This is the second blog post in a two-part series: to read part one, which recommends ‘building the toolbelt’ to prepare for a manager role, click here; part two, below, focuses on the often overlooked–yet equally crucial–work of developing emotional intelligence.
While it is important to develop tangible skills to add to your managerial ‘toolbelt,’ that singular focus is not enough to equip you fully for the challenges of leading people. If I had the chance to go back to my account executive role and better prepare myself for being a manager, I would strengthen my emotional intelligence (EQ) first.
Emotional intelligence, at a basic level, is the ability to understand and manage your emotions as well as being able to recognize and empathize with the emotions of those around you. In the workplace, that awareness contributes to more objective decision-making, colleagues who feel heard and understood, and an improvement in your own mental health and motivation. As a leader, it is critical to isolate your emotional response when identifying the best course of action. Your connections with your team members only deepen when that outward empathy is authentically felt.
Why the focus on emotional intelligence?
- Even if you don’t end up as a manager, it helps you to be a better coworker, parent, spouse, and friend
- EQ is essential when trying to lead, motivate, and coach a diverse team of unique individuals
- You can start to make a positive impact in your current role while better positioning yourself for promotion
- Building EQ takes time, patience, and focus–the earlier you start intentionally working on it, the better
- Leaders with stronger emotional intelligence stand out more to their teams than leaders with more traditional skills
So how do you put an EQ-building plan into action?
- Seek more feedback. You probably have a current review set up with your manager that focuses on your activity and achievements. Figuring out your triggers, motivations, and blind spots requires a much more honest conversation. Have an open discussion with your manager about your aspirations and what you are hoping to learn. Find a close-knit circle of friends, family, or coworkers that you can rely on for candid and open conversations as you progress.
- Develop an internal understanding. Combine your feedback with an ongoing self-assessment. What kind of situations lead to gut reactions you regret? Where do you find the most stress or happiness at work? What communication skills are you looking to develop, or what habits do you want to break? Having both external and internal perspectives will help you catch any blind spots.
- Keep a work journal and find incremental improvement areas. For most of the pandemic, I kept a management journal. For 10-15 minutes at the end of each day, I reflected on my various focus areas and moments that I felt went better or worse than expected. Aside from keeping a valuable scorecard of my progress and remaining hurdles, I felt myself become more aware of these moments as they were happening during the day.
- Shift your focus externally. We all work closely with several colleagues (not to mention our family and friends) who can help us develop our EQ. And it’s about more than just listening. Demonstrating genuine interest in someone else creates trust, broadens your understanding of your coworkers, and helps you to build a stronger working relationship.
- Practice empathy.The more you can put yourself in someone else’s shoes and try to understand their perspective, the better prepared you will be to effectively coach and lead down the road.
One of the toughest parts of developing emotional intelligence in the workplace is measuring your progress and figuring out where you still need to grow and where you have made strides. For that tricky task, I recommend:
- Let your manager or work colleague act as your “Accountabilibuddy.” Someone you trust who is close to your work (or multiple folks) can help keep an eye out for some of your focus areas in meetings and daily interactions. Are you focused on asking better questions and being naturally curious? Being more positive? Taking feedback positively and constructively? Taking a beat before responding to ideas from coworkers? Whatever it is, having someone else be a set of eyes and ears can be illuminating.
- Find some time to reflect specifically on your progress. Taking a daily snapshot of some of your interactions is great, but it is also important to take a step back and look at the big picture from time to time. Devoting time to this exercise allows you to recenter your objectives and provides a much-needed overview of all the work you have done.
- Give yourself kudos! Manager roles don’t come with much direct praise from above or below, and the task of developing your EQ can feel like a solitary one. When you notice a win or an area of progress, pat yourself on the back and log your accomplishment. The positive feedback loop helps you push for more progress moving forward.
There are numerous resources, books, and articles out there to consume on this journey. Keep seeking out new information, ideas, and strategies to keep the work fresh. Ultimately, this will be the most important aspect of your development as a leader.