Developing the ability to tune in to how a diverse group of people feel about a situation is one of the most important tools that a leader can develop, because all decision-making depends on having reliable information. The problem is that the definition of “reliable” can vary wildly from individual to individual. Despite our innate sense that our point of view is the most accurate representation of reality, our own experience of the world is only one of many valid modes of understanding.

It is often the case that the way we make sense of the world, take in information, and make decisions, is not the same as the way coworkers do. We are all diverse in our thinking and understanding, and it enriches and strengthens conclusions to have many voices included. According to an article in the Harvard Business Review leaders should not only look to recruit teams with a mix of skills and experiences, but also with “…a blend of different preferred thinking styles…” In fact, severe problems can arise for leaders who are unaware that the way they see and react to situations is not the end-all and be-all of understanding. Perspectives that go unheard can leave employees feeling alienated and pose a threat to their overall happiness, and ultimately retention and the bottom line. Moreover, the decisions leaders make too often carry the effectiveness-killing anemia of lacking the support of relevant information.

Over the past century, an array of tools have been created to address the challenge of “getting in the head” of others in business, understanding how their thoughts and feelings work, in order to better communicate, take in information, and make effective decisions. At the core of each of these tools is the truth that, regardless of one’s leadership style, understanding the style of others is critical in developing an accurate picture of a situation. The combination of self-awareness and “other-awareness” is the key that unlocks the trove of otherwise unknowable information that is vital to effective executive decision-making.

Emotional intelligence

Since the term was coined in 1990 by Daniel Goleman, the concept of “emotional intelligence” has grown to become one of the most popular tools for developing the so-called “soft” leadership skills: collaboration, conflict management, adaptability, and so on. Although it’s often said that these soft skills are undervalued in leaders, it is clear that their indispensability for supporting “hard” leadership skills actually makes their benefits highly valued.

The emotional intelligence framework posits four general areas of work:

  1. Self-awareness
  2. Managing less useful emotions for a positive outcome
  3. Empathy
  4. Assembling this in relationships

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