Emotional intelligence, often abbreviated as EQ, is the ability to recognize, understand and manage our own emotions and those around us. While everyone can take advantage of this skill, it’s particularly important for those in leadership roles. Not only can it help with managing a diverse team with different personalities and goals, but in the association space, it can also allow leaders to connect more personally with the mission of the organization and the people they serve.
But how can you assess the emotional intelligence of potential leaders and more importantly, how can you be intentional about developing these skills for everyone in your organization?
At its core, emotional intelligence involves being aware of one’s feelings and those of others. This awareness allows a leader to better relate to their team, their members and even their board of directors.
However, EQ goes beyond the ability to empathize with your team. Instead, it can impact most interactions and skills that allow leaders to excel in an organization. According to the Harvard Business School, emotional intelligence often comes down to four components:
Although success in a leadership role can often be gauged by metrics like revenue, member retention or routine NPS scores among staff, those are only part of the equation. Emotionally intelligent leaders often impact the harder-to-measure intangibles of your association’s culture that can still play a significant role in the measurable metrics.
Leaders with high EQ can:
So we know these types of leaders can have a lasting impact, but how can associations identify and assess the emotional intelligence of a current staffer or potential hire? It often comes down to two methods – observation and assessment.
As we mentioned, emotionally intelligent leaders have common characteristics – they show empathy to their teams, effectively manage relationships and understand how to regulate their emotions. However, you don’t want to wait until a high-stress situation or challenge to see those traits shine.
Their behavior during routine work situations can help gain insight into their EQ. Are they able to lead meetings? Can they listen and respond to criticism? Do they remain calm under pressure? These are indicators of strong emotional intelligence.
The interview process is also a great time to tease some of this information (and can also be used during annual reviews for existing staffers). Some questions to consider include:
High EQ leaders know their strengths and weaknesses, which means they’re often looking to improve and should have a concrete plan for what that looks like. Professional development will likely be a big part of their life and hopefully something they’ll bring to your organization.
While you want to be sure your leaders have problem-solving skills, it’s just as important to know that they will take the time to hear from everyone and understand the lasting impact on their team.
Again, leaders with high EQ have a strong understanding of social and cultural dynamics in the workplace. These are also some of the most challenging problems to resolve, which is why seeing them in action can be extremely helpful.
Of course, everyone enjoys a good personality test, and a few options are tailored to assess EQ. Some of the more common ones include:
Many are free online, so look into each to see which might work best for your organization.
These tests often use scenarios (similar to what you can ask in an interview) and baseline questions that help assess characteristics like adaptability, emotions, conflict resolution and perception, to name a few.
As associations think about the skill sets they’re looking for in future leaders – or the ones they’re developing among existing staff – understanding the impact of emotional intelligence is critical. Emotionally intelligent leaders can help improve retention, inspire innovation among staff and help create a better culture within the organization.
While it can be challenging to pin down the specifics of a high EQ leader, at a minimum, they should understand their strengths and weaknesses, know how to transition between different styles of leadership based on a given situation, and understand the social and cultural dynamics within your organization.
Associations have a critical purpose – to move their mission forward. But to do that, they need leaders at the helm who can work with and empower the folks entrusted with doing so.
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Jose Triana joined the Sidecar team as the Content Manager in 2021. He is a writer and creative focused on helping purpose-driven organizations learn and find value online. When he isn't working on content, you can catch him going for a run or resting with a good book.
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