We all have our own idea of what makes a successful entrepreneur.
While this conception may vary person to person, certain aspects remain constant: high intelligence, the ability to persevere in the face of adversity, a passion for what they do, a sense of fearlessness, the ability to adapt quickly, and so on.
These are the types of traits that spring to mind first—the quintessential smart, strong-willed, unfailingly confident entrepreneur, blazing his own trail.
No doubt about it, these are important qualities to have. But realistically, while they matter, they might not be the end-all, be-all when it comes to successful entrepreneurship—and they may not be indicative of long-term success, either.
So, what traits really make the difference? This brings us to the concept of emotional intelligence. A topic that has received plenty of press lately, emotional intelligence (or EI) has been lauded as a skill set potentially more important than one’s IQ in terms of overall success.
Emotional intelligence isn’t just a nice thing to have in your personal life; it’s becoming increasingly valuable in the business sphere, too. With that, here’s a look at what emotional intelligence entails, how it can impact you as an entrepreneur and enhance your success and efficacy, and what to do if you think your emotional intelligence skill set could use a little improvement.
What is emotional intelligence?
Emotional intelligence involves managing and understanding your own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.
On a practical level, this means that individuals with strong emotional intelligence are able to correctly identify their own emotions and the emotions of others, channel those emotions into tasks, and manage their own and others emotions.
It can be hard to pin down what, exactly, are the factors that make up an emotionally intelligent person; a lot of the qualities that make someone emotionally intelligent are somewhat intangible.
That being said, these characteristics are common in emotionally intelligent people:
- They know how to talk about their emotions at an elevated level. That is to say, the language they use to describe emotional states isn’t just “good” or “bad”; they can pinpoint that they (or someone else) might feel “anxious,” “overwhelmed,” “elated,” and so on.
- They care about what people around them are going through. Because they’re empathetic, they seek to find out how those around them are feeling.
- They aren’t afraid of change. They are flexible, adaptable, and can handle shifting situations.
- They’re aware of their own strengths and weaknesses. They have a clear sense of what situations and types of people trigger both positive and negative emotions in themselves.
- They are socially aware. They are good judges of character and can read others well.
- They are confident in who they are. This means they don’t get offended or hurt easily, because they’re secure in themselves.
- They know when to say no. Emotionally intelligent people aren’t going to bend over backward to meet every whim, because they know their limits.
- They don’t hold onto mistakes or grudges. They know when to move on, and don’t keep things bottled up.
How does emotional intelligence impact entrepreneurs?
Research has shown that higher emotional intelligence is a greater indicator of strong performance (whether that be in the workplace, in testing situations, and so on) than high IQ.
That is to say, it’s more valuable to have high emotional intelligence than it is to be “smart on paper.” Someone who is brilliant academically may find that they fail miserably at entrepreneurship if they lack the “soft skills” associated with high emotional intelligence—like being able to empathize with others and regulate their own emotions effectively.
In terms of entrepreneurship, having high emotional intelligence is extremely beneficial. With high emotional intelligence comes a better understanding of the needs, feelings, and overall situation of others. As such, an entrepreneur with high emotional intelligence can better create a product or service to fit the needs of their target customer. Similarly, entrepreneurs with high emotional intelligence can better work with and understand their coworkers and clients, and cultivate better relationships with them as a result of their heightened sensitivity to the emotional states of those around them.
Finally, if you work to cultivate emotional intelligence, you’ll be able to regulate your own emotions better. So, if you have a frustrating client, have to deal with a mistake (either yours or someone else’s), or face other workplace-related annoyances and hang-ups, you’ll be more easily able to control your emotions, and avoid taking them out on others and worsening the situation. This will inherently make you a stronger entrepreneur, as you’ll be easier to do business with, and not run the risk of losing clients or alienating those you work with based on an angry outburst or harsh word.
4 reasons emotionally intelligent entrepreneurs are more successful
Here are some of the most important ways that having well-developed emotional intelligence can enhance an entrepreneurial skill set.
1. They understand the needs of the people they work with.
Have you ever clashed with a coworker? Maybe you had conflicting ideas about how a project should go—or maybe you didn’t like that they left their dirty coffee cup in the sink.
Whatever the cause, most of us have dealt with an instance in the workplace in which we disagreed with a coworker, or didn’t like how something was handled.
An entrepreneur who devotes attention to their emotional intelligence skills will have an easier time navigating situations like this. Furthermore, it is easier for highly emotionally intelligent entrepreneurs to de-escalate situations of conflict that may arise in the workplace.
When interacting with whatever types of people you encounter in your business (whether they be clients, investors, vendors, or other business colleagues), make sure to consider the emotions they’re experiencing, and see where they’re coming from.
