Actian Life

Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Leader

Emma McGrattan

November 18, 2022

hands on top of the others symbolizing the positive results in a team

Leaders across every organization learned valuable lessons about leading their teams more thoughtfully during the pandemic. Here at Actian, we learned that being a flexible, adaptable, and empathetic leader goes a long way in building trust with our teams. The pandemic and resulting seismic shift in how we interact with our colleagues shed light on the importance of understanding how external factors can impact mental health. Today, the onus is on leadership to foster an emotionally intelligent and empathetic working environment to make employees comfortable and feel supported in their roles.

A vital trait for today’s leaders, and the key to truly supporting your team, is having a developed sense of emotional intelligence. Leaders, across every industry, need to be able to foster an environment that allows employees the freedom to cope with the emotions and stressors in their lives while juggling work responsibilities.

Emotional intelligence, also known as emotional quotient, is generally defined as the ability to identify one’s emotions, apply them to problem-solving situations, and manage them positively. Personally, I equate being an emotionally intelligent leader with being able to make genuine connections with my team members. These “soft skills” are becoming more important than ever to company success (especially in a distributed workforce), as they allow us to become better, more empathetic, and more approachable leaders.

Of course, emotional intelligence comes more naturally to some than to others. Thankfully, it is a skill that can be learned and nurtured throughout a leader’s career and lifetime. Let’s look at a few traits of emotionally intelligent leaders and how one can develop these skills.

Emotionally Intelligent Leaders Clearly Express Employee Value

Leaders can acknowledge employee value by showing that they trust team members to complete their work well, without constant touchpoints. Make a point to eliminate micromanagement, and instead, delegate tasks, training employees in new skills where necessary. At Actian, our employees have flexible schedules allowed by the benefit of remote work. People want to arrange their day in a way that is cohesive with their personal life – whether it’s taking their kids to school, joining an after-work club or hobby, or simply prioritizing family. Offering flexibility like this is one way to confirm that leaders trust employees and value their contributions.

A key soft skill that emotionally intelligent leaders express is empathy. An empathetic leader will understand that any number of unseen factors could delay a project – sickness in the family, relationship problems, or kids struggling in school can all impact an employee’s work performance. An emotionally intelligent leader will have situational awareness and encourage open, honest, and ongoing communication. Keeping an “open door policy” helps employees feel empowered to reach out when they are struggling and demonstrates that leaders care about the team members and not just about their contributions to the team.

Emotionally Intelligent Leaders Strengthen Connections with Employees

People with high emotional intelligence are skilled at creating strong, lasting connections with others. One of the best ways to improve connections with employees is to schedule time to connect one-on-one. Tech leaders are often busy, but packed schedules are the enemy of progress.

Additionally, when employees do have personal or professional issues they might like to discuss, they will feel significantly more comfortable initiating the conversation with a manager they already have an established relationship with. Leaders who put in the effort to establish those connections from the beginning will be better equipped to help their employees find solutions to these problems.

Emotionally Intelligent Leaders Let Their Own Walls Down

Becoming an emotionally intelligent leader can be challenging. To help overcome any personal reservations, leaders should first work to develop a sense of self-awareness. It’s crucial to deliberately identify, understand, and regulate your own emotions before you can support others. Improving self-awareness allows you to expand your emotional scope to better understand and support employees.

Another way to connect more deeply with employees is to find and create teachable moments. Draw from your own mistakes and successes to develop an environment that focuses on continuous improvement, rather than perfection. Encouraging learning will in turn improve employee confidence, comfort, and overall satisfaction.

Emotionally Intelligent Leaders are Authentic in Their Approach

Last, but certainly not least, emotionally intelligent leaders will come to work as their authentic selves. This will lead employees to do the same and make regular wellbeing touchpoints easier. Bring your undivided attention to check-ins and show a real interest in your team members. A people leader must display that they care about their employees, not just about solving the problem at hand.

Lessons learned during the pandemic and the subsequent move to remote work will equip leaders with the skills needed to overcome future high-stress moments. Leaders must think about their workers holistically, looking for early signs of stress and other mental health factors. Health, especially mental health, is fragile, and once it’s fractured it is hard to put it back together again.

Interested in joining a company that values its employees’ contributions and prioritizes the wellbeing of workers? Take a look at the open positions on our Careers page to see where you could fit in!

Emma McGrattan headshot

About Emma McGrattan

Emma McGrattan is SVP of Engineering and Product at Actian leading global research and development. She is a recognized authority in data management and analytics technologies and holds multiple patents. Emma has over two decades of experience leading a global software development organization focused on innovation in high-performance analytics, data management, integration, and application development technologies. Prior to joining Actian, Emma was Vice President for Ingres at Computer Associates. Educated in Ireland, Emma holds a Bachelor of Electrical Engineering degree from Dublin City University.