Emily Marsh July 20 2018

What Gareth Southgate can teach us about emotional intelligence

Gareth Southgate has been credited for his emotional intelligence in leading our England football team through this years' World Cup. Find out why emotional intelligence is critical for leadership success.

Gareth Southgate has captured the hearts of the entire nation. 22 years after that fateful penalty which saw England flunk out in the semi-final of Euro ‘96, the poise and grace he’s shown over the last few weeks during the World Cup have catapulted him to hero status.

Having witnessed first-hand the immense pressure that comes with playing football at an international level, Southgate was prepared for everything the World Cup could throw at him. And though it was the semi-finals that caught us out again (thankfully not to penalties), Southgate took the team further than anyone may have expected at the start of the tournament.

But his ability to successfully lead a team of talented young players isn’t just down to having once been in their shoes. As quoted in an article from The Guardian last week, “Southgate is blessed with the rare gift - in football, especially - of emotional intelligence.”

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify and manage both your own emotions and those of others. And Southgate has this in abundance.

Emotional intelligence is crucial for success as a leader. Leaders with emotional intelligence foster safe environments where teams feel comfortable to take risks and voice opinions. They are good listeners and can pick up on the mood and feelings of those around them. They show empathy. They inspire change. And they are able to forge ahead without worrying about their egos.

According to Sports psychologist Michael Caulfield, Southgate’s leadership style is “built on incredible levels of trust between him and his players and staff”. As well as trusting his players, he’s fair, balanced, and encourages them to take responsibility for their own actions. He genuinely seems to care for them as people. And he leads by example, with his stoic approach to the media having set a precedent for the players. Not only has he inspired the team - he’s inspired the nation.

What can we tell about Southgate's personality?

Calm, measured, balanced. These are just three personality traits that Southgate has displayed over the last month. But what might Southgate's Facet5 profile look like?

Will - Southgate speaks in a calm and measured way and is patient with media questions. This suggests he may have a lower Will score. People with lower scores are more flexible, accommodating and willing to listen to others. And these traits are synonymous with high emotional intelligence.

Energy - Southgate's quiet demeanour suggests he would score low on Energy. He stays quiet and focused before a match, keeps his private life private, and values having time to think.

Affection - We think Southgate would score high on Affection, as there's no doubting his ability to display empathy. He even encouraged Fabian Delph to return home for the birth of his child. And if that's not enough, the image of him consoling Colombia’s Mateus Uribe speaks for itself. High affection is also often associated with emotional intelligence. 

Control - Southgate has been commended in the media for his planned and considered approach to leadership. This suggests he's likely to score high on Control. After all, how successful would the boys have been this summer had Southgate not had a solid plan for leading them? Then there's his waistcoat, which has become something of an icon. Even his dress style suggests a sense of formality and control.

Emotionality - The fact that Southgate stepped up to take a penalty in Euro '96 suggests confidence and optimism, putting him at the lower end of the Emotionality scale. However, the fact that he couldn't listen to 'Three Lions' for 20 years suggests missing the penalty was (naturally) a tough thing for him to handle. He does appear to be comfortable with who he is though, so perhaps he has a midrange score. Some events will trigger apprehension and anxiety, but this tends to be event specific.  

Does understanding personality help us predict emotional intelligence?

The truth is, we can’t simply measure emotional intelligence from an individual’s personality traits. Instead, psychologists tend to claim that emotional intelligence is a measure of how well a person is able to manage their personality traits when handling the emotions of themselves and others. What this means is that it’s important for leaders to be aware of their own personality traits and to know when to adapt them for the good of the team.

Unlike personality which stays relatively stable over a person’s lifetime, it is possible to develop high emotional intelligence even if you aren’t hard-wired that way. So it’s not too late to develop the future ‘Gareth Southgate’s’ within your team. It starts with helping people to build both self-awareness and awareness of others.

Southgate may not have been able to lead the England football team to the World Cup final. But he has reminded us of just how important emotional intelligence is to leadership.

Beyond the Personality Test

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