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The Importance of Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

Managers are not always great leaders. Emotional intelligence can be the defining difference between a manager that is mistrusted or respected, and a leader that discourages or inspires employees to do and be better. There are critical emotional intelligence skills that will help you to be the best manager or leader you can be.

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Emotional intelligence at work: a smiling black woman stands behind two employees seated at a computer with a spreadsheet.What Is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence, sometimes referred to as EQ (Emotional Quotient), describes the ability to perceive, control, and evaluate emotions. 

Some research into intelligence suggests that EQ is more important than IQ as a predictor of success at work and throughout life in general – and while emotional intelligence is an inherent trait, it can be strengthened through various techniques.

In Daniel Goleman’s book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, Goleman demonstrates that 67% of the abilities needed for a great leadership performance comes directly from the traits found in people with high emotional intelligence.

According to Salovey & Mayer in their book Emotional Intelligence. Imagination, Cognition, and Personality, there are four levels of EQ:

  • Perceiving Emotions
  • Reasoning with Emotions
  • Understanding Emotions
  • Managing Emotions

Why Is Emotional Intelligence Important in Leadership?

A manager or leader who listens is supportive and encouraging, and gives constructive and balanced feedback is always preferable over a leader who ‘flies off the handle’, shouts, and is unbalanced in their emotional response.

Ineffective or autocratic leaders can have a huge negative impact on the whole organization, setting a poor example, causing low morale, and creating a toxic work environment.

According to a DDI poll, 57% of employees leave their job because of their manager, so improving the way you lead people can only benefit your company culture, teams, and your bottom line.

An older grey-haired Creative Director leads a discussion at a conference table with employees about a strategic project.What Does Emotional Intelligence in Leadership Look Like?

In the workplace, an emotionally intelligent leader:

  • Strives for continuous improvement
  • Is aware of their strengths and weaknesses
  • Is able to learn from their mistakes
  • Will delegate where necessary

A leader with high EQ motivates and challenges themselves, staying positive and looking forward.

A leader cannot lead unless they have followers, and a leader with a high EQ understands what really matters to the people around them, and therefore, they are often masters at empathizing.

Working with flexibility and respect, a good leader can deliver even the hardest news and feedback with sensitivity. They are also ready to change their mind when needed or a legitimate case is presented.

For the organization, a leader with high emotional intelligence looks for the bigger picture to hold the business accountable to goals – and is not looking for personal gain.

Emotionally intelligent leaders build great relationships with stakeholders, and even the competition, and are often seen as visionary.

Deep Dive: "How to Skyrocket Results with Authentic Leadership."

5 Pillars of Emotional Intelligence

According to Daniel Goleman, there are five pillars that make up what we recognize as emotional intelligence, and each one of these skills is essential for a good leader:

1. Self-Awareness

A leader with self-awareness can identify their emotions and is aware of how they are affected by their feelings. They also understand how their emotions and emotional responses can affect others – either negatively or positively.

They are cognizant of their strengths and weaknesses and can ‘own up’ to their mistakes, failures, and others’ criticisms.

2. Self-Management

A leader who has high emotional intelligence can regulate their emotions, express themselves appropriately and use self-control in the way they respond to outside influences, which means they are less likely to engage in an angry attack in the heat of the moment.

This good discipline in managing emotional responses builds healthier work relationships, increases respect and sets a good example for colleagues and team members.

3. Empathy

Highly emotionally intelligent leaders take the time to get to know their direct reports and can empathize with them.

Their empathy helps employees feel listened to and heard. And whether a manager or a C-Suite leader, they work towards helping employees feel encouraged by seeking to understand others’ perspectives and experiences.

Empathizing and giving understanding to challenges that employees might have in the workplace (or their personal life) cultivates trust and a healthy workplace culture.

4. Social Skills

Social skills (or soft skills) are not just about communication, but how we communicate and collaborate. When a leader uses the soft skills of active listening, asking questions in conversation, paying attention to nonverbal cues, being responsive to their employees while empathizing as needed, meaningful work relationships blossom.

Meaningful relationships with employees in the workplace are created and maintained by effective social skills of emotionally intelligent leaders. This strong sense of connection makes it easier for managers to influence and motivate their team to higher performance, communicate both good and bad news effectively, and manage conflict quickly.

5. Motivation

Leaders with solid EQ are motivated to work towards goals despite adversity, which is inspiring.

Clear, actionable goals for leaders and managers, for the team and the business as a whole, can give needed direction and structure. An emotionally intelligent leader will hold themselves to a higher standard and their intrinsically motivated mindset will help raise staff morale and help the teamwork better together.

How to Become an Emotionally Intelligent Leader

Although some researchers suggest that emotional intelligence is inherent and part of a person’s personality, it can be improved through conscious thought and practice.

It is a worthwhile set of skills to learn.

A good leader should ensure that their EQ is at a level where their team is confident in their leadership. The above five pillars previously mentioned help guide leaders.

Leaders need to be able to: 

  • Set and achieve goals
  • See the big picture
  • Motivate their teams
  • Recognize, understand and moderate their emotions
  • Read and respond to the emotions of those around them

Here are several key ways to become the best emotionally intelligent leader you can be:

Practice Mindfulness

Linked to self-awareness, being mindful allows you to notice your thoughts and feelings and understand what can trigger a negative emotional response. 

