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The Importance of Emotional Intelligence When Leading Change

Organizational change is happening all the time, especially during times such as these. It can bring about a range of emotions in people, including fear, resistance, frustration, and confusion. Leading change successfully in the midst of those emotions requires the ability to define and communicate a vision that inspires others. It also requires helping others to adjust their thinking and behavior in the workplace so that they can successfully navigate change.

One powerful tool that helps leaders guide their teams through change of any kind is emotional intelligence—the ability to identify and manage one’s emotions and to handle interpersonal relationships with empathy and good judgment. Not only is emotional intelligence a strong predictor of overall job success (research has found that it accounts for 58 percent of success at work), but it also influences individuals’ ability to successfully navigate the emotions and behavior of others during times of change. Here are four ways emotional intelligence helps leaders guide their employees through changing times.

Helps to Overcome Resistance

Resistance to organizational change is common for many reasons. Some individuals may want to avoid certain changes to their responsibilities and work processes, and others may simply resist being pushed outside of their comfort zones. Because emotional intelligence involves understanding others’ emotions, it requires listening and asking questions rather than simply telling employees what they should and should not do.

Leaders can leverage emotional intelligence to hone in on the source of employee resistance to change and can offer ideas, strategies, and coaching that will help to overcome feelings of resistance. Some key activities that can support getting at the heart of resistance to change include:

  • Q&A sessions that allow employees to air their frustrations and fears about change
  • One-on-one discussions that provide opportunities to talk about specific employee experiences with change
  • Employee surveys that ask individuals to describe their experiences and share feedback on company change initiatives

Encourages Continuous Learning

Change implies that there will be an ongoing requirement to think and behave differently in order to be successful in the future. Change in the workplace requires the same—that individuals will acquire new knowledge and skills to help them navigate the waters of change. Research points to emotional intelligence as a key factor that drives the willingness and desire to learn because it helps to encourage both curiosity and an openness to learning lessons from successes and failures.

Leaders who possess emotional intelligence and model behaviors that demonstrate their support for continuous learning can encourage those behaviors in others. Leaders can further instill a dedication to continuous learning by encouraging employees to participate in training that helps them develop healthy attitudes toward change.

Improves Decision-Making

When navigating organizational change, individuals must be equipped to use their judgment and make decisions in the midst of uncertainty and shifting circumstances. Because those with high levels of emotional intelligence are more self-aware and also more socially aware of others’ feelings and emotions, they are better equipped to make well-informed decisions when solving problems or determining a course of action.

Leaders who employ emotional intelligence can help themselves and others become better decision makers during times of change. Instead of making a decision based solely on assumptions or a single person’s interpretation of the facts, emotional intelligence helps leaders consider the emotional needs of others when leading their team through important decisions.

Supports Healthy Relationship-Building and Trust

During times of change, individuals need support from leaders and need to feel like they’re not alone. Emotional intelligence allows leaders to provide the understanding and empathy that builds confidence and trust in others. Through active listening, patient conflict resolution, and mentorship, emotionally intelligent leaders build healthy relationships with others and allow employees to trust them as they lead the team through change successfully.

Emotional intelligence is a valuable tool in all aspects of working life, but it is particularly important when leading in times of change because it helps individuals take the emotions and feelings of others into account. When leaders take the time to provide support, training, and coaching to help individuals manage their emotions during the uncertainties of organizational change, there is less chance for resistance, fear, and distrust to derail organizational change efforts. With a combination of leading by example, providing opportunities for employee learning, and establishing forums for communication and feedback, it’s possible to fully leverage emotional intelligence to successfully lead others through change.


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