This article is part of a 5-Part Series on Emotional Intelligence for Leaders. We have covered self-perception, self-expression, and interpersonal relationships. Presently, we’re exploring EQ in decision-making, and we will conclude the series by discussing stress management.
Pam was finally made the head of her department after years of struggle. She often felt unseen and ended up working a lot of overtime and doing favors for her supervisors. She feels that she has truly earned her promotion.
Now, she works closely with Chris, who was just hired last year. Pam spent a lot of time training Chris and appreciates his work. However, at a recent catered event for all employees, she noticed Chris sitting and chatting. This bothered her. As a junior employee, she’d always volunteered to help bus tables at these events. It didn’t seem fair that Chris wasn’t doing that.
Pam asked Chris to help the event staff, and he declined, saying that bussing tables wasn’t part of his job.
The next morning, Pam called Chris into her office and told him he would be receiving disciplinary action, and a note on his employee record.
But when Pam’s boss learned about the incident, he wasn’t impressed, leaving her feeling conflicted. She’d always done extra work outside her job description. Why shouldn’t Chris be held to the same standard?
This story illustrates the importance of emotional intelligence in decision-making.
The truth is, you don’t become an influential and respected leader simply by making decisions. Ideally, you inspire others to take action. And when it’s time to decide something, a strong leader relies on objective facts and strategic insights rather than emotional confusion.
That’s why emotional intelligence is crucial to good leadership. A high emotional intelligence quotient (EQ) supports clear-headed, meaningful decisions.
Why are Decision Making Skills Important for Leaders?
Decision-making and leadership go hand-in-hand. Indeed, most people associate leadership with making decisions — sometimes to the point of excluding other attributes. But while leadership entails much more than making decisions, this skill remains critical. The question is, how effective are those decisions?
It depends heavily on an aspiring leader’s level of emotional intelligence. In Pam’s case, she believed that she was judging Chris’s performance according to company standards. She wasn’t aware that her resentment over her years of struggle had clouded her judgment. What she perceived as disrespect from Chris was actually anger at herself.
Leaders must do more than make decisions. They must weigh multiple sources of information and choose the best course of action for all parties. And they must be able to set aside personal issues and raw emotions that could obscure their perception of the situation.
How Emotional Intelligence Drives Better Decisions
Emotional intelligence (EQ) describes one’s capacity to understand their own emotions and perceive others’ emotional states. Without it, we are more likely to perceive complex emotions (e.g. grief, disappointment, resentment) as simple anger. Or worse, we confuse feelings with objective facts.
Effective decision-making benefits from high EQ because it helps us separate emotions from information. Thus, we can make clearer, smarter decisions.
By contrast, hasty decisions tend to be shaped by bias, frustration, and a lack of perception. Emotional intelligence supports three main qualities crucial to making good decisions: problem-solving, reality testing, and impulse control.
Why is Problem Solving Important for Decision Making?
Leaders’ decisions typically attempt to solve a problem. This could be a situation that needs to be corrected (e.g. an underperforming employee) or a goal that’s not yet fulfilled (e.g. teams who need help taking a project across the finish line). Either way, influential leaders give power to others. They motivate them to pool their resources or leverage their talent to solve the problem.
Thus, it’s vital to understand how emotions impact decisions — for both the leader and their team. Is the employee underperforming because they simply don’t care?
For example, if Pam had discussed with Chris why she wanted him to help out at the event, she would have learned that he, too, had often felt unseen in his previous role. So, he’d worked long hours, hurting his health. And thus he promised himself to set firmer boundaries in his next job.
Emotional intelligence could have helped Pam find a solution, which may have included setting expectations and clearer communication. A high EQ helps leaders persuade their teams to excel rather than trying to force the outcome.
As a result, it’s much easier to solve problems constructively — a key skill for influential and respected leaders.
What is Reality Testing and Its Role In Decision Making?
People are naturally inclined to assume their version of reality is the correct one. Philosophers call this phenomenology, meaning that our consciousness is structured by our first-person perspective. As we discussed in part 3 of this series, perspective-taking is a key ingredient of empathy, an important leadership skill.
Perspective-taking does more than help us understand others’ emotions, though. It also helps us remain objective. Good leaders can separate their version of reality from others’ experiences.
As a result, they recognize when their emotions or bias is clouding their judgment or perception — and when it’s happening to someone else. Thus, they can balance all perspectives and make clearer decisions.
How is Impulse Control Related to Decision Making?
Strong emotions, whether positive or negative, get us “fired up” and ready to make rash decisions. This impulse is a holdover from our primitive ancestors’ “fight or flight” wiring. But it can be overcome with high emotional intelligence.
When leaders understand their emotions and what’s driving their impulses, they’re better able to control them.
In Pam’s situation, her resentment rose up as anger. Thus, she interpreted these negative feelings as a sign that Chris was a poor fit. Like many leaders, she strongly associated her sense of self with her role. In her mind, how she’d performed that role was the “correct way.”
When Chris inadvertently challenged that, Pam immediately felt an impulse to discipline him. However, there were several other possible ways to address the situation.
To evolve from an impulsive boss into a respected and influential leader, one must learn to perceive and control emotions accurately. Pam’s passion serves her best as fuel to inspire others, while Chris’s firm boundaries could have helped him shape effective partnerships.
How To Develop Decision-Making Skills
We are all faced with dozens — if not hundreds — of daily decisions. Unfortunately, that’s not a guarantee that we can make good ones. The key to developing your decision-making skills for leadership is to rethink your approach to decisions.
Reduce the Number of Decisions You Make
Most skills get better with practice, but decision-making is a little different. It may seem counterintuitive, but it’s usually better to focus on a few critical decisions rather than deciding all day. That way, you can better devote your energy to making each decision with the objectivity and clarity it deserves.
Be willing to delegate tasks and decisions (especially minor ones), and give your team agency over their work. This not only frees up your mental space but also encourages them to share insights with you. This flow of information makes it easier to take their perspectives.
Take Some Time and Space
Whenever a decision is not urgent, set it aside for the following day. For major decisions, wait even longer. Even if you feel clear about a decision, you may feel differently in another couple of days.
Doing this will help you practice reality-testing and impulse control for when decisions must be made instantly.
Develop Your Emotional Intelligence
In addition to building empathy and impulse control, you can improve your decision-making skills by investing in your emotional intelligence. This involves everything from self-exploration and active listening to cultivating strong relationships. As the saying goes, a rising tide floats all boats, and that’s definitely true for emotional intelligence.
Decision-making is crucial to leadership, and good leadership depends on high emotional intelligence. Therefore, boosting your EQ can help you become a better decision-maker and vice versa.
It’s all too easy to rely on our emotions or biased perspective to make decisions. That’s what most people do. But to stand out as a strong and influential leader, you must learn to distinguish emotions from facts and impulses from the best course of action. Emotional intelligence is crucial to all of this.
An EQ-i Assessment can help you understand the emotions that may be impacting your decisions (as well as the perceptions that shape them). Book a call with me and let’s set up an EQ-i Assessment to get you on the path to better decision-making, and better leadership.