Like everything else, you can increase your emotional intelligence through a disciplined process:
To start, you’ll need a mental picture of your ideal self and a sense of your capabilities today through a focus internal audit and reflection. As you work to close the gap between the “real” and the “ideal” you, you’ll set a plan, practice new habits, and seek help from supporters.
As with learning anything new, you won’t master changes overnight. And you’ll likely need to break some bad habits first. It is only logical, just like treating a wound, take care of the bleeding first before anything else.
Step 1: Decide who you want to be (the ideal you)
Emotionally intelligent leaders have a clear mental image of themselves at their best. They use this “ideal self” to guide their decisions in life. Yet it’s surprisingly easy to get caught up in daily routine and to forget what truly drives you. Leaders need to feel purposeful to act in emotionally intelligent ways.
When you visualize an ideal life, you activate the parts of your brain connected with passion, hope, and optimism.
In order to start this visualization process:
- Imagine the best version of you a decade from now. What are you doing? Who is around you? What do your relationships look like? Don’t worry about whether your ideas are practical or not. Just let the picture develop. Be a un-reasonable person with the best version of yourself, if I remember it correctly, the reasonable person adjust himself to the world, while the un-reasonable ones adjust the world to themselves and it is how progress is made.
- Capture the important elements of that image. Describe, draw, record, or discuss them with a friend, whatever is most comfortable for you.
- Analyze what you’ve gathered. What does your ideal self reveal about you? What’s most important to you? Do you live your values or simply talk about them? Trust me, it is harder to walk the talk than to do the talking. Maybe that’s the reason why action is louder than words.
Step 2: Improve your self-awareness
You’ve pictured your ideal self. Now assess where you are right now, including your strengths, limitations, and emotional patterns.
In other words, become more self-aware. Self-aware leaders monitor their feelings and actions and notice how others react to them. They’re open to constructive criticism. By being attuned to their emotional habits, they’re able to cultivate useful responses and let go of ineffective ones.
To become more self-aware:
- Get feedback. Ask people in your personal and work life what interpersonal strengths and weaknesses they’ve observed in you. Make sure your feedback includes perspectives from all levels of the organization, not just from your manager. Research shows that your peers’ and subordinates’ perception of you is actually a better predictor of your long-term success than that of your manager. And remember to be open-minded with these feedback, as we all well aware, feedback does hurt (at times).
- Seek constructive criticism. Effective leaders actively seek negative as well as positive feedback. To perform better, you need a full range of information—even if that information is difficult to hear. Criticism usually is a signal which indicate where and when you need to come out of your comfort zone and grow.
- Analyze your strengths and weaknesses. Look for common themes in the feedback. It’s important to address areas for improvement and to feel confident about what you already do well. Depend on your ideal-self mental image, focus on developing the area of strengths and weaknesses which help you make daily progress toward it.
Step 3: Develop your learning plan
You know what your ideal is, and you’re aware of how people see you now. The next step is to create a plan for closing the gap between “real” and “ideal.”
The best kind of learning agenda focuses on what you want to become, that your own ideal rather than on someone else’s idea of what you should be, because it very frustrating to find out that when you met a goal just to find out that it is not yours (goal) to begin with. Aim for actions that help you better manage yourself, become more aware of others’ needs, and improve your relationship skills.
In order to make an effective learning plan, you shall,
- Build on your strengths. Too often, people think of a learning plan as something designed to correct mistakes. But it’s even more powerful to focus on positive actions you want to take. This approach gives you the confidence to try new things and make necessary change. And by focusing on your strengths would give you better chances at becoming great at my strengths compared to focusing at your weaknesses, where you might become good at it. I would rather choose to become great first, before developing and improving on my weaknesses. I belief it would have greater impact, not just on myself but also on my organization and the world in general.
- Focus on realistic, manageable steps. Design any changes so they’re integral to your daily actions. You’ll stick with your learning plan only if it fits into your current life and work. For instance, if you need to work on building rapport with your team, use daily staff meetings to practice listening to their concerns.
- Design a plan to match your learning style. Are you someone who prefers concrete experience, for instance, learning to sail by simply getting into a boat? Or are you someone who’d rather study the principles of sailing first and then apply what you’ve learned? Plans that don’t match your preferences can hinder your learning.
Step 4: Practice
It takes dedication to improve your self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management skills. But the payoff can be profound.
As you practice, remember that mistakes are part of the process, treat them as valuable learning opportunities. When they happen, plan what you could do differently next time.
Failure is an event, not a person.
To get the most from your practice:
- Mentally rehearse and practice. Scientists have shown that when you imagine yourself performing a task successfully, you increase your odds of doing it that way in reality. For instance, Olympic divers tend to mentally rehearse every detail of their dives in preparation for competition. If you visualize some common situations at work in advance, you’ll feel less awkward when you actually put the new skills into practice.
- Experiment, then reflect. Try new approaches to familiar situations. A new way of acting might feel unnatural at first but don’t let that discourage you. People with high EI regularly review their interactions with others to figure out what went wrong or right and then apply what they’ve learned.
- Repeat new behaviors to the point of mastery. Repetition is crucial to improving emotional intelligence. Professional musicians don’t just practice until they can get through a piece of music without errors they rehearse until the music pours automatically from them. This is what you need for better emotional habits. Without mastery, you’re likely to return to old patterns.
Step 5: Enlist support
Your final step is to create a community of supporters. Find personal and professional allies who will applaud your successes and keep you on course.
Include in your support network:
- People outside the office. You’ll develop your EI skills faster and more deeply if you apply them across your life. Test your skills in personal settings, such as coaching youth sports or volunteering for a nonprofit. Seek feedback from family members and friends.
- A coach. This person can be a hired professional or a trusted adviser. Either way, the coach should understand your organization’s culture, know your personal strengths and challenges, and use EI skills themselves. A coach can regularly observe you in action and help you keep track of your progress.
- Others trying to improve their emotional intelligence. A leadership support group can help you stay committed to the work. Use the group as a forum to talk candidly, share best practices, and try new approaches.
- Members of your team. Can you share your learning agenda with your team? What practices can they adopt for themselves? You’ll see powerful results when everyone works together to increase their emotional intelligence.