Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work Relationships

7 Phrases You Should Memorize if You Want to Be a Better Leader (and Who Doesn't?)

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Emotional intelligence may be labeled a “soft skill,” but to be a leader in today’s workplace, it’s just as vital as any technical wizardry or IQ.

Emotional intelligence, or EI, refers to the ability to know oneself as well as sense others’ emotional needs. Every leadership success ingredient—like fostering teamwork or resolving conflict—depends on being able to navigate others’ emotions and shift attitudes toward success.

The likes of Indra Nooyi, Warren Buffett, and Oprah Winfrey all rely on high-EI communication daily to harness these powerful tools. Here are seven phrases you can use to radically improve your leadership today.

1. “Go for It”

Indra Nooyi, PepsiCo’s CEO, says that instilling confidence in her team came from her upbringing in Madras, India. Every night, her mother would ask her to write a speech about what she would do if she were a world leader, and then have her give the speech right at the dinner table.

Emotionally intelligent people exhibit this same sense of confidence and optimism in being able to fix problems and rise to great heights, and make sure to instill it in others. I’m not saying you should be a hopeless optimist, but leaders never say “No” or “It can’t be done” to their team right off the bat, so don’t go there.

2. “We’re Doing This Because…”

“Passion is energy,” says Oprah Winfrey. “Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.”

People with high EI harness their passion to stay motivated and disciplined, especially when times get tough. Most importantly, they know that others are driven by more than a paycheck, and are able to connect the day-to-day drudgery of work to people’s burning passions.

When they’re asking their team to do something, or trying to boost the mood of a co-worker during a tough task, they rely on the “why,” and you should, too.

3. “Great Job”

If you walk around Ford’s corporate campus, you’ll see cubes featuring handwritten notes that CEO Alan Mulally has sent to employees praising their work. That’s because leaders with high EI take the time to recognize and appreciate others instead of constantly criticizing.

In fact, Harvard research has found that the amount of praise given to a team is directly proportional to its amount of success. Even low-performing teams saw radical improvement through nuggets of encouragement. So, despite your rushed schedule, don’t forget that a little praise goes a long way.

4. “I Made a Mistake”

People with developed emotional intelligence aren’t afraid to admit they’re wrong, especially when they’re at the top of the totem pole.

This is why a common interview tactic is to ask the interviewee about a time they failed. Those with high EI will be confident and upfront about talking about their mistakes, whereas others may falter or try to cover up their wrongs. Those with emotional brilliance will let their team know that it’s OK to make certain (read: not careless) mistakes, because they know nobody’s perfect, especially when they’re trying something new.

5. “Let’s Weigh Our Options”

Warren Buffett said, “Once you have ordinary intelligence, what you need is the temperament to control the urges that get other people into trouble.”

Outside of being great investing advice, Buffet’s nugget of wisdom applies perfectly to leadership, especially in our fast-paced world.

Emotionally intelligent people aren’t prone to make snap judgments or act impulsively without thinking first. Instead of rushing their teams to make rash decisions, high-EI leaders encourage others to take their time, explore, and be curious.

6. “Tell Me More”

Emotionally intelligent people put in the effort to understand other people’s emotions. The best way to do that is through active listening—a tool that many point to as the make-or-break factor for communication. Some studies have even found that active listening accounts for 40% of leadership success.

By actively listening, you not only understand the information, you’re letting the person speaking to you know that as well. It’s simple, yet powerful. So, say “Tell me more,” show that you’re listening, and provide feedback.

7. “Are You OK?”

Leaders with high emotional intelligence genuinely care about the people they work with, and because of this compassion, they achieve greater results.

According to a new study by KRW International, CEOs whose employees gave them high marks for compassion had an average return on assets of 9.35% over two years. That’s nearly five times as much as what those with low character ratings had—their ROA averaged only 1.93%.

Of course, there will be times where you have to be firm—even harsh—with teammates and others. But great leaders know that others in the office are human, too. You should always make an effort to be compassionate and caring first, regardless of your role.

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Photo of two co-workers talking courtesy of Portra/Getty Images.