You can also use mindfulness techniques to recognize when you might need to change the way you are responding to a situation so that you can consider your actions before letting emotions drive unproductive behavior.

Related reading: "Why Is Mindfulness Important? And 3 Simple Practices."

Be Accountable; Require Accountability

Most people don’t enjoy receiving criticism, and even the most mindful leaders can still react negatively to poor feedback or conflict.

However, great leaders hold themselves accountable to be their best, and therefore, feedback is imperative. 

As part of your self-awareness, you need to be able to recognize and understand your shortcomings, and work on those weaker areas – or be prepared to delegate them to someone with the relevant expertise.

Holding yourself accountable, weighing all sides of an issue or problem, remaining open and responsive to others’ feedback, and communicating well are all part of an emotionally intelligent response to negative feedback or constructive criticism.

Know Your Values and Motivations

Motivations are important – and while personal motivation might help you work towards your goals, knowing your values and what you stand for will help you be more self-aware and stay on track with goals with their guiding compass.

Acting from values also helps your followers to know that there is a strong, values-based motivation behind what is being asked.

Keep a Journal

Writing your thoughts and feelings down in a journal can be a helpful part of a mindfulness technique and might help you to manage your emotions better.

This practice can help you gain self-awareness and give structure to self-management so that you can assess and work on your reactions to triggering events.

Find Calming Techniques 

Whether you prefer yoga or you take a deep breath before responding to something, personal calming techniques will ensure that you are consistently remaining mindful of the way your emotions affect you and the people around you.

Sometimes, just taking a breath before responding to a problem or issue can make a real difference.

When a challenging situation occurs, taking a moment to be aware of your feelings can change a reaction into a conscious response.

Related reading: "How to Stay Calm Under Pressure."

Seek to Understand Others' Perspectives

Empathy is an ability made possible through the brain’s mirror neuron that allows us to sense the energies and emotions of others around us.

The empathy that we can show by sharing in a person's joy, happiness, fear, or sorrow is a powerful tool for a leader – and by getting to know employees and colleagues, an empathic leader can really understand their perspectives.

Improve Your Communication

Communication is a vital soft skill for any work-based situation, for employees and leaders alike.

In an emotionally intelligent leader, communication is as much about what is not being said as it is about the words spoken. Be deliberate in your words.

Active listening, paying attention to body language, and empathy are all tools that effective leaders use to provide support, understanding, and motivation for staff.

Build Conflict Resolution Skills

Conflict resolution is important, and a good manager can ‘feel’ the energy of their co-workers and know what needs to be done to resolve conflicts and build understanding between employees.

Conflict resolution is about seeking understanding and avoiding defensiveness when approached about mistakes or oversights.

Managing stress levels helps to be more effective so try doing a mindfulness exercise before handling conflict with employees.

Being too proud to accept criticism can undermine respect and make it difficult for others to trust you and your judgment as a leader.

When you are comfortable with conflict and have conflict resolution skills, you accept feedback, both good and bad, while calming and regulating negative emotions so you can remain open and receptive. You ask questions for clarification and consider the feedback seriously and objectively. Then, whatever feels helpful and true, you take actions to improve.

Learn How to Give Positive and Negative Feedback Effectively

Receiving feedback is one facet of management but giving it is often required more often and can be a challenge.

Giving feedback along with providing the right level of support takes practice. Positive feedback needs to be sincere and ‘negative’ feedback given with the intention of being helpful and empowering the employee.

Give praise where it is due, with sincerity, and be sensitive and constructive when you must deliver bad news or provide honest feedback for improvement.

Conduct One-on-One Meetings with Employees

One-on-one meetings with employees are a great opportunity for emotionally intelligent leaders to get to know their staff on a personal level.

They can discuss career goals and aims for the future, their likes and dislikes, problems, issues, and motivations.

These one-on-one meetings can happen in a formal environment, at a lunch break, or even after work in a restaurant or over coffee. 

Mentorship: an Opportunity to Inspire

Being a leader is about inspiring teams, and that can be achieved by sharing knowledge and experience through mentoring.

Mentorship can help your staff to achieve their goals – and learn more about what they need to help them feel happier at work.


If you are looking to become a successful leader that can inspire employees, then improving your emotional intelligence can only help.

Employees want to work with leaders and managers that can lead with empathy rather than fear, are approachable and easy to talk to, and listen and care. And always be trustworthy.

For emotional intelligence training or leadership support and executive coaching, contact support@heartmanity.com. Check out our services at Heartmanity for Business.

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Guest Blogger: Nikki DaleGuest Blogger: Nikki Dale
Nikki Dale is a full-time writer who enjoys learning everything she can about new subjects. During her education, she was always the strange student who enjoyed writing essays and arguing black was white; and with a degree in criminology and extensive experience in a wide range of roles, from the police to healthcare, sales to education, she is always ready for the next challenge. As a mother of two, she loves being able to offer her children her time when she is not in front of the laptop learning and writing.

Posted in Business and Leadership

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