- Employees and customers are demanding action when it comes to racial equity in the workplace.
- As a result, more leaders will be judged on a key trait: emotional intelligence.
- Emotional intelligence is one’s ability to understand how people feel and react to make decisions.
- This article is part of a series called “IQ to EQ,” which explores the management styles of inspiring business leaders. Check here for similar stories.
Emotional intelligence is a crucial leadership skill that is going to become more important for executives across the board.
That’s according to diversity and inclusion consultants who said leaders can’t achieve the important work around racial equity without it.
Emotional intelligence is defined as “the ability to understand the way people feel and react and to use this skill to make good judgments and to avoid or solve problems,” per the Cambridge Dictionary.
“It’s a crucial leadership skill to have, one I think more people are going to be talking about in the future,” Arquella Hargrove, DEI consultant and leadership coach, told Insider.
Here’s why. Calls for racial equity and diversity, equity, and inclusion have never been louder. Workers and customers are demanding corporate leaders take action. In order to achieve those goals, experts tell us that leaders have to listen to their colleagues from underrepresented backgrounds. They have to engage in tough conversations on race and privilege. And they have to enact changes and work with others to solve problems.
“Diversity and inclusion – we are dealing with people. We want to humanize it. There’s emotion there,” Hargrove said.
The killing of George Floyd and other unarmed Black Americans, and the resulting resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, turned DEI from tired buzzwords into business objectives. It became personal, Hargrove said.
Doris Quintanilla, executive director and cofounder of The Melanin Collective, a DEI consultancy, agrees.
“If we’re trying to center around humanity and accept people for who they are, you have to have a skillset of understanding and of empathy,” she said.
What emotional intelligence looks like and how to build it
There are multiple parts to emotional intelligence leaders (and managers in general) can work to improve. They fall under a few broad categories, explain Daniel Goleman, famed author of “Emotional Intelligence 2.0,” and Richard E. Boyatzis, psychology professor at Case Western Reserve University.
One is social awareness: or the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. It’s having empathy, they write in Harvard Business Review.
To boost your empathy, Hargrove and Quintanilla recommend leaders spend more time learning about their employees from underrepresented and marginalized backgrounds. Invite them to share their experiences, and listen to them. In addition, educate yourself by reading books on anti-racism.
“The beauty of this is when leaders listen to their colleagues from different backgrounds, they start to value those differences. They make people feel included on the team,” Hargrove said.
Another part of emotional intelligence is how well you manage relationships, or your ability to communicate effectively and work with others.
“One part of emotional intelligence is asking for feedback and being able to accept that feedback. That makes managers and leaders better,” she said.
Quintanilla recommends leaders invest in their relationships with Black and brown employees. Give them a seat at the decision making table, and incorporate their advice into your plans.
“Everyone had a statement after the murder of George Floyd, those things don’t matter anymore. The words that you say – if they’re not in alignment with the actual actions you’re taking, the people you’re hiring, the people you’re promoting – we don’t want to hear it,” Quintanilla said.