A popular topic in leadership discussions today is if emotional intelligence should a vital part of a leader’s skill set. If you aren’t familiar with the term it means someone is both able to navigate their own emotions and understand the emotions others have. While it might seem it’s a logical assumption one would have this ability to best be to lead well it’s a departure from the traditional Type A leader stereotype who gives orders and expects them to be followed. The answer to whether it is vital for a leader to succeed or not likely decides on how you are defining leadership. Certainly any of us can name great leaders of history who seemed not likely to have possessed or needed this quality. Additionally we don’t have to think too hard about some prominent leaders of companies today who also don’t appear to be worried with mastering this skill set.

In the end, it depends on if you are seeking to lead in only the technical sense or are you looking to influence others. A person can lead others from purely the power of their position. The risk in that, however, is that will generally only work for as long as that person is experiencing success. Once the hard times inevitably hit this leader will find the desire to put up with their insensitivity has evaporated. The true servant leader will want to pay close attention to their ability to be emotionally intelligent. The great news as well is that although some, by nature, are more inclined to have this skill set it is not one that can’t be learned or improved by anyone who genuinely wants to do such. If you are looking to increase your emotional intelligence here are three quick ways to do so.

  • Pause and seek to understand that others are wired differently (and that it is OK to be so). The first step is the simple realization that not everyone thinks like and processes emotions in the same way that you do. Some feel stress and disappointment more deeply than others. Some take longer than others to bounce back. Some need time to think about big decisions privately and some are happy to talk through these within a larger group. Letting a “one size fits all” approach in leadership will not engage all team members and will only serve to limit your potential influence.
  • Pause and seek to understand experiences that drive you and consider what drives others. Once you understand that everyone is wired differently than the next natural deeper step is the logic that one of the reasons people are wired differently is because they come from different experiences. These experiences, especially the formative ones, are big players in where peoples’ passions about certain things and their insecurities stem from. Our experiences in life, both those that stem from our own choices and those that happen beyond our choices, sit deep within each of us and drive our reactions often on levels that we don’t even notice. This is why patience is paramount in understanding why others may feel, act, or think differently than we do.
  • Pause and seek to understand what other’s might offer as solutions. Once you understand people do think and react differently than you and understand their individual experiences drive that it becomes easier to see where their strengths lie. Some will have the ability to put a caution sign out where you would not have seen one. Others may point out a flaw or a possibly improvement in a process that you would have never seen. These different perceptions and experiences should be seen as assets to be leveraged and not challenges to overcome to you as a servant leader (even if they slow you down sometimes).

In the end, the variety of experiences and perceptions serve as a great mosaic that can provide multiple views and possibilities. We all want more information and options when trying to solve problems and mining the difference a team has only serves to inform the wise servant leader. Additionally it builds up the team and increases buy-in as they see their ability to contribute grow. Emotional intelligence may not always be an ingredient in someone’s success as a leader but the effective servant leader is better off understanding and utilizing it as a practice.