You don’t necessarily have to be the smartest person in the world to be the most successful. In fact, people with average IQs often tend to perform better in the workplace than high-IQ individuals, and companies are beginning to notice. Emotional intelligence has emerged on the scene in the last few years as the “secret sauce” of success in the business world. In fact, it’s a quality many organizations are looking for these days when hiring their leadership teams.
Emotional intelligence, in a nutshell, is the skill of detecting and understanding emotions in others as well as oneself. People with emotional intelligence are generally good at managing their own emotions and helping others manage theirs.
Emotionally intelligent people are empathetic—they’re good at putting themselves in someone else’s shoes and seeing challenges from different perspectives, which can also help them solve problems. These qualities typically make them excellent, respected communicators. Although emotional intelligence is highly prized in the traditional workplace, it can be extremely helpful—and even crucial—for entrepreneurs.
How can emotional intelligence make entrepreneurs more successful?
1. Improved self-awareness
Knowing where you stand emotionally can be very helpful as an entrepreneur. Being able to identify and healthfully express your own emotions is a buffer against your emotions running wild and distorting your perception. Improving your emotional intelligence can help you make better decisions.
2. More effective communication
It’s difficult to have a deep conversation with someone if you don’t empathize with them. If you can’t identify with the emotions of others, communication is more difficult and less effective overall. Entrepreneurs with high emotional intelligence can leverage empathy, problem-solving, and social skills to come up with solutions, create strong relationships, and ultimately, win people over.
3. Better control over emotions
Entrepreneurship is no walk in the park. There will be many, many, roadblocks on the path to success, and entrepreneurs will have to deal with everything from angry customers or difficult clients to disappointing launches and difficult conversations. You can’t control everything that happens, but if you have high emotional intelligence, you can get better at acknowledging your emotions in difficult situations without stuffing them down or erupting at an inappropriate time.
Being able to control your emotions is key when communicating with investors and other important allies to your business. One team of co-founders found this out the hard way when one of them got into a heated argument with an investor, who then started to lobby for his firing. The only way he could save the relationship? The investor told him:
“Look, I’ll consider continuing the relationship under one condition: You need to talk to a coach to work on your emotional intelligence.”
4. Identifying customer needs more effectively
Getting inside your customer’s head can be more difficult than you might think. It’s easy to make assumptions about what your audience wants, but the best way to identify customer needs is to use a combination of data and direct communication with customers about their experiences. If you’re able to empathize with your customers, you’ll see where you can improve your product to better suit their needs. Or, you’ll be able to find new ways to market more effectively to your audience.
5. Unifying the team through enhanced leadership
Even if you’re still in the very early stages of building a business, you’re probably thinking ahead to when you’ll have a team working for you. Emotionally intelligent leaders bring out the best in their employees. It’s the foundation for cultivating respect, a unified vision, and good morale, which, in turn, leads to improved productivity. This is especially important for entrepreneurs who lead remote teams —40 percent of workers now telecommute consistently. Emotional intelligence is crucial for leaders who need their employees to be productive away from a centralized office.
6. It’s the number one indicator of success
Gary Vaynerchuck, the famed entrepreneur, identifies why emotional intelligence is so important to business owners in one simple quote from his book, #AskGaryVee:
“If I could sell a formula made up of gratitude, empathy, and self-awareness it would be my billion-dollar coconut water idea.”
In the end, entrepreneurs can’t afford NOT to cultivate better emotional intelligence. Research has shown that it’s the #1 factor in success and high performance. It carries over from industry to industry, impacting the quality of healthcare, improving customer service, and impacting office culture.
Entrepreneurs are driven and motivated individuals, with an internal drive to succeed, but many often neglect the skills needed to manage their emotions and relate well to others. It’s difficult to improve emotional intelligence, but it’s absolutely possible—as long as you have an open mind and a willingness to put in some tough work.
Improving your own emotional intelligence
It’s all well and good to know just how crucial emotional intelligence is to your business success, but how do you go about improving it in yourself? There’s no magic formula, unfortunately, but there are some steps you can take to get the ball rolling.
1. Read, read, read.
Over 90 percent of top performers have above-average emotional intelligence, and many of them have written books about emotional intelligence and leadership. Reading about the success others have had can show you what steps you need to take in order to reach your goals. A good place to start is the original manuscript: Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ by Daniel Goleman.
2. Listen and practice empathy
During your everyday conversations with colleagues, friends, and family, practice empathy. Really listen to what is being said, and take a step back to think about what they might be thinking and feeling. All too often, we want to steer the conversation in a specific direction, instead of really listening and responding with empathy.
3. Talk to a coach or counselor
One of the most difficult aspects of improving your emotional intelligence is that it can be hard to practice on your own or to know how well you’re making progress. Talking to a coach or counselor can help because they’ll be able to give you benchmarks and assess how you’re doing on an ongoing basis. Don’t be afraid to ask for help—developing emotional intelligence can be challenging. Having someone on your side makes the process so much easier—and you’ll be more likely to succeed.