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Emotional intelligence in leadership: what it is & why it's Important

by Thuy Sindell, PhD. and Milo Sindell, MS.

Emotional intelligence in leadership: what is emotional intelligence & why it’s important in the workplace

Leaders must have emotional intelligence to lead effectively and guide their teams and organizations.

This essential skillset drives leadership & gives leaders the ability, influence & power to move teams forward in a positive direction.

Let’s dive into the importance of emotional intelligence in the workplace and in leadership.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EI), sometimes referred to as EQ (Emotional Quotient), refers to the ability to feel, understand, manage & healthily express one’s emotions, as well as be empathetic to the emotions of others, allowing them to handle interpersonal relationships and problems swiftly & empathetically.

Emotional intelligence in the workplace

From improved team dynamics and collaboration to increased motivation and productivity - higher emotional intelligence in the workplace has many benefits - so much so that employers are increasingly emphasizing the importance of emotional intelligence when hiring candidates.

Why is emotional intelligence important in the workplace?

Emotional intelligence is important in the workplace because organizations are built upon individual relationships, and emotionally intelligent individuals in the workplace help each other be more effective in their professional relationships and can help each other lead more fulfilling work and personal lives.

How is emotional intelligence used in the workplace?

Emotional intelligence in the workplace can have a huge impact on an individual’s satisfaction with their job and work environment. Here are a few ways emotional intelligence, when used correctly, can positively impact the workplace:

Improved communication

People with high emotional intelligence are better at reading social cues, recognizing and managing their own emotions, and expressing themselves clearly and effectively, leading to improved relationships with coworkers, superiors, and customers, as well as more effective collaboration and problem-solving.

Better leadership

Leaders with high emotional intelligence are often better at inspiring and motivating others, managing conflict, and creating a positive work environment. They are also better equipped to manage their own stress and emotions, which can help them make better decisions and lead by example.

Increased job satisfaction

People high in emotional intelligence tend to have better coping skills and are better able to manage their emotions in the face of stress and challenges. This can lead to increased job satisfaction, as well as reduced absenteeism and turnover.

Enhanced problem-solving skills

People with high emotional intelligence are better at recognizing and understanding emotions in others, which can be useful in resolving conflicts and finding creative solutions to problems.

Overall, emotional intelligence can play a key role in the workplace by helping individuals build strong relationships, manage their emotions, and make better decisions. This, in turn, can lead to improved job performance, greater job satisfaction, and a more positive work environment for everyone.

Interpersonal relationships

Emotional intelligence plays an important role in interpersonal relationships as it provides us with the opportunity to better understand our own emotions and the emotions of others. Through healthy communication, we can develop our ability to identify, understand, and express emotion appropriately, helping to build healthy relationships and improve social skills.

Understanding others

By understanding the thoughts and feelings of those around us, we can better interpret and respond to their emotions. This allows us to build stronger, more meaningful relationships and develop empathy, as we can see how our actions affect those around us.

Stress management

Stress management is important. By understanding what creates stress within yourself, you can adopt strategies to better manage it. This includes identifying problem-solving techniques, building our resilience, and finding supportive relationships.

The 8 key principles of emotional intelligence

1) Self-awareness

The ability to recognize and understand one’s own emotions and how they impact thoughts and actions. This awareness allows individuals to better manage their emotions and remain calm while also responding assertively.

2) Self-regulation

Self-regulation is a key component of emotional intelligence and involves the ability to manage one’s emotions and behaviors, particularly in challenging or stressful situations, without completely suppressing them.

This skill is essential for successfully handling difficult situations in both personal relationships and professional endeavors.

To develop effective self-regulation skills, individuals must first understand their emotions and be mindful of how they express them.

Having this understanding forms the foundation for other components of an emotional intelligence quotient such as motivation, empathy, and social skills.

3) Motivation

Motivation is another key component of emotionally intelligent leaders and involves having the drive to achieve a goal.

It requires individuals to be able to recognize and prioritize their goals in any given situation and to actively achieve goals and improve one’s life and relationships.

4) Empathy

Leaders with strong social awareness practice empathy - the ability to understand and share the emotions of others.

It involves actively listening to another individual’s story, feeling compassion for them, and responding in a way that shows genuine care.

Developing empathy helps us become better communicators and problem solvers, which can ultimately lead to stronger relationships both personally and professionally.

5) Social skills

Developing social skills allows individuals to interact with others in a meaningful, productive manner.

These abilities include everything from better communication and active listening to resolving conflicts and expressing emotions appropriately.

With the right social skills, individuals can foster strong relationships that help bring about better results in their personal and professional lives.

6) Emotional expression

Emotional expression is how you communicate your emotions or attitude to those around you. It can be verbal or nonverbal, and occur with or without intention.

How accurately you communicate your emotions, in addition to when, where, how much you communicate and with whom have a significant impact on your degree of emotional intelligence.

It’s important for leaders to be in control of their emotional expression and communicate their emotions to the right people at the right time, in the right amount.

7) Emotional perception

Emotional perception is the ability to accurately perceive and interpret the emotions of others based on non-verbal biological and physical processes like facial expressions, body language, posture, voice, etc.

Recognizing non-verbal communication allows one to adapt and properly respond, and is essential for understanding others feelings and intentions outside over verbal communication. 

8) Emotional management

Emotional management helps you regulate your own and others’ emotional responses to situations in order to achieve desired outcomes

By understanding and managing emotions, one can make better decisions, control behavior, and successfully navigating challenging relationships and stressful times.

Furthermore, understanding and managing emotions helps develop awareness of triggers and insights of how to respond to triggers and stressful times in constructive ways, and better yet - come up with strategies to avoid triggers and stressful times entirely.

These 8 principles form the foundation for understanding and developing personal and professional growth. As cited at Harvard Business Review “one of the most persistent things I see people get wrong about the concept is that it equates to being “nice.” But it doesn’t, and misunderstanding this can get people into trouble.” shares Daniel Goleman, author of Emotional Intelligence. These technical skills play an important role in shaping the way we understand and interact with the world around us.

What are the models of emotional intelligence?

The prevailing four models of emotional intelligence are:

The Ability Model

The Ability Model of Emotional Intelligence introduced by Peter Salovey and John Mayer in 1990, defines emotional intelligence as a set of abilities, such as the ability to perceive emotions, use emotions to facilitate thought, understand emotions, and manage emotions.

This model puts an emphasis on:

  • Relationship management
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-management
  • Social awareness

Each of these aspects are essential for forming meaningful connections between team members and building a foundation of communication, understanding, trust & respect.

The Mixed Model

The Mixed Model of Emotional Intelligence, introduced by Daniel Goleman in 1995, combines elements of both the ability model and the trait model, presenting a fresh perspective on the concept by bringing together different theories & research and suggests that emotional intelligence involves a combination of abilities, personality traits, and habits of mind.

This approach looks at:

  • The role of emotions in day-to-day life
  • How they impact our relationships and ability to interact with others.

This model proposes that emotional intelligence involves three key dimensions:

  • Intrapersonal skills
  • Interpersonal skills
  • Adaptive skills

The Trait Model

The Trait Model of Emotional Intelligence, introduced by Konstantin Vasily Petrides in 2001 is a widely accepted framework for understanding the concept of emotional intelligence and defines emotional intelligence as a personality trait, much like extraversion or agreeableness, that is stable over time and consistent across situations.

The trait model of emotional intelligence is centered on:

  • Motivation
  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills

These elements are paramount in fostering healthy communication, understanding emotions, and forming meaningful connections with other people.

The Social Awareness Model

The Social Awareness Model of Emotional Intelligence, introduced by Marc Brackett and his colleagues at the Yale Center for Emotional Intelligence, focuses on the social aspects of emotional intelligence.

They define it as the ability to:

  • Accurately perceive emotions in others
  • Understand social cues
  • Respond effectively to others’ emotions

This social awareness model places a focus on self-awareness & emotion recognition to foster more effective communication & relationships.

Each of the models above provides a different perspective on what emotional intelligence is and how it can be measured, but all share the underlying idea that emotions play an important role in our lives and that being able to understand and manage emotions is a valuable skill.

Why is emotional intelligence important in leadership?

Emotional intelligence in leadership is important because research has shown that leaders with high EI are better at recognizing & understanding their emotions, as well as the emotions of others, and are therefore more likely to have a positive impact on their followers & organizations.

The importance of emotional intelligence in leadership

Emotional intelligence in leadership is a critical aspect of the success of organizations for a variety of reasons.


People high in emotional intelligence tend to be better at understanding and managing their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others. This can lead to better relationships with friends, family, and coworkers, and can help to reduce conflict and build trust.


Emotional intelligence helps individuals to recognize and understand their own emotions, as well as the emotions of others, which can inform better decision-making. People with high EI are better able to control their emotions, stay calm under pressure, and make decisions based on logic and reason, rather than being swayed by their emotions.


Emotional intelligence can help individuals to manage stress and emotions more healthily. This can increase resilience and reduce the impact of life’s challenges on overall well-being.

Mental health

People with high EI are better equipped to recognize and manage negative emotions and are less likely to become overwhelmed by stress and anxiety. This can help to prevent burnout and improve mental health.

Career success

Emotional intelligence is a valuable skill in the workplace, as it can help individuals to build strong relationships, manage stress, communicate effectively, and lead others. Many studies have found a positive relationship between emotional intelligence and job performance, which can lead to increased career success.

How does emotional intelligence improve leadership?

Personal Leadership Performance

Leaders with high emotional intelligence perform at a higher level by:

  • Managing their emotions
  • Managing their stress levels
  • Staying calm under pressure
  • Better inspiring and motivating others
  • Better decision-making based on logic and reason, vs being swayed by their emotions

Organizations that invest in developing the emotional intelligence of their leaders can expect to see significant improvements in overall organizational performance.