This sounds incredibly obvious, I know. However, while we may be attuned to the emotions and feelings of others in our personal lives, we sometimes forget to consider the emotions behind workplace behavior.
Let’s say you’re upset with a client who always pays late. Instead of mentally berating them for their incompetence, consider stepping into their shoes, and exercising emotional intelligence. More likely than not, it wasn’t their plan to pay you late—they may have forgotten, or are in the midst of a stressful cash flow crisis and would be happy to work with you. Reaching out to them kindly and calmly will likely yield much better results, and perhaps a positive solution for both of you (not to mention potentially salvaging the relationship).
2. They can offer the best possible version of their product or service.
Nearly all great services and products were developed to fit a need. It’s an essential trait of great business leaders—the ability to see a need in a market that needs to be filled.
The product or service you offer almost certainly fills a need (or it should). Entrepreneurs who possess high levels of emotional intelligence are better able to tap into the specifics of their customers’ need and optimize their offering to best meet this need.
In other words, the more emotionally intelligent the entrepreneur, the more likely they are to hit on a product or service that best solves the pain points of their customer base. They are tuned into their customers; they know exactly where they are struggling. They know if they’re desperate for a service or product that is cheaper, faster, better—and they can use this understanding and care for their customers to create the best possible product or service.
Consider the emotions your clients or customers are experiencing when they seek out your service, and think about how you can frame your existing service to address those emotions.
Are your customers frustrated that nothing else has worked for them? Are they stressed, and seeking a solution to an annoying problem? Are they confused, and looking for a professional to help steer them in the right direction? Tapping into the emotional needs of your target customer makes it easier to tailor your service to suit them.
For example, let’s consider an entrepreneur who offers web design services, and helps customers create websites for their businesses and personal use. These customers are probably feeling confused by their lack of knowledge on web design, overwhelmed by the options available to them, and eager to delegate a task to an expert. By tapping into these emotions, this entrepreneur can curate a service that helps alleviate customer confusion, and makes them feel like they are in good hands.
3. They don’t let their emotions get the better of them.
It’s never ideal to be the kind of person who storms angrily out of the room—and it’s especially dangerous to be this person in a professional setting.
Emotionally intelligent entrepreneurs are able to manage their emotions, and not let their emotions get the better of them. If they become angry or upset, they don’t take their emotions out on others; rather, they deal with the issue calmly, and find a way to control and mitigate their own anger.
Similarly, emotionally intelligent entrepreneurs know how to channel their emotions productively. If they are disappointed with the outcome of a previous project, they can channel this disappointment into making sure they achieve a better outcome next time—instead of sulking and dwelling on the past.
Don’t let your emotions rule the choices you make in the workplace. Instead, find productive ways to deal with your emotions, and work to channel emotions into productive, positive output.
Not only that, make an effort to avoid formulating an overly emotional response—in other words, don’t let your anger, hurt, or sadness get the better of you in the workplace, as it could potentially damage your professional relationships.
4. They’re better leaders.
Good leadership is all about understanding the people you’re leading. Whether this is your team, the people you’re pitching your idea to, or the clients and customers you’re wooing, having strong leadership skills is an essential part of entrepreneurship.
The emotionally intelligent entrepreneur uses their understanding of the needs of others to be a stronger leader. When it comes to being a leader, they rely on empathy and understanding, not an iron fist.
Use your emotional intelligence to forge genuine connections with those in your business circle.
If you manage a team, invest time into building relationships with the people you are leading. If your goal is to become a thought leader in your space, focus on what you can add to the conversation through building a network—rather than propping yourself up for your own self-interest. You’ll naturally become a stronger leader though your focus on the emotions and needs of those around you.
Becoming more emotionally intelligent
Concerned that your emotional intelligence skill set isn’t functioning at quite the level you’d like it to be? Don’t worry. It is possible to become more emotionally intelligent. Our emotional intelligence isn’t fixed—like practicing a new language or hobby, this skill set can be learned and improved on.
If you want to cultivate more emotional intelligence in your life, start by focusing on how you feel. Make a conscious effort to observe your own emotions throughout the day, and put a clear, descriptive name to what you’re feeling. Similarly, you’ll want to make an effort to focus on your actions, and how they relate to the emotions you’re experiencing. Note whether or not your choices throughout the day are driven by your emotions, and what emotions drive certain actions.
For a more complete tutorial on increasing your emotional intelligence, this article outlines steps and tangible actions you can take every day to increase your emotional intelligence.
Do you think emotional intelligence has an impact on your success as an entrepreneur? How so, or why not?
I’d love to know what you think—let me know in the comments below.