If you’ve ever watched or listened to Oprah conduct an interview, you’ve likely had this experience: You’re laughing, then you’re crying, and then you’re suddenly ready to tell her all of your deepest, darkest secrets. You may even pull a Tom Cruise and start jumping up and down on the couch in excitement. So what is it about Oprah that makes all of us – celebrities and at-home viewers alike – feel this way?
It is her emotional intelligence (EQ).
Oprah has mined the well of her life experience in order to show up authentically and honestly in every interaction she has. She makes people feel championed, seen, and heard by listening actively and asking questions that demonstrate her deep empathy for their experiences. And though the majority of us won’t be interviewing Meghan Markle and Prince Harry any time soon, the level of EQ Oprah displays in her interviews is key to leading a strong team and creating a successful business in any industry.
Now more than ever, employees and clients crave genuine connections and want to be a part of something real. The importance of EQ in business has long been touted, but it is all too often undervalued in favor of reaching sales goals and KPIs. So let’s go back to basics: What is emotional intelligence and why does it matter so much?
Put simply, emotional intelligence is the people side of business – it is the ability to understand the emotions of others and connect with your teammates and clients authentically; to be wholly transparent, lead with your values, and exhibit empathy for the experiences of all you encounter.
This can look like a variety of things on a day-to-day basis. When delivering a sales pitch, you will need to read the reactions of those in the room and adjust your tactics accordingly. If an employee is struggling in a new role or with a tough project, you will need to be paying close enough attention to connect them with the proper support. When conducting performance reviews, you will need to practice radical honesty while also ensuring the employee feels safe enough to share their own feedback. Every single element of business can be aided by emotional intelligence – even the nitty-gritty spreadsheets filled with sales numbers (are they accessible and legible to all employees who may need them?).
Emotional intelligence also means we understand that our employees do not leave their lives behind when they begin work every day. Life happens. Even I once needed to braid my daughter’s hair during a meeting with our Executive Committee – and I want my employees to know that my company is able to hold space for everyone to show up with all of the complications and joys that life brings.
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Bringing EQ Into the Office
But how do we begin to cultivate a strong understanding of EQ in the workplace? Overcoming adversity and life experience naturally breeds EQ, but we can also work to encourage it through our daily actions as leaders and teammates.
Oprah (can you tell she’s a favorite of mine?) explains this well, saying, “Love is in the details.” And to this, I will add that emotional intelligence is in the details. Every action we take, no matter how big or small, should be infused with our understanding, care, and attention to those we work with. This could mean offering someone you’re meeting with a drink, providing ample food and breaks during a conference, or making sure the meeting agenda is clear and organized so that each person gets out on time. It is all too easy to go from meeting to meeting and task to task without ever stopping to question how our actions affect each person involved. True leadership begins when we utilize emotional intelligence to take in the full scope of each person’s experience and make sure they feel valued, understood, and encouraged in every step we take.
The Danger of Ignoring EQ
If you, like myself, have ever worked for a team that does not require and encourage EQ, you have likely felt the negative effects it can have on morale and job satisfaction. Without an undercurrent of EQ, we may feel relegated to the assembly line, diminished to a commodity that is only worth as much as we are able to complete on a to-do list.
However, when employees feel seen, heard, and championed, they are more likely to buy into and feel passion for the vision of their leader and company as a whole. A strong basis of EQ allows teams to unite around the same objective, march to the beat of the same drum, and work cohesively rather than individually. Furthermore, with a shared emotional understanding and foundation of mutual support, each individual is able to better understand their capabilities and ask for help when they need it, allowing the team to grow and thrive by playing off each other’s strengths and weaknesses.
People Come First
We cannot run a business alone; we need people. Everything in our business will come together or fall apart based on how we treat, value, and build relationships with those we work with. Of course, business acumen, education, and experience are important, but it is emotional intelligence that ties each of these elements together to create an even stronger whole. As leaders, we have the opportunity to be the North Star for our employees – to exemplify understanding, empathy, and transparency even amidst the inevitable mistakes and setbacks that occur. We may not literally be able to become Oprah Winfrey, but we can be the Oprah of our team – inspiring honesty, empathy, passion, and maybe, once in a while, a little jumping up and down on the couch.