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How To Be An Emotionally Intelligent Leader

Dr Achim Schmitt, dean for graduate programs at EHL Hospitality Business School, says the best business leaders have high emotional intelligence


Mon May 16 2022

Emotional intelligence is a critical skill for business leaders, helping CEOs and directors build connections with employees, engage with customers and clients, and drive organizational change. It can boost productivity, assist in creative solutions, and develop teamwork and motivation in an organization.

According to TalentSmart, 90% of top performers at work have a high emotional intelligence or EQ. They also earn more—an average of $29,000 more per year than people with low emotional intelligence.

Dr. Achim Schmitt is associate dean of graduate programs at EHL Hospitality Business School, ranked number one in the world for hospitality management education for four consecutive years by QS.

EHL Hospitality Business School focuses on service excellence and people-centric leadership. Achim teaches how to balance business knowledge with emotional intelligence in programs like EHL’s MBA in Hospitality

Business Because caught up with Achim to find out three ways you can become an emotionally intelligent leader.

1. Emotionally intelligent leaders have empathy and connect with people

High priority at EHL Hospitality Business School, emotional intelligence is a person's ability to detect, read, understand, and process their own emotions and the emotions of others around them.

Encouraging your workforce to be empathetic, adaptable, and people-centric can improve communication, strengthen collaboration, and mitigate conflict within an organization. Adaptability then promotes innovative solution solving and a people-centric outlook can improve relationships with customers. 

To be an emotionally intelligent leader, you need empathy to form genuine connections with your colleagues. 

Empathic listening, for example, leads to constructive conversations and strengthens your ability to handle and resolve conflict more effectively. Phrases like, ‘I understand what you’re going through’, and ‘that must be challenging’, are examples of how to listen more empathetically. 

Achim, who worked as a consultant before turning to academia, stresses the need for leaders to achieve an equilibrium between rationality and emotion to create an effective business environment. 

He says that in an increasingly technologically driven and uncertain world, connecting emotionally with your employees will improve relationships between leaders and employees and lead to more informed business decisions. 

According to a Business Solver survey, 76% of employees believe an empathetic organization inspires more motivated employees. 

"The more that becomes unclear, the more you depend on your employees' feedback, openness, and dedication, and the more you need to be connected to them," Achim explains. 

2. Emotionally intelligent leaders encourage creative solutions 

Another trait of leaders with high emotional intelligence is the ability to innovate and be open to creative solutions to problems.

In the hospitality industry, creative solutions might include lobby experiences, like wine tasting, or even specialty roles, like a concierge who helps guests recover from hangovers, or one who flatters guests with positive affirmations. 

For Achim, the pressures of the pandemic and virtual work have heightened the need for leaders to find creative solutions, to provide greater flexibility, engage their employees, and better understand their emotions.

"Communication is based on 80% nonverbal and 20% verbal; you miss a lot of those clues that show whether or not someone is in a good state on the internet. If someone is sweating, uncomfortable, or tense, you feel those things more easily when you're face to face," he says. 

To engage his employees, Achim uses coffee catchups, virtual games, and hosts smaller, shorter meetings online, where the employees can feel connected and have personal exchanges.

"The experience of the pandemic remains in the heads of individuals. So, in the future, emotional intelligence will become more and more important in making sound, long-term business decisions," he says. 

3. Emotionally intelligent leaders are customer-centric

As an emotionally intelligent leader, Achim explains that you need to be attuned to the needs of your customers and able to navigate a situation effectively because you are on the frontline, and if something goes wrong, the blame falls on you. 

The ability to embrace empathy to understand what customers want, influencing skills to improve your connections, and negotiation skills are key.

Whatever the industry, a human and customer-centric skillset is increasingly valued by recruiters, from hospitality to retail and finance. 71% of employers say they value emotional intelligence over IQ, according to a CareerBuilder survey. 

As a 130-year-old service business itself, EHL has dealt with demands from all types of people and companies and has adjusted its services to reflect their different needs.

"I hope we will always be in a human world with individuals who have feelings, sentiments, and a sense of what motivates fear, anxiety, or risk," Achim says. 

"This emotional intelligence can help you make better decisions."

BB Insights explores the latest research and trends from the business school classroom, drawing on the expertise of world-leading professors to inspire and inform current and future leaders