What happens when leaders lack emotional intelligence? What effect can this have on their followers?
Emotional intelligence (EI) is the ability to understand and manage your own emotions while also being able to understand and influence the emotions of others. The authors of Primal Leadership claim that emotional intelligence is the most important trait of a leader.
Here’s what it looks like when leaders lack emotional intelligence.
Non-Emotionally Intelligent Leaders
The authors explain that, when a leader lacks emotional intelligence (EI), she creates what they label group dissonance, meaning group members are conflicted on how to act and feel, which leads to negativity and poor performance. We’ll call this effect discord. A leader who lacks even one of the four main EI skills can create discord:
If a leader lacks self-awareness, she’s unable to understand her emotions and what caused them, making her unlikely to manage them well. Consequently, she’s likely to express herself ineffectively and unintentionally spread negativity to the rest of the group. If this kind of leader feels stressed, defeated, or disappointed, she’s likely to express these emotions through her words, actions, and body language. This will create conflict in the group on how to feel and act, decreasing productivity and motivation.
If the leader lacks social awareness, she won’t be able to effectively manage her relationships—she’ll have difficulty understanding the emotions of group members and is likely to read situations wrong and act ineffectively. For example, if this leader notices that her group isn’t meeting company goals due to a lack of motivation, she might approach the group with a demanding attitude, telling people to work harder. This will make the group feel resentful, misunderstood, and even less motivated to complete the task.
|Discordant Leadership Causes Toxic Followership|
The authors of Primal Leadership argue that leaders who lack EI create discord in groups. Group discord can lead to what experts call toxic followership, when group members exhibit unethical behavior, manipulation, and failure to acclimate to the team, eroding group cohesion and causing a lack of effectiveness, productivity, and success. Toxic followership happens as a result of prolonged states of group discord.
However, experts explain that the leader is not the only one who can spread the disease of toxic followership to the group. Often, the initiator of the spread may be a disgruntled employee who is seen by group members as the “cynic.” To prevent anyone from becoming a cynic in the first place, experts recommend fostering a positive climate by using the EI skills discussed by the authors. However, if a cynic does arise, you can handle this person by interjecting when they speak to redirect the conversation to a more positive tone. For example, if the cynic says “that person doesn’t know what they’re talking about,” you can say “what I think they meant was…”