Emotional habits of good leaders

| November 13, 2013

In Australia the numbers of employees who say they are commited to their role and organisation are consistently low. Leah Sparkes argues that developing emotional intelligence can influence engagement and performance.

Leadership is basically defined as facilitating high performance in employees. Employee engagement surveys measure employee’s commitment to their role and organisation and are a useful indicator of performance.

In Australia the numbers of employees reporting that they are ‘engaged’ are consistently low. Depending on whose research you look at, somewhere between 20 to 30% of employees say they are engaged. The remaining 70 to 80% are disengaged! This has a big impact on performance within organisations. So if the main function of leadership is facilitating performance – well, something is missing.

If you delve into the research on employee engagement one of the top factors that impact on engagement levels is the nature of the relationship with the employee’s direct manager.

So if you want to strengthen your relationships with your employees and influence their engagement and performance, where do you start?

One possibility is to develop your emotional intelligence. Daniel Goldman, who is considered by many the pioneer in the field of ‘Emotional Intelligence’, has written many books on the concept. In his book ‘Working with Emotional Intelligence’ (EI) he offers a definition of EI that includes self-awareness, self-management, social awareness and the ability to manage relationships.

The great news is that, unlike IQ, EI is something that can be developed and learned over time and you can start at any time without even leaving your chair.

Here are 4 ’emotional habits’ that you can practice that will help cultivate your EQ and improve your leadership effectiveness.

1 Tune into your emotions

Thoughts cause emotions, and emotions drive behaviors, decisions and performance.  According to the research of Dr. Fred Luskin of Stanford University, a human being has approximately 60,000 thoughts per day. How aware are you of these thoughts and emotions as they flow through you?  How do they enhance or detract from your performance?

Just pausing to feel an emotion without labeling it good or bad and inquire into the underlying thoughts on a regular basis will provide you with a lot of information. What thoughts patterns are there?  Are they accurate? Are they helpful? Are they supporting you?  This will improve self-awareness, which is the foundation to good emotional intelligence.

2 Know who and what pushes your buttons

We all have people or situations in our lives that cause a strong emotional reaction in us. This is called a ‘trigger’. It might be a colleague who is always late that annoys you and throws you off your game. Or it might be a situation where you feel your work is being criticised or a presentation to a large group of people. Each of these situations can cause a strong emotional response, which causes your ‘higher level’ thinking to slow or stop completely. It called an amygdala high-jack, or the flight, fight or freeze response.

Whatever form it takes, it can seriously undermine your performance. There is usually a pattern to these triggers. Spend some time reflecting back on times when you have felt triggered. What or who was involved, what happened and how did it make you feel? If you can get clear on what the triggers are and why, you have a much better chance of being able to know when it is happening and begin the process to calm yourself down and move back to a state of being able to perform.

3 Revive your self-esteem after setbacks

Missed revenue targets. Project delays. Uncooperative staff. These are everyday setbacks at work. When we experience failure, it can really distort our perceptions. Goals seem harder to reach, and we begin to question our skills and abilities. This can lead to a downward spiral of lowered motivation and lowered productivity. If you are dealing with a setback, take time to observe and challenge those thoughts that bubble up around the event. What is the self-talk that is happening? Is it accurate? Is it helpful? What can you learn from it? What can be tweaked or changed the next time? If you work through this process with yourself or your employees whenever a setback occurs, you build a trait called resilience. Resilience is one of the great benefits of high EI and can enhance performance in all areas of your life.

4 Show you care (the incredible power of positive emotions)

“Sawubona” is a common Zulu greeting which basically means “we see you”. The word is an invitation to truly witness another’s presence.

Take a personal interest in people. Show people that you care, and have a genuine curiosity about their lives. Look for opportunities to show that you see, appreciate and acknowledge their efforts or struggle; this can have powerful impact on motivation and performance. Your employees will trust you and feel safe and ‘seen’ – the basis to a strong relationship.

Developing emotional intelligence is a journey that unfolds over time with a little knowledge, consistent practice and genuine intention. It can change your life!

Leah Sparkes

Leah Sparkes is head of Candeo Consulting. She has always been fascinated by what makes people tick and helps them flourish. Leah has a BA in Business and studied Psychology at the University of Technology in Sydney. She has also studied with the Institute of Executive Coaching & Leadership and the NeuroLeadership Institute. Over the last eight years Leah has worked with many executives, coaching them on and in their career, supporting them in areas of leadership development and personal growth. She is active on LinkedIn. Leah@candeo.com.au


  1. chrisan

    November 6, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Positive attitude

    For correct decision making, you must cultivate discipline for ‘mind stilling’ concentration for perfection. Life is neither a midsummer night’s dream nor a comedy of errors; greet it with a smile and live with grace. Believe in yourself! If not you, who else. Columbus, who discovered a new world had no map or charts. Einstein, who developed the theory of relatively had no computers. That's an uncanny ability to consciously access parts of your brain that you haven’t been able to all your life.