Leading with Emotional Intelligence

Do you display emotionally intelligent leadership? Do you know what Emotional Intelligence is – and how to use emotional intelligence in leadership? Are you aware of the benefits of leading with Emotional Intelligence? ‘Leadership’ was once seen as an authoritative, maybe even aggressive, stance – but in the last few decades, Emotional Intelligence has been recognised as a key leadership skill – one in which women particularly excel. But what does it take to be an emotionally intelligent leader? How can you lead, with emotional intelligence? Here, we will define emotional intelligence and explore some tips for developing this key leadership competency.

I consider myself fortunate to coach clients who work in the social, public and private sectors. Regardless of where they work, my clients come for coaching with issues like taking their career to the next level, dealing with a toxic boss, difficulties in influencing people, or experiencing imposter syndrome in a new leadership role. But whatever the presenting problem, emotional intelligence – or a lack of it, inevitably surfaces as a theme to be addressed.



What is Emotional Intelligence (EI)?

Professor Daniel Goleman popularised EI and defined it as:

‘The capacity for recognizing our own feelings and those of others, for motivating ourselves, for managing emotions well in ourselves and in our relationships.’

EI is composed of two major elements needed for success –

  • Intrapersonal intelligence – the inner self-awareness, knowledge and understanding of our own emotions and how to motivate ourselves, including self-management or managing our feelings.
  • Interpersonal intelligence – the external-facing abilities to sense, read and understand other people’s emotions, social awareness and how to manage relationships with others.

These are interconnected – because you have to be aware of your emotions to be able to manage them, and if you’re not in control of your emotions, they affect your social, personal and professional relationships.

The importance of EI in leadership

In a stressful world of constant change – especially in the workplace, emotional intelligent leadership is invaluable, since there are clear demonstrable links between EI and management and leadership effectiveness. EI helps leaders in managing people and change; improved performance (individual or group); enabling improved interpersonal transactions, and a more innovative, creative organisational culture.

‘Understanding the powerful role of emotions in the workplace sets the best leaders apart from the rest. Not just in tangibles such as better business results and the retention of talent, but also in the all-important intangibles, such as higher morale, motivation, and commitment.’ (Daniel Goleman 2013, Primal Leadership, 4-5).

Some leaders seem to exercise emotional intelligence with ease, while others struggle. The good news is that – like any skill – emotional intelligence can be learned, to take your leadership to another level.


8 Tips for Emotionally Intelligent leadership

Like any skills, practise makes perfect. Here are some ways you can develop, practise or maintain, emotional intelligence in leadership.

1. Give your emotions a name

Notice your own feelings and recognise what they are. Name them or describe them. Emotions might be subjective experiences, but once you give them a name, it objectifies them, so you can see them as separate from yourself, rather than as part of you. When you know what you’re dealing with, and with this sense of detachment, it is easier to manage and control your emotions. You don’t need them to control you.

2. Practise self-assessment

List your strengths and weaknesses, realistically assessing yourself, without being fanciful or too self-critical. This enables you to better use your strengths to best advantage; appreciate what you need to do to develop yourself, and know how best to improve on your weaknesses. This exercise can also be done to recognise the strengths and weaknesses in members of your team. So you can support them to perform optimally. You will also be able to better delegate to people with strengths and skills you don’t have.

3. Practise positivity

Instead of focusing on problems, look for possibilities, opportunities and solutions. This will not only raise your spirits and those of your followers, but it alleviates stress, and helps you to motivate and inspire your team. Being solution-focused enables creativity, innovation, and responsiveness in achieving goals and improving performance.

emotional intelligence - team discussing

4. Pay attention to others

A leader almost constantly interacts with other people, so having social awareness is a vital skill for leaders – and being able to appreciate other people’s emotional states is the basis of social awareness. Watch for the subtle signs that give away people’s emotions – in their facial expressions, body language, actions and words.

5. Have empathy, compassion and tolerance

Put yourself in other people’s shoes and recognise their feelings – this will enable you to respond with empathy to their needs; rather than reacting with your own emotional expression, from your own emotional needs. Tune in to other people’s feelings, and a leader can say or do the best and most appropriate thing for the situation – whether it is assuaging any fear about a particular assignment, motivating an employee who failed to achieve promotion, or rallying a conference audience. Leaders with empathy are approachable, listen deeply, and can identify the emotion beneath the words – making staff feel understood and accepted.

6. Show interest and encourage

Display curiosity and interest in your staff’s career goals and dreams – and help them to achieve them. Encourage them also to recognise their own personal pressures and barriers and support them to find ways to overcome them.

7. Demonstrate organisational awareness

Identify, and have the ability to communicate organisation-level trends, decisions, and politics as well as strategic imperatives and priorities and how these operate. Recognise client needs and understand how to meet them, whether internal (team, department) or external (government, donor, regulating body).

8. Combine all your emotional intelligence skills

There is crossover between all of the above. Managing relationships well involves being attuned to your own emotions, being able to empathise with others and managing other people’s emotions, too.

EI food for thought (and practice)

Here are a few questions to help you sharpen your emotionally intelligent leadership skills –

  • What emotional resources do you need, as a leader?
  • What will make you strong enough to deal with uncomfortable truths?
  • How do you inspire others to excel, while retaining their loyalty?
  • How will you instill emotional intelligence into the working environment, to nurture innovation, creativity, performance, and good relationships?

If you would like some help with coaching, or organisational development around Emotional Intelligence, please get in touch.

If you would like to, please download my coaching programme brochure – Women’s Leadership Coaching – For Women in Development – specifically designed for women working in global development.

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Email me: palena@unabridgedleadership.com

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