Emotional Intelligence: Essential for Leaders

Ask ten people to list leadership qualities, and you’re likely to hear a bevy of answers. Motivating. Positive. Responsible. Trustworthy. At the core of these attributes is emotional intelligence, the ability to recognize, understand and respond to emotions.

“Emotional intelligence is really important in the workplace, especially for leaders,” says Florida Tech associate professor Dr. Lisa Steelman. “Emotional intelligence has to do with understanding and managing your own emotions as well as understanding and managing the emotions of others. That’s a critical piece of leadership.”

Effective leaders motivate their subordinates to move beyond their job duties, becoming more productive and more engaged employees. Emotional intelligence equips leaders to inspire individuals through real connection, and elevates leaders among peers who are otherwise equally skilled with specific expertise and hard skills. Emotional intelligence is a major factor in promotion – accounting for nearly 90% of contributing factors, according to the Harvard Business Review. Emotionally intelligent leaders can more effectively navigate potential issues, like terminating employees, and build successful partnerships that drive business through satisfied clients or engaged employees.

In the 1990s, Rutgers psychologist Daniel Goleman named five key elements of emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. Each facet of emotional intelligence promotes successful leadership.


A self-aware leader understands his own strengths and weaknesses, and is mindful of how his actions impact others. This awareness supports building better business partnerships to compliment the leaders’ skillset, and naturally builds rapport with team members.


Said another way, self-regulation is the ability to keep one’s cool. From a poorly-worded email to an offhand comment in a meeting, business life presents many opportunities to trigger an emotionally-charged response. In practice, self-regulation can mean the difference between a stressed leader snapping at her team or a self-aware leader processing her stress via a walk prior to leading a successful meeting.


Motivation is two-fold. Internally, a motivated leader takes responsibility for the quality of his work, and, because he is self-aware, can assess his motivation in doing a job. Externally, employees are in turn motivated by leaders they value and respect.


Empathic leaders foster strong relationships with employees and they exhibit fair responses to situations, coaching the people on their team with valuable feedback and challenging unfair behaviors that may be detrimental to morale. Most critically: empathic leaders listen, and hear, their team.

Social Skills

Leaders who exhibit social skills can navigate both bad and good news, and their own communication inspires employees. Socially adept leaders naturally provide feedback that is both honest and well-received, and resolve conflict, which inevitability arises in the work arena.

Leaders who master emotional intelligence can inspire stronger morale, build better internal and external relationships and, ultimately, drive their own career paths further than a colleague equipped only with a strong technical skillset. It’s just smart to be emotionally intelligent.

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