Expert Advice of the Month: On Leadership—the importance of emotional intelligence

This month we talk with Zaida Fazlic, director, people and culture at Taiga Building Products, the national building materials wholesaler. This continues our occasional series with her on the topic of leadership.

Good leaders build positive work environments that energize their team and bring out the best in them by providing them with the coaching, tools, training, and support they need to do their jobs well. Zaida Fazlic, who heads HR at Taiga Building Products, is a student of good leadership.

A lot of those leadership skills come from having a high level of emotional intelligence, or the self-awareness and self-regulation to manage one’s own hot buttons.

As a leader, it’s important to have passion, of course, but not overreacting in heated situations requires being able to tap into the mood of one’s team. She says good leaders are able to “read the room” when they are heading up a group, and they should be able to adjust their leadership style accordingly. They have integrity and care for others and help others succeed.

Lack of good leadership can lead to toxic and stressful work environments that drain team members of the good energy they need to be productive.

It all comes down to having empathy. Fazlic admits the notion of empathy carries a certain connotation that might project weakness. But it doesn’t have to. She refers to “tough empathy,” a technique that requires tapping into your workers’ feelings and frustrations, but not being an enabler of bad habits. Instead, using a tougher approach can actually empower your people.

“What can you do to help them to help themselves? Then hold them accountable.” She stresses the value of holding people accountable, but in respectful ways. “It’s important for their self-esteem.”

While some of those strengths can be innate (“some people just seem to have a talent, they have a knack”), leadership traits can also be developed and nurtured. But, she says, it takes commitment, and it takes honesty. “People have to be really honest with themselves, something that is difficult for many people to do.”