leave managers with low EQ. Take U.S. Air Force as an example. The organization reduced recruiter turnover from 35% to 5% annually by selecting candidates high in EQ.
  • Higher productivity – An industry-wide study that included AT&T found that managers at all levels with high EQ accounted for 20% more productivity than those with low EQ.
  • Higher sales and profits – In Talent Smart’s “The Business Case for Emotional Intelligence,” senior partners in a multinational consulting firm with high EQ earned $1.2 million more profit annually than their peers.

Ultimately, a leadership team with high EQ will help drive organizational success, especially amid a transformational change effort.

Steps to Increase Emotional Intelligence

Leveraging EQ to drive a transformational change effort starts with addressing how to increase your personal EQ. This idea aligns with steps organizations should take when seeking to drive big changes, which include:

  • Identifying the source of resistance – Gather honest feedback and really listen to the resistance that you’re hearing from your organization. Don’t skip or overlook this step because you don’t want to hear anything that may be perceived as “complaining.” Remember there is great wisdom to be gained by gathering this feedback and seeking to understand it.
  • Changing the story – According to Harvard Business Review, our emotional reactions to change often reflect our interpretations – or “stories” – that we convince ourselves are true. To help employees adopt big changes, you must do two things.
    • Tell a new story that’s emotionally compelling and hooks them into the “why” from the beginning.
    • Explain what this means to them personally so they can see the end state and know how their own stories will change.
  • Creating ownership – Chances are that early on in your change effort, a Steering Committee or other sponsor is owning the change effort. While this is understandable at the beginning, it must change over time because your leaders, managers, and employees must also have a stake in the change for real adoption to take place. Engaging employees early and upfront is key, as is creating a broader network of people who serve as influencers.

In conclusion, don’t overlook EQ the next time you’re navigating a transformational change. It may just be the key to ensuring your success.

Marta Steele, PeopleResults