Emotional Intelligence to Unlock Your Success in Leadership

Emotional intelligence is the necessary complement to intellect and experience to magnify your leadership impact and hence your success.  You’re successful.  You deliver results.  And more emotional intelligence can take you even further.  Good news, it can be learned.

What is Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence or EI (sometimes called EQ to complement IQ) is defined by the English Oxford Living Dictionary as: “the capacity to be aware of, control, and express one’s emotions, and to handle interpersonal relationships judiciously and empathetically”.  In leadership terms, it is the skill of building productive and fulfilling relationships authentically.  The concept was popularized in the 1996 book Emotional intelligence by Daniel Goleman1.  Many organizations capture this concept in performance reviews as: a person’s degree of self-awareness; or HOW they do their job (versus WHAT they do); or their people skills or soft skills.

Emotional Intelligence Components

The four areas of EI are:

Why is Emotional Intelligence Important?

Sustained, positive business results are delivered through EI.  An organization’s top-line or sales is often predicated on the skill of its sales people to interact with customers, build relationship, identify needs, and find mutually beneficial solutions.  This is all about self and social awareness and management.  Same is true for an organization’s customer service department – sensing and acknowledging emotions, managing one’s own emotion to mutually beneficial conclusion.  Same for purchasing – good relationships involving EI, often called partnerships, mean better pricing, access to innovations, and improved responsiveness.   Also, employees tend to leave organizations because of their bosses, not because of the work2.

We have all seen an example of the detrimental effect of emotional unintelligence – a manager who berates a staff member in an open-plan office.  The effect on productivity and morale for the targeted employee and all those in earshot is quantifiable – I’ve literally done the math for a store owner of the cost and it’s substantial.  Substantial enough to motivate him to have a conversation with that manager to address his people skills.  This is the cost of poor people skills or EI.  The benefit of good or great EI is harder to quantify and equally powerful, increased productivity, better ideas, more engagement.  The employee brings their head, hands and heart of the work.

Emotional Intelligence for Leadership

Leadership is about relationships.  The higher you advance in an organization the more your role becomes about cultivating relationships – inspiring and motivating your team, influencing others, navigating different opinions, removing barriers, enrolling others.

Emotions are present at work, whether we want to admit it or not.  Leaders appreciate when the “positive” emotions of ambition, loyalty, passion and trust are present at work.  It seems it’s the “negative or scarier” emotions like anger, frustration, sadness that aren’t welcome.  The fact emotions are present and good leaders want to cultivate a culture of passion, trust and ambition among others, means leadership is about EI.

What you say and how you say it will have an impact on people and the result you get. Be it when delegating a task to an individual or presenting to 100’s of staff.  What you say and how you say it are influenced by who you are, your personality and preferences, and how you feel. If you behave in a skilful way when interacting with others you will create the impact you want and improve the likelihood of getting the result you want.

Examples for Emotional Intelligence

I want to give a recent example of EI from a client to illustrate.  This is only a taster given books are written on this stuff.  Refer to the various resources I’ve suggest below for in-depth examples.

In a large meeting you learn a project will be delayed.  EI is pausing, recognizing you are angry and frustrated, breathing, managing your facial expressions, body language and voice (volume, tone, pace, language).  You sense the project manager is likely nervous and disappointed in himself with the situation.  You moderate yourself to ask the reasons for it, so you can get data to know if it will be beneficial to express your frustration (knowing your expression will be saying something like “I’m frustrated we are in this position”) or not (which might have you say “I sense your disappointed too.”).

Leaders with Emotional Intelligence

That’s a question I’d ask you to ponder.  Who do you know or have seen that you consider an emotionally intelligent leader?  What makes you say that?  Often the best examples are not at the top of organizations.  Two high-profile ones I think are:

Barak Obama’s response to the protests following the killing of George Floyd is a good example. He understood the emotions of the nation and named them.  He managed his own emotions to not make it about him in this instance (as I’m sure he had feelings).  He intentionally chose his language and focus to influence people towards real, actionable sustained change.

Jacinda Ardern’s (Prime Minister of New Zealand) coronavirus press conferences showed she anticipated questions before people asked them, she talked about feelings, named emotions, related to children with her message from the tooth fairy to support parents at a difficult time.

How to Improve Emotional Intelligence

  1. Know yourself – what are you bias, preferences, habits in thinking, communication and behaving relative to others? What feedback (positive & developmental) have you gotten about your impact on others?  What is your comfort level and understanding of your emotions?  Download the first chapter free of my book which contains this exercise at length.
  2. Learn how to identify and label emotions in yourself and others. This is a form of literacy that is not taught formally in most schools, unlike language and numerical literacy.  More about emotions can be found in my blog, Busting the Myth about Emotions at Work.
  3. Determine which of the 4 components of EI are your strengths and development areas. You can do this through self-reflection, reflection with a trusted ally, there are on-line questionnaires and the book, Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry and Jean Greaves, gives you access to their on-line questionnaire when you buy it.
  4. Manage your stress levels so you can manage your thoughts and actions. Research shows some intermittent stress is beneficial to performance and self-control.  If you have too much stress your brain is not able to manage, meaning you are not intentional with your thoughts and behaviours.
  5. Focus on the needs, motivations and goals of the other people. It’s hard to inspire or motivate someone if you don’t know what motivates them or inspires them.  Hint, it might not be the same things that motivate or inspire you.  How do you find out?  You observe.  You ask.  You propose an idea or direction and ask for their input and feedback.
  6. Coach people when warranted rather than telling them what to do. You learn a lot about someone when you ask open-ended questions and observe their thought processes.  Coaching can also enrol them more in the solution or idea as they come up with the ideas themselves.
  7. Tell stories. Stories allow for communication of both content and emotion.
  8. Experiment. Replicate role-models. Knowing on its own isn’t enough to have great emotional intelligence. You must risk putting it into practice daily to be great at it.

If you want to take your leadership to the next level book a complimentary coaching session with me here.  If not now, when?  Take this bold action, be courageous to become more emotionally intelligent.  Your leadership, organization, results, relationships and fulfilment will benefit.

Books About Emotional Intelligence

TedTalks on Emotional Intelligence

The Power of Emotional Intelligence by Travis Bradberry (2017)

Brene Brown Tedtalks about vulnerability (2010) and shame (2012).  Vulnerability is a key aspect for great leadership.

Why we aren’t more compassionate by Daniel Goleman (2007)

https://positivepsychology.com/emotional-intelligence-ted-talks/ (2020)

Articles on Emotional Intelligence

Consortium for Research on Emotional Intelligence in Organizations (CREIO) http://www.eiconsortium.org/.



1 Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman (London: Bloomsbury Publishing 1996)

2 https://www.forbes.com/sites/victorlipman/2015/08/04/people-leave-managers-not-companies/#12eaf30847a9