“Soft skills” like empathy and active listening haven’t traditionally been associated with individuals who are motivated to achieve professional success. In fact, many leaders and business owners who have achieved power have done so through a formula of aggression and intimidation.
Unfortunately, many women feel pressured to use the same formula to see how those tactics can propel their career and are finding that not only do they struggle to rise to senior-level positions, but they struggle to stay there, as well.
What many women don’t realize is that we have a competitive advantage: being able to harness our emotional intelligence to build trust and faith in our abilities as a leader.
Emotional Intelligence (EI) is your ability to pick up on the emotions of others and manage them, manage your own emotions, and build trust as you do it. Here are four reasons why EI can be a female leader’s secret weapon:
1. Women Have Permission to be Emotionally Intelligent
Consider that girls are given permission by society to be empathic, and to use language that expresses emotions. We encourage girls and young women to develop deep and meaningful relationships, and to nurture others.
Because many of these assumptions about how women should behave are still very much “baked into” our societal beliefs, professional women have the advantage of being more vulnerable and authentic at work.
Authenticity builds trust, and leaders who are trusted by their employees are able to command successful, motivated, and results-driven teams more easily than bosses who have a harder time expressing their thoughts and appreciation for their team.
2. Female Executives Rank Highest in Emotional Intelligence
The modern workplace is ultra-competitive, and leaders who want to get to (and stay) at the top need to display management qualities that are synonymous with emotional intelligence.
In a study completed by the Hay Group found that situations where female executives were required to lead by influence, rather than direct authority, created higher levels of emotional intelligence than when their male counterparts were faced with the same management scenario.
3. Women Are NOT Naturally Better At Emotional Intelligence Than Men
While a common belief persists that women are naturally better at developing their EI, there are no definitive studies proving this as fact.
However, there do seem to be differences in how motivated men and women are to develop their emotional intelligence. For example, the same Hay Group study concluded, that among women and men below the executive level, the differences in EI between men and women were less pronounced.
What this tells us is that the level of one’s emotional intelligence typically comes down to the level of grit and dedication, not a natural or gender-based aptitude.
4. Women’s Brains Are Different, However
One key way that women differ from men is in the neurological sense. According to neuroscience, the region that stimulates empathy is located in an area of the brain called the insula.
When we’re empathizing with someone, our brain mimics how that person feels and sends signals to the insula, which reads that pattern and identifies the feeling. Women’s brains tend to linger longer with those feelings, whereas men’s brains will sense the feeling, then tune out of the emotions and switch to areas of the brain associated with problem-solving.
In this way, women’s tendencies to stay “tuned in” to another person’s emotions helps them be supportive and nurturing, even when emotions are running high.
Use Your Strengths to Your Advantage
Women looking to rise to top-level positions within their organization need to prove their emotional competency because it allows them to cope with pressure, negotiate, build trust, motivate others, navigate workplace politics, and make sound decisions.
If you’re interested in developing your emotional intelligence, contact us to register for an assessment and 1:1 debrief with a certified executive coach. You can also subscribe to our newsletter or reach out on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter.