Becoming an Emotionally Intelligent Leader

Sat, 28 November 2020 by Tony Johns

It has often been said that "leaders are readers."  This highlights the importance of learning and growth in the lives of leaders.  Intellectual Quotient (IQ) is also held in high regard by many, but Emotional Intelligence is an equally essential skill for leaders.  In this article, I'll define Emotional Intelligence, explain why it benefits both leaders and organizations, and provide some tips on how you can improve yours.


What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence, also referred to as Emotional Quotient (EQ), measures your abilities related your emotions and those of other people.  Though we experience a wide array of emotions, Travis Bradbury and Jean Greaves highlight five core feelings in Emotional Intelligence 2.0: "happiness, sadness, anger, fear, and shame" (14).

One popular framework for Emotional Intelligence was proposed by Mayer and Salovey, who describe four key abilities associated with it: Perceiving, Using, Understanding, and Managing emotions. Perception is associated with identifying emotions.  Using emotion comes after perception.  For example, when you’re angry, you might channel that emotion to help you with yardwork.  Mayer and Salovey define Understanding as “the ability to be sensitive to slight variations between emotions, such as the difference between happy and ecstatic” and recognize how emotions can change over time (e.g. “how shock can turn to grief”).  Managing emotions has to do with controlling your actions in light of your emotions and the emotions of other.

Every ability has a personal component relating to your emotions.  They also have a social component relating to emotions of other people.  Bradbury and Greaves state that personal EQ skills are foundational to social EQ skills.  Unlike IQ, which is generally believed to be static, EQ can be improved.


How does high EQ benefit a leader and the organization?

By developing EQ skills, you can positively influence others and your organization.  High EQ is found in studies to benefit individuals in various ways, including higher financial compensation and job performance.  Promoting higher EQ within an organization can also help increase employee engagement and satisfaction. 

Have you ever lost your temper and done something you regret?  Great leaders stay calm in difficult situations and don't let their emotions get the best of them.  Doing this requires you to perceive what your emotions are and manage them.  These are skills everyone would benefit by increasing.

Bradbury and Greaves say that EQ is the "single biggest predictor of performance in the workplace and the strongest driver of leadership and personal excellence" (21).


How can I improve my EQ?

EQ skills related to your emotions are foundational to skills related to the emotions of others.  Though there are many things you can do to develop your EQ, here are a few to get you started.


  1. Pause

Robin Stubblefield from The Amborn Group states that pausing is a great skill to practice during difficult or stressful situations.  When you pause, you give your brain time to process information.  While doing this, take slow deep breaths or perhaps count from one to five.  These tactics can help you manage your emotions while in the moment and avoid being controlled by them.


  1. Practice Self-Reflection

Another way to improve your EQ is to practice self-reflection.  This includes looking at prior situations where you reacted negatively and keeping a journal to document your emotions and reactions.  You can also ask questions like these from Justin Bariso:



These questions help you with perception and self-awareness.  Once you know how you respond in a certain situation, you can work on developing habits that replace your negative responses with positive ones.


  1. Seek Feedback

This is a strategy put forth by Bradbury and Greaves (92).  We all have blind spots, so it's important to hear from others.  Ask those close to you both personally and professionally to give you specific examples of times where emotions got the better of you.  Similar to the concept of 360 feedback in performance management, hearing from others helps you make sure what you are seeing aligns with what others are seeing. 

Habits take conscious effort over time to develop, but with the right level of practice you can start to change how you respond to stress and conflict, and improve your EQ.



We've learned that Emotional Intelligence is important for leaders and organizations.  We've shared a few of the many ways to improve your EQ.  There are many books on this subject that go into more detail.  If you would like help with coaching or other services related to developing EQ at your organization, feel free to connect with us at The Amborn Group.



EQ Resources

Travis Bradbury and Jean Greaves. Emotional Intelligence 2.0. TalentSmart, 2009.

Salovey P, Mayer J. Emotional IntelligenceImagination, Cognition, and Personality. 1990;9(3):185-211.

Robin Stubblefield: Affiliate Coach and Consultant with The Amborn Group and qualified EQ-1 2.0/EQ360 administrator

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