The importance of leading with empathy

22 March 2024

Everyone talks about IQ (intelligence quotient), but rarely EQ, or more succinctly, EI (Emotional Intelligence). For leaders in any industry, but especially the trades, emotional intelligence is having an increasing influence on the success of a company’s culture, its teams’ performance and even the stability of its overall workforce – both collectively and on the individual level.

First brought to life in 1990 by psychologists Peter Salovey and John Mayer, EI has since become widely recognized as an essential quality for effective leadership – consisting of four key components: self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness and relationship management.

Emotional intelligence is having an increasing influence on the success of a company.

More than three decades later, in the realm of the skilled trades, where technical expertise and hands-on proficiency reign supreme, EI can often be overlooked. But the ability to understand and manage emotions (both one’s own and those of others) can make a significant difference in the success or failure of an operation, and cumulatively, an entire business.

Additionally, as we become more aware of the evolving role that mental health is playing in the day-to-day lives of workers across numerous skilled-trades industries, emotional intelligence has emerged as a critical component of leadership because it helps leaders to communicate effectively, build strong relationships, manage conflicts and inspire teams to be their best.

Leaders who possess a high level of EI find themselves more easily navigating the complexities of the modern workplace and cultivating company-wide success, which is probably why it has become a sought-after quality in leadership development and training programs.

Conscious and committed

Whether on the ground, or in the cab, according to a recent study completed by the Construction Industry Rehabilitation Plan, 83 percent of construction industry workers have experienced some form of moderate to severe mental health issue. On the trucking side, a 2023 survey by DAT Freight & Analytics revealed that 46 percent of respondents indicated access to mental health services would be an effective way to help them manage stress – with 40 percent of male drivers (and 58 percent of female drivers) acknowledging they’d consider speaking with a counselor or therapist about their emotions.

What that tells us is, now more than ever, on every level within a business, we need to remain as conscious and committed as possible to our own emotional intelligence, and the role it plays in the health of our people and our larger organization. Obviously, an all-hands-on-deck approach is preferred – especially within a worker shortage where every strategy is being considered to both hire and retain the best people possible. But as is often the case, a company is only as good as its people, and its people are often a reflection of their leadership. If we don’t first have a high-functioning command of our own emotions, then we certainly won’t be able to deliver the required level of emotional intelligence throughout our organizations – from the top down.

And especially in the skilled trades, leaders that convey expectations clearly, listen actively to concerns and provide constructive feedback not only enhance the efficiency of projects, but also contribute to a positive workplace culture where open communication is valued.

Moreover, emotionally intelligent leaders also understand the dynamics of their teams, recognizing when individuals may be experiencing stress or dissatisfaction. This awareness allows them to address issues proactively, ensuring a harmonious work environment and maintaining high levels of productivity.

At the end of the day, the skilled trades are inherently dynamic, with projects often subject to unexpected challenges. Leaders with high emotional intelligence are more adaptable and resilient in the face of uncertainties – which ultimately allows them to navigate changes effectively, keeping their people focused on solutions rather than problems. A long-term win for everyone involved.


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