How Leaders Can Improve Their Emotional Intelligence

By Paul Iaffaldano

Dec. 7, 2018

Building a company is hard. But the most successful founders and CEOs have one thing in common. In fact, this characteristic is so important that I have never seen a leader be truly successful without it. That characteristic is emotional intelligence, or EQ.

emotional intelligence for leaders
As a CEO, your worldview can limit you in many ways. A big mistake CEOs can make is closing themselves off to new perspectives by people to much like themselves.

EQ is the intangible asset that lets a leader be self-aware of his/her own strengths. It’s the characteristic that enables a leader to hire a high-powered team of thinkers and doers. Without this intelligence, leaders hire people who are “smaller” than they are.

As an entrepreneurial adviser and venture capitalist, emotional intelligence is one of the most important things I look for when evaluating promising companies. And I’m not the only one who does this. A study of important workplace skills found that EQ was the strongest predictor of a person’s performance, explaining 58 percent of success in all types of jobs.

If you present your business to me and your story doesn’t touch upon your own growth in some way, or if you attribute your company’s success to no one but yourself, you’ve lost me. It isn’t because such stories are less interesting — it’s because they usually aren’t true. If a CEO or founder believes that he or she alone is responsible for a company’s success, it’s usually an unfortunate sign of a large ego and poor emotional intelligence.

EQ is your ability to understand people, maintain your own self-awareness and work with others. It encompasses skills such as the ability to motivate, emotional awareness, self-control, adaptability, empathy and communication. It has the greatest impact on investor relations, customer success, leadership and company growth — far more than the past success a person has had. Ultimately, EQ is the biggest factor in whether a CEO succeeds or fails.

Also read: The Business Case for Emotional Intelligence 

If you’re a CEO or leader looking to grow your business or attract new investors, it’s time to leave your ego at the door and focus on growing your EQ. Here are a few key elements for improving your emotional intelligence:

Self-Awareness Above All Else

When I’m evaluating a company’s CEO, that person’s emotional awareness is just as important as his or her business acumen. If owners don’t focus on the personal lessons learned from past companies, they aren’t self-aware enough to learn and grow through future endeavors.

For people who have never founded a company before, I’ll look for a full, honest account of your strengths, your weaknesses and your plan to overcome the latter. People who are real about the challenges they face are the ones you can work with. Investors can see right through fluff. Be honest with them and yourself about your positive as well as your negative qualities.

Expand Your Worldview

As a CEO, your worldview can limit you in many ways. The biggest mistake I see is CEOs closing themselves off to new perspectives by only working with people who look, talk, speak, come from the same background and worship the same way they do. One of the single most important job requirements of a CEO is the ability to see multiple sides of an issue. Allowing biases to restrict your business environment prevents you from putting the company’s best interests first.

Also read: Spotting Emotional Intelligence in Candidates 

CEOs must be comfortable engaging with diverse backgrounds and skills. You’re responsible for communicating with stakeholders, employees at all levels and customers. It’s essential to treat them all with equal respect and open-mindedness.

Listen Up

The other huge thing I listen for in CEO stories is acknowledgment of the other people required for a company to succeed. This shows a leader who is open to hearing input from other people.

Never think you’re above anyone else in your business. Your name might be at the top of the org chart, but listening to and connecting with your employees and customers can bring a huge advantage.

It takes intelligence and talent to start a business, but that isn’t all that will determine your success. Your ability to work with people, keep an open mind and improve your own skills will take you a lot further than ego ever can.

Paul Iaffaldano is the Chief Investment Officer of BIP Capital, one of the most active and successful venture investors in the Southeast, serving entrepreneurs, investors and operators to grow the emerging company ecosystem.

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