Emotionally intelligent leaders have these 5 traits

Nobody does their best work when they don’t feel understood or cared about, so the value of emotionally intelligent leaders in an industry as fast-paced as software development is incredibly high. Tech leaders with a high emotional quotient (EQ) are better equipped to build happy, successful teams that can navigate unexpected challenges without crumbling under typical pressure. 

Here are some identifying qualities of emotionally intelligent leaders to help you spot them and be one yourself, regardless of the role you’re currently in.

They’re thoughtful and approachable

There’s a difference between leaders showing emotion and leaders being emotionally reactive. Shedding a tear or two in your office when you find out that a big project launch has catastrophic crashes isn’t a bad thing; wailing about the injustice of it all and how so-and-so is to blame for everything going wrong generally is.

Emotionally intelligent leaders know how to handle their own emotions; they don’t put them onto others by blaming, shaming, getting aggressive, playing the victim or making brash decisions in the heat of the moment. When challenging situations arise, they’re able to navigate them professionally without suppressing their emotions personally or unleashing them on unsuspecting team members.

When employees feel responsible for the emotions of their leaders, it creates a toxic work environment in which nobody can truly thrive. When leaders possess the ability to process their own emotions without dragging other people into them, their teams are much more likely to enjoy the psychological safety necessary to produce their best work.

They admit mistakes and know how to apologize

If a leader’s instinct when something goes wrong is to immediately deflect blame away from themselves and onto their team members, they don’t possess the emotional intelligence required to help everyone live up to their full potential. 

Sometimes people mess up. Products get shipped late, recent releases are constantly breaking and the potential for you to tear your hair out can feel high! There needs to be accountability, but an emotionally intelligent leader always considers how systems and practices played a role in mistakes happening before they start blaming individuals. Leaders are responsible for their teams’ successes and failures, and trying to use shame as a learning tool is weak, ineffective leadership. 

A leader who becomes insulting or aggressive toward team members who make mistakes is too identified with their own ego, which will pull everyone down. Self-awareness and the ability to apologize are vital elements of good leadership, as is a willingness to accept the genuine apologies of others. 

Neither leaders nor team members are perfect, and mistakes are an inevitable part of life—and therefore business. Emotionally intelligent leaders are able to own their mistakes and maintain empathy when their team members make them.

They notice burnout and understand the importance of balance

It’s no secret that burnout can be deadly for a team’s success, and is all too common among software developers. If your people are overly stressed out, you’re likely to run into problems like higher turnover rates, decreased quality of work and poor internal relationships—to name just a few. Emotionally intelligent leaders can spot burnout before it wreaks havoc on their teams, and know how to support burnt out employees in getting back to a healthier, more balanced place.

What a “balanced” life looks like can be different for everyone, but there are a few universal truths:

  1. Nobody should feel like they have to sacrifice their health and wellbeing for their job
  2. Nobody should feel afraid to speak up when they need help
  3. Everyone should feel able to take care of themselves however they need to

A lot of leaders will instinctively balk at #3 because they worry that it means giving their team members full license to do whatever they want, whenever they want. Nobody wants to feel like their team is spinning wildly out of their control, right? But good team members want to succeed in their roles and aren’t looking to take advantage of relaxed rules. Those who are willing to exploit the rules probably aren’t the kind of people you want on your team, anyway. 

Emotionally intelligent leaders trust their people to know what’s right for them, and to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities. and to act in the best interest of the company. They understand that sometimes letting an employee work from home, adjust their work hours or even take the afternoon off is the best thing they can do for the success of a project. 

If you do notice that a team member is regularly exploiting relaxed rules, seek to understand how you can help them become more committed. Ask questions about their feelings surrounding their role, and make sure you explain what’s expected of them with empathy—coaching them to respect the freedom given by helping them understand why you offer flexibility and giving them a vision of how their increased participation could benefit them and their team.

They practice self-care

Emotionally intelligent leaders don’t just value the wellbeing of their team members, they value their own wellbeing, too. Leading a team can be a lot of pressure, and those who don’t know how to handle that pressure healthily are likely to be more reactive and prone to burnout.

It’s no coincidence that so many Silicon Valley leaders use mindfulness practices like meditation to stay mentally healthy. You don’t need to be getting your yoga on at 5 a.m. every morning to be a good leader (though it’s not a bad idea!), but it’s wise to have some kind of regular practice in your life that helps you complete the stress-response cycle, whether that’s exercise, journaling, playing with your dog—whatever works for you!

It’s not healthy for any of us to be “switched on” constantly when it comes to work. Many of us have been conditioned to believe that we add value by being continually available and clocking hours during the night and weekends, but an inverse effect may be at play. We need to make time for the other important parts of being a human if we’re going to be valuable members of society and our companies.

They honor everyone’s uniqueness

Everyone’s optimum work style is different. While team compatibility is important, emotionally intelligent leaders recognize that not everyone operates in the exact same way—and that’s ok. They trust their team members to work in whatever ways are conducive to their productivity and success, and don’t put pressure on anyone to work in a way that doesn’t suit them. They expect compliance when it comes to essential company/team practices, of course, but they don’t sweat the non-essential stuff, like the absurdly large exercise ball Developer Devon likes to work on. (Can that really be good for his back?!)

As the tech industry continues to confront giant issues like AI, data protection and the different work styles of younger generations, emotionally intelligent leaders will become an even hotter commodity. Things are always changing, and those with emotional resilience are the best equipped to guide teams through those constant changes without getting overly ruffled.