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What does emotionally intelligent leadership look like?

Last updated

2 March 2024


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Warren Jonas ACC

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Understanding and managing emotions is important for everyone, regardless of age, gender, and role in the workforce. However, it is particularly vital for leaders and those who function as examples to others.

Emotional intelligence (EI) in leadership can be a strong predictor of performance. It enables managers and thought leaders to tap into powerful interpersonal dynamics and create a better overall employee experience. Leaders with high emotional intelligence can stay calm under pressure, inspire those around them, and respond to tough situations with grace and dignity.

Emotional intelligence is more than just being aware of your feelings. Multiple factors are involved in high emotional intelligence, including self-awareness and relationship management. It can take time and effort, but those willing to commit to building high emotional intelligence in leadership can reap many benefits.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is a person's capacity to be aware of, control, and express emotions. The term, originally defined by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer in the 1990s, and further developed and introduced to the public by Daniel Goleman, can also refer to the ability to manage the emotions of others around you.

Emotionally intelligent people are aware of their thoughts and feelings and are capable of expressing them in productive ways. Emotional intelligence, commonly known as emotional quotient (EQ), can reduce how intensely a particular emotion is felt or expressed. This can be valuable in tense situations since the emotionally intelligent person will be able to regulate their emotions and calmly respond in any given scenario.

What is emotional intelligence in leadership?

While technical skills and the ability to adapt to corporate situations can be helpful for anyone wishing to climb the ladder of success, EQ can be the factor that boosts your chances of success. Effective leaders need the ability to work with people on a micro level, managing stress and delivering feedback with precision.

EQ can make you a better collaborator and improve your productivity. It can enhance your communication skills and give you the ability to connect with employees and display more empathy.

Notably, some research suggests empathy is the single most important leadership skill a manager can display. From better performance at work to keeping your direct reports more engaged, there are a host of reasons why leaders should develop their EQ.

The four components of emotional intelligence

EQ might be a single term but it is made up of four unique components. Mastering all four will allow you to become an effective leader.


Before you can truly know others and their motivations, it's important to know yourself. Self-awareness is one component of emotional intelligence. It is the ability to not only understand your emotions but also your unique strengths and weaknesses.

By having a solid understanding of where you excel (and where you could improve), you'll enter into business relationships knowing exactly what you can bring to the table.

There are online tools that can help you determine your personality type. Knowing this can enhance your understanding of your strengths and unique abilities.


The urge to respond instantly to situations, in anger, excitement, or frustration, can be strong. But when you develop effective self-management skills, you can control your emotions, both positive and negative, and respond in mature, effective ways to any situation.

Self-management also helps you to be more flexible, a quality that can be particularly valuable in business negotiation.

Social awareness

Any good leader needs social awareness, which is the ability to understand and relate to others. It isn't always necessary to agree with someone to show them empathy. People always remember how you made them feel, even if they don't retain the specific details of the interaction.

When you go into any situation with flexibility and the power to see things from every perspective, you'll be able to navigate your business network with ease.

Relationship management

Work relationships are of utmost importance, no matter where you stand on the corporate ladder. You can inspire others through effective relationship management, neutralizing conflict and drawing people into your circle.

Through the power of relationship management, you'll strengthen your ability to lead with emotional intelligence and establish yourself as a pillar of empathy and rationality.

How to increase your emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness

It's easy to understand the importance of EQ, but it can be much harder to develop those skills. Adopting these actions, at work and in your personal life, will make you a strong leader. Consider these methods for developing emotional intelligence in leadership and put them into practice as often as possible.

Work with a coach

Self-development is crucial when considering ways to increase your leadership effectiveness. One way to blossom as a leader is to work with a coach.

Coaching offers valuable opportunities for self-discovery, allowing you to work with a trained and experienced professional and gain deeper insights into your personal and professional self.

Take time to connect with employees

Every one of your employees is a unique person with dreams, motivations, and stressors. To lead with emotional intelligence, always treat your employees and those in your circle with empathy and compassion. Recognize your employees' contributions in meaningful ways and show you appreciate their efforts. Small acknowledgments can go a long way toward building employee satisfaction and your emotional intelligence.

You can also show empathy by involving employees in decision-making. Get input from your team on big decisions, especially when those decisions affect them. For example, if your organization wants to start hosting more team-building activities, consider polling your direct reports about which activities they would prefer. Include options as well as open-ended questions.

Watch carefully for signs of burnout in your team. Don't overload any employees and take it seriously if someone comes to you with complaints or concerns about their workload.

Listen carefully and without judgment

Active listening skills can help develop your EQ. This includes seeing things from other perspectives and keeping an open mind. To create a safe space at work, never display judgment in your interactions with others.

When people come to you with concerns or questions, it can take a lot of bravery on their side. Show them their confidence in you is well placed by looking at things from their point of view and always showing kindness.

Discover people's motivations

It's a given that people come to work to earn a salary and receive benefits. Still, other things contribute to satisfied, happy employees. Emotional intelligence in leadership includes understanding the unique factors that motivate your employees. Don't be afraid to ask your employees directly what their motivations are.

If you don't feel comfortable doing this in person, consider a survey or some sort of group study session. Employees are usually happy to share what they love about coming to work and what they would choose to improve.

Always be open to understanding more about others and yourself

Emotionally intelligent people are curious about themselves and others. Leading with EQ involves not only understanding people's motivations and backgrounds but also how they see the world.

It can be a challenge to get to know others around you, especially below the surface. This is especially true for those who work remotely and rarely see people in person.

Still, it's important to carve out opportunities to learn more about the people you work with as well as yourself. Take time for self-development, studying your responses to past situations and how you could have improved them. Develop an awareness of how others see you and navigate your employee interactions thoughtfully.

In summary

EQ is a powerful thing. Few people are born with high emotional intelligence and even fewer are willing to take the steps necessary to develop it on their own.

By working to understand yourself better and to hone your reactions to those around you, you'll be poised to make a positive impact on your employees and business associates.


What are the four types of emotional intelligence?

There are four components to emotional intelligence: social awareness, relationship management, self-awareness, and self-management. All four are necessary to be a leader with high emotional intelligence. It can take years to effectively develop all these components equally, so give yourself time to work on them and be patient with your efforts.

Why should leaders work on developing their emotional intelligence?

When you lead with emotional intelligence, you'll bring out the best in the people around you. Employees will see you as a compassionate, effective, and thoughtful leader with the ability to see things from other perspectives. If you have high EQ, it can improve the productivity of your organization and . This will elevate everyone in your vicinity, enhancing your status in the organization and granting you more exciting opportunities.

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