Organizational performance

Leaders with high emotional intelligence improve organizational effectiveness by:

  • Facilitating open communication
  • Better understanding of the needs & concerns of their team
  • Identifying potential interpersonal problems and nipping them in the bud before they become a bigger issue
  • Identifying personal struggles among team members
  • Understanding and empathizing with their team
  • Managing conflict and resolving disputes calmly & effectively, helping to find a mutually acceptable solution

The sum of the above is likely to result in:

  • Improved collaboration & teamwork
  • Increased resilience
  • Improved morale & motivation
  • Reduction in the impact of challenges & setbacks
  • Increased employee engagement & motivation
  • Increased job satisfaction
  • Stronger relationships

With the right emotional intelligence-based leadership strategies, leaders can create an empowering work environment that inspires everyone involved to do their best and reach their full potential.

What does an emotionally intelligent leader look like?

An example of a leader being emotionally intelligent at work would be an executive who recognizes when their team members are feeling frustrated & overwhelmed.

The executive takes the time to understand why their team may be feeling this way and then seeks to identify ways to improve the situation - this could include:

  • Providing more resources
  • Setting new deadlines
  • Providing additional training
  • Moving around personnel

By recognizing and responding to employees’ emotions and providing positive feedback, the leader can help boost the confidence and motivation of their team and create a positive working environment where everyone feels valued, respected and most importantly - protected.

Are all effective leaders emotionally intelligent?

Not all effective leaders are emotionally intelligent. This can be due to a lack of experience, understanding, or acknowledgment of emotions, or simply because the leader has never been exposed to any education on this type of knowledge.

Leaders who lack emotional intelligence may struggle to build strong relationships with their teams and navigate challenging situations. These challenges will hinder the overall effectiveness of their leadership efforts and the success of their organization.

So, while not all effective leaders are emotionally intelligent, it is certainly a valuable asset for leaders to have and enhances their ability to lead their teams effectively.

5 tips on how to increase emotional intelligence in leadership

By understanding the basics of emotional intelligence in leadership & taking steps to apply it to their leadership style, any leader can become a more effective leader.

Here are some tips to take into consideration when looking to build emotional intelligence skills.

1) Develop self-awareness

Being self-aware is a key component of emotional intelligence in leadership and an essential skill for any leader.

When you take the time to reflect on how your emotions affect the way you interact with others, it can help you become more in tune with your reactions and better equipped to manage them.

Developing self-awareness requires intentional practice and reflection—a conscious effort to pause, step back from the situation, and honestly evaluate what’s going on both inside of you and around you in the moment.

It involves being willing to challenge yourself, identify possible blind spots, and recognize when emotions might be clouding your judgment or feelings of anger or frustration begin to surface.

2) Build empathy

Empathy is a crucial part of emotional intelligence and leads to more effective leadership. Acknowledging the perspective of others helps create an atmosphere of understanding & mutual respect, fostering collaboration instead of competition between colleagues.

3) Increase social awareness

Increasing social awareness involves being able to observe the dynamics of a group, identify underlying feelings and motivations, and be sensitive to unspoken messages. Leaders must be mindful of their own behavior when interacting with others, as small gestures can make a big difference.

When leaders demonstrate social awareness in their interactions with team members, it shows that they understand what’s happening beneath the surface. It also highlights respect for others and helps build trust within the group.

The ability to notice changes in moods or energy levels, or pick up on subtle cues are all attributes of leaders who understand the power of social awareness.

4) Improve communication skills

Expressing yourself openly & honestly builds understanding, trust & respect between colleagues.

When communicating in person or online, Leaders must be conscious of the words they use, take time to make sure their message was conveyed as intended, be mindful of their body language and avoid making assumptions or judging others.

Lastly - leaders who listen more than they talk demonstrate that they value the input of others, which is especially useful in helping resolve conflict effectively.

5) Foster relationships

Strong relationships are essential for successful leadership. Leaders should strive to foster relationships based on positive emotions between colleagues and create an atmosphere of mutual trust, support, and respect. Building meaningful connections builds trust between team members, making it easier to collaborate on projects and brainstorm ideas.

Is it difficult for leaders to develop emotional intelligence?

Developing high emotional intelligence can be a challenge for leaders, especially if they are not familiar with the concept because emotions are often seen as nebulous and vague, which can make it hard to understand and manage them in the workplace.

Additionally, if someone lacks emotional intelligence and wants to develop it, it requires self-reflection, which can be difficult to do when leading a team or managing an organization.

However, with commitment and dedication to understanding one’s own emotions and how they affect their leadership style, it’s possible to become more emotionally intelligent as a leader. With this knowledge, leaders can create better working relationships with their team members and foster an environment of deeper trust and respect.

Contact Us Today

Emotional intelligence in leadership is one of the most important soft skills a leader can have.

Consciously working on emotional intelligence develops leaders’ ability to recognize, understand, and regulate the emotions of both themselves & those around them, helping to facilitate understanding between all parties, and enabling them to succeed as a true leader - an invaluable asset for any organization wishing to create a harmonious team environment.

By understanding what emotional intelligence is and why the psychological safety it provides for teams matters, you can take steps toward becoming a better leader.

If you or your organization want to become better leaders through emotional intelligence, contact us today. Skyline G specializes in developing leaders to help them reach their full potential, we’d be happy to chat about our services & how we can help you reach your leadership goals.

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