Three Ways Emotional Intelligence Can Help Leaders Lead

The pandemic has changed how association groups interact, which means leaders need to adjust as well. Two AMC professionals explain why emotional intelligence has become such a critical leadership skill.

It’s no surprise that emotional intelligence is discussed so much lately. So many changes in the workplace—and the culture at large—have put a new focus on how we do and don’t understand each other. Zoom facilitates remote connections but makes it harder to read people. Email and social media make sharing easier but more difficult to tease out tone and intent. Our personalities express themselves in new ways, which presents a new challenge for leaders.

Jodi Fisher, founder and CEO of Impact Association Management, has been thinking about these issues since before the pandemic. Along with the AMC’s COO, Kirsten Reader, she’ll present at the ASAE Annual Meeting on August 18 at 11 a.m. Their session, “Enhancing Your Organization’s Leadership With Emotional Intelligence” is based on their experience working with association boards and other volunteer groups as well as within the AMC’s own staff. In advance of the session, they shared three suggestions for how to approach a conversation informed by emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence assessments don’t box people into types. They help explain why they respond the way they do.

Take time to understand the personalities within a group. It’s worth the effort, Fisher and Reader say, to develop personality profiles of staff or volunteer groups. Myers-Briggs assessments probably are the best-known tools, but they’ve used DiSC Profiles to get a sense of individual work styles. “That was helpful as a way for our team members to understand how they’re going to react in a particular situation,” Reader says. “They also saw how a particular board president might communicate in a difficult conversation.”

Such assessments aren’t meant to box people into rigid personality types. Rather, they help explain why others might respond the way they do, which helps reduce conflict. A fellow board member who’s slow to respond to email, for instance, isn’t being neglectful, just taking more time to process information.

Know that emotional intelligence training helps boards help themselves. If a board member is overstepping their bounds—getting deep into operational matters, for instance—feedback will be better received if it comes from the board chair rather than a staff leader, Fisher says. And it’s easier for that conversation to happen if the board has a grasp of the personality types involved.

“You might know that the person is very data-driven and likes getting into the weeds, knowing all the details of when a newsletter goes out, what platform is used—the nitty-gritty stuff a board member shouldn’t be concerned with,” she says. “Using emotional intelligence, you can express some empathy and say you know why they’re this way, but explain that it makes the board extremely inefficient. Asking the board president to have that difficult conversation, with some pointers on what they should be talking about and how they should be talking about it—that seems to be the best recipe for success.”

Recognize how remote work changes the dynamic. People who are used to close interpersonal interaction can be thrown by how get-it-done types might act if all we know is how they conduct themselves over email or Zoom. Emotional intelligence, Fisher says, can help clarify that a person’s intense focus—and terse emails—shouldn’t automatically be interpreted as a cold shoulder.

“At the beginning of COVID, when we knew we were going remote and using Slack and email more, we stressed that there’s going to be less of that personal touch,” Fisher says. “People were more comfortable saying, ‘This is the way I am, I’m just trying to get through work.’ Others could see that and recognize, ‘That’s just her style.’ It really helped those interpersonal relationships.”

Fisher and Reader stress that conversations around emotional intelligence should be ongoing—a one-off education session won’t cut it. It takes time for leaders to understand their colleagues, but it’s worth the investment. “Don’t feel that it all has to be done right away,” Fisher says. “But keep on making sure that you’re progressing.”

(Dilok Klaisataporn/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Mark Athitakis

By Mark Athitakis

Mark Athitakis, a contributing editor for Associations Now, has written on nonprofits, the arts, and leadership for a variety of publications. He is a coauthor of The Dumbest Moments in Business History and hopes you never qualify for the sequel. MORE

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