Emotional intelligence is defined as the ability to understand, manage, and readily express one’s emotions. While modern business practices only recently began to incorporate emotional intelligence as an essential part of the managerial practice, the World Economic Forum predicts that emotional intelligence — also known as EI — will be one of the top ten skills for employees by 2020. 

Recently, Forbes mentioned how emotional intelligence is undervalued in the hiring process, but there are numerous ways EI can benefit employees, customers and business as a whole. Small enterprises who work in more intimate workplaces and niche markets need to satiate the need for emotional tact. Here are a few ways leaders can pave the way for proper emotional intelligence in the workplace: 

1. Invest in Personable Customer Relationships 

Emotional intelligence allows small business leaders to hone in on what their partners and customers need, shaping a strategic customer value proposition. Metrics and customer feedback can help quantify the consumer experience, but it’s emotional intelligence that will help process the information in ways that create emotional appeal, customer satisfaction and loyalty to your product and services. EI skills like listening and empathy allow small business leaders to communicate clearly with customers and listen to changing market demands. As small business entrepreneurs are often more knowledgeable of their customer base and frequently operate within smaller or niche communities, they have the unique ability to discover what actually matters to customers and their needs. EI allows them to discover what others experience emotionally. It’s this recognition that sets the foundation for understanding and influences how well you connect with people. It can also help innovate and redesign your product offerings so companies can realize a more efficient solution or purpose.

Small business entrepreneurs can use their social skills to create and sponsor community events, share inspiring social media stories, send customer feedback surveys and personalize customer service responses so that consumers understand they’re cared for. Through effort, consistent quality control and awareness of the emotional demands within target demographics, leaders can build a happy and healthy consumer base.

2. Create Collaborative and Democratic Workplaces

As leadership styles are becoming increasingly transparent and top-down, hierarchical business structures are becoming more irrelevant in the digital era. Small business owners need to ensure their teams work smoothly together with shared values and free-thinking ideas. 

Harvard Business Review mentions how positive work cultures foster a sense of communal goals, generous support and candid feedback so each team member can perform to their best abilities. In fact, in loyal teams, members are 292 times more likely to discuss problems and make decisions and 125 times more likely to promptly address unacceptable team behaviors; all hallmarks of managing emotions and understanding emotional well-being in the workplace. 

According to Gallup research, most workers prefer caring leaders over money or benefits. In fact, supportive supervisors can improve employee retention. For small business entrepreneurs, the key to creating these healthy, collaborative work environments lies in a multi-faceted approach with empathy as the entrepreneur’s guiding light. Small business leaders have the unique opportunity to learn about and mentor employees in smaller environments, extending support in numerous ways:

  • Extend emotional support — Check in with employees on a regular basis to ease tensions and increase productivity. Reaching out for feedback over a cup of coffee or simply asking how they’re handling their workload can go a long way.
  • Practice conflict resolution — Remain proactive, not reactive to situations. If there is a stressful workplace situation like relocation or restructuring, be sure to remain transparent and understanding of everyone’s needs. If there is a workplace disagreement, learn how to understand different perspectives to diffuse the situation.
  • Invest in talent — Career development is a crucial investment in employee value. Provide mentorship opportunities and a flexible work/life balance to support employees. In addition, EI can help you assess the emotional strength and weakness of your teammates so that you can provide constructive feedback on their work habits or roles.
  • Foster relationship management — Positive communications along with diversity trainings and team building activities create healthy, inclusive environments. Communication threads via Skype and other online management tools can help ease workplace relations and offer opportunities to address concerns while also bonding with your coworkers.

3. Maintain Self-Aware Leadership

Emotional intelligence also provides the self-awareness that creates innovative approaches and motivates entrepreneurs to succeed. When you’re self-aware, it also helps you assess your own abilities to help others. Leaders with a high EI also have a realistic understanding of their self-worth and often have plans for self-improvement. By remaining humble amongst their colleagues, open to differing opinions, available for team reporting, and staying aware of emotions, small business owners can create an egalitarian environment with more loyal workers. 

It’s no surprise that research shows 90% of top leadership performers show high amounts of emotional intelligence. Often, individuals with high EI are more motivated and remain focused on a long-term strategy. Especially in an age of mass technological disruption, emotional intelligence allows leaders to remain adaptable during the growth process.

Building Working Ecosystems with Healthy Emotions

It’s essential for leaders to learn about a diverse range of people and perspectives. As the world becomes increasingly automated, small businesses need to rely on emotional intelligence as a core strength to create cohesive connections in business partnerships and stay ahead of corporate competition.

Remember, soft skills can be learned and the more you invest in people around you, the more these skills can improve. Due to your company’s smaller size, take opportunities to bond with departments or sit down one-on-one with your management team and employees to figure out how you can address their concerns and everyday needs. Since companies are created based on solving a societal problem, a close-knit community of employees and consumers will appreciate that you and your company bridge the gap between unique market solutions and more interpersonal ones.

About the Author(s)

 Jake   Croman

Jake Croman is an entrepreneur, philanthropist and college student who currently attends the University of Michigan. Jake Croman's networking experience and logistical know-how extends to his work fundraising on behalf of charitable organizations such as St Judes Children's Hospital and the Eddie Croman Foundation.

Entrepreneur and Philanthropist, Student University of Michigan
3 Ways Small Business Entrepreneurs can Lead the Way in the Emotional Intelligence Revolution