A leadership role is a complex task considering the need to interact in a way that team members are not displeased but the overall result of the team is efficient. If work expertise of the leader is more than necessary for an organization to flourish, the ability of social understanding is vital.

This ‘social understanding’ relates to the ability to ‘read’ other people and know what they are thinking and using that to communicate effectively with them; what is also known as social intelligence. Socially intelligent leaders are typically sensitive to the emotions of others, know what to do to fit into different social situations, and are aware of what makes other people tick.

Research data suggests that this is a more than an essential skill for being an effective leader and motivate other people towards an overall goal. So, there is a fruitful ground in social intelligence, as the new kid on the block of social sciences, for leaders to improve their own and their organization's performance.


Why is social intelligence important for leaders?

As noted many times, leadership is not a genetic berth-given gift; it is a skill and skills can be acquired by learning. One of the most critical features to work on for successful leading is the way the leader interacts with the rest of the team; Through his or her interactions with others, leaders can motivate people to give their best efforts in order to align with the goals of an organization.

Studies show that socially intelligent leaders do more than just make people happier at work. According to psychologist Dr. Daniel Goleman, the majority of employees in a survey of 700 companies said that a supportive boss mattered more than their salary. This study also revealed that supportive leaders could retain employees while increasing productivity.

This becomes even more important in the modern business world, where people work longer hours in the day and businesses start feel like a substitute family. Actually, there have been some years now that companies have started integrating social intelligence strategies into the HR function, i.e. they hire people of higher social intelligence or see the skill as a step for promotion into the next level.


What do socially intelligent leaders do differently?

There are two initial steps to identify in a personal level if you are a socially intelligent leader:

  • Ask yourself: Do you care? Then you can realize if you are motivated enough.
  • Get some feedback: You probably are the worst person to judge yourself on your strengths and weaknesses, so you need to ask people around you. Extra tip: To ensure they can be honest with you, make sure you find a way of anonymous rating. Then you get a truth and can pinpoint the points of improvement.

Then, bear in mind: A socially intelligent leader avoids behaviors that instigate negative emotions in others. Emotions of the people around us contagiously affect our own, in a positive or negative way. The need to win at all costs, the habit of showing others how smart one is, while putting others down, adding sarcasm into the conversation, and many others are examples of such negative behaviors. On the contrary, some specific features make socially intelligent leaders:

  1. They focus: The secret word here is “engagement”. Socially intelligent leadership begins with being engaged and focused on your work.
  2. They observe: Socially intelligent leaders know that the information they need lies in truly looking at the people around. They notice who talks to whom, expressions on their faces, they sense the feelings in the atmosphere.
  3. They practice active listening: It is simple to hear, but complex to implement. Leaders know they can gather more information by listening than if they are busy developing their own arguments.
  4. They are paying attention to others’ concerns: Leaders should be sensitive to the emotions of others, to ensure their people feel connected.
  5. They manage their emotions: A good leader is aware of how their emotions spread to others, so they are clever enough to suppress their anger or fear.
  6. They include others: People who feel included are more likely to experience positive emotions that motivate and energize them.
  7. They assume the best in others: Give the benefit of doubt when someone does something they should not have. Forgiveness is a character strength.
  8. They don’t forget to encourage: This is the first advice a good leader gets, but also a typical feature of a socially intelligent individual.
  9. They use themselves as a test: "How would I feel if this were happening to me?" This cornerstone question defines a socially intelligent leader.

See also: Why do people quit their leaders?

Social intelligence is a must-have skill if you want to become a leader who "gets" his/her teams. You just need to remember, there is no golden recipe for success, and every individual has their own unique characteristics, either strengths or weaknesses, in their social interaction.

The good news is that even though we learn our habits early in life, we can change them in any point if we are motivated; if we know what to do; and if we have a little help.

-Dr. Goleman.