6 Things Leaders Can Do When Their Team Has Low Emotional Intelligence

Written by on July 21, 2014

If you spend 25 minutes per day playing a “dual n-back” game in which you have to remember a sequence of geometric shapes and sounds, you can boost your IQ by 4 points. Scientists have long thought our fluid intelligence was fixed, but current research proves that we can take steps to increase our IQ, and that it is not carved in stone. This holds true, too, with Emotional Intelligence. We have the capability to change and grow. When teams exhibit low levels of emotional intelligence, how can leaders help improve the collective ability to understand, to communicate, and to manage emotions?

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Perhaps the most important step is assuring individuals and teams that they can change. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck calls this the “growth mindset.” Over decades of research, Professor Dweck observed that individuals who believe their abilities are fluid and can change, performed significantly better on challenging and difficult tasks than those who think their abilities are fixed. In other words, if you believe you can grow, you can grow – and achieve more success along the way. So with this in mind, leaders can help their teams by:

  • Using coaching-based managerial language. This helps build awareness on the part of the individual about his or her own Emotional Intelligence and, perhaps, creates curiosity about how certain behaviors negatively impact results. Supportive coaching language encourages team members to observe and think about how they could do things in a different way.
  • Supporting individuals in their professional development. Assessments like the EQ 2.0 or EQ 360 deepen people’s awareness of their own personal way of being. Ultimately, this may create greater interest and receptivity to altering, changing, or ramping up those skills.
  • Articulating their own vision. When a leader openly discusses his or her own vision, it can help lead individuals on the team to become more strongly engaged in the process. This enables the team to build trust.
  • Taking their own journey into empathy. Empathy is one of the most significant factors in leadership development. People often confuse it with feeling sorry for people, but really, it is about giving our full attention to a person or situation. It is working to detect and interpret nonverbal cues and step over the bridge to the other side to gain a deeper insight into what is driving someone’s actions or behaviors. This enables leaders to better understand how to work with individuals in a more collaborative manner to bolster Emotional Intelligence pieces that are missing or lacking.
  • Starting from a place of celebration and acknowledgement. Change is always much healthier and more positive when we begin from a place of strength. Our neural pathways open, and we are more receptive to change and growth than when we start from a place of vulnerability.
  • Starting with themselves. Real change in organizations starts at the top and works its way down. In a team situation, it is important that the leaders have, or are developing, a higher level of Emotional Intelligence. Can they look at their own strengths? Can they celebrate them? Do they know how to leverage them and use them more strategically in their vision of personal growth and development? Which behaviors drive success, and which get in the way? This understanding impacts their ability to harness the forces within the team and work with them collaboratively.

Ultimately, the old adage holds true: you can lead a horse to water but you cannot make it drink. Developing Emotional Intelligence is very much a personal journey. There has to be the awareness, the level of interest, the level of willingness to learn, to grow, and to change. Leaders can foster that interest and ignite that curiosity, but then team members have to be willing to engage and grow.