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How Emotional Intelligence Affects Leadership

If you aspire to be a successful leader, you need to consider emotions. Learn how you can leverage emotional intelligence to rise to the top!

What do the world’s greatest leaders all have in common? They’re all emotionally intelligent, of course! Just think about it: Steve Jobs, the late CEO (chief executive officer) of Apple, persuaded the masses using heartfelt stories and anecdotes over the span of nearly two decades. Similarly, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos leverages emotional intelligence by staying even-keeled amidst criticism and acknowledging his own strengths and weaknesses to build strong, collaborative teams. 

Emotional intelligence, also known as emotional quotient (EQ), is evident in nearly every aspect of a successful company! Let’s take a closer look at EQ, how it affects leadership, and the four competencies that make up the skill. 

What is emotional intelligence? 

Emotional intelligence can be defined as the ability to use, manage, and understand your own emotions to communicate, solve problems, and relieve stress. If you’re emotionally intelligent, you often know what others are feeling, what their emotions mean, and how their emotions affect other people. Emotionally intelligent individuals are also conscious of their own emotional states. They can name their feelings and understand why they feel a certain way, and as a result, they often have high self-confidence. 

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How emotional intelligence affects leadership

1Decreases stress

The greater an individual’s emotional intelligence, the greater their ability to cope with stress. In other words, you’ll realize that less worry during times of stress will lead to better performance at work. EQ can also assist you in building strong relationships, empathizing with yourself and others, and achieving goals—all of which are factors that can lead to a more fulfilling work life. 

2Promotes empathy

Individuals with a high EQ are more likely to be empathetic leaders! If you can help your employees rise above their feelings and take action, your team will be better for it. The most productive and motivated employees have great emotional health. When you’re able to coach subordinates through challenging times without denying that their struggles exist, these individuals will have high success at work and in other relationships. You’ll also be able to treat yourself with kindness—an overlooked but important ability to have. If you can forgive yourself as part of the learning and evolving process, you will be well on your way to becoming your greatest self. 

3Improves communication skills

Emotionally intelligent leaders are strong communicators, and individuals with effective communication skills usually have high EQs! It’s simple: when you’re able to recognize your feelings and those of others, you can respond in a manner that meets the needs of all parties involved. In leadership, you have to consider other people’s emotions and figure out what they’re trying to tell you, even if it isn’t clear. When you’re emotionally aware, it’s easy to understand the why in every situation and swiftly take action as conflict arises.

4Boosts motivation 

When you’re in a positive mood, you’re motivated to rise to any occasion. Now, imagine you had the ability to see the positive in every situation! Leaders with a high EQ can turn any challenge into an opportunity. They welcome new ideas, questions, concerns, and suggestions and create a safe environment for employees to freely offer solutions. When there’s a roadblock, emotionally intelligent leaders recognize it and reward their team for the extra effort. In good times and bad, emotionally intelligent leaders keep employees engaged by encouraging them and acting as their biggest cheerleaders. 

5Builds strong relationships 

Perhaps the most obvious way EQ affects leadership is in how it can strengthen relationships. A person with high EQ is well equipped to manage conflict and build meaningful connections. Strong relationships are built on honesty and vulnerability. When a team knows that their leader understands them, everyone will be better equipped to deal effectively with stress.

6Improves company culture 

Emotionally intelligent leaders know how crucial company culture is for an organization’s success. In episode 55 of our Supermanagers podcast, Danielle Leong, director of engineering at Github, explained why managers need to keep employee comfort and safety at the forefront of their leadership. She said,

“It’s really important for us to improve the emotional intelligence of a team in order to increase psychological safety. Because if you have the emotional intelligence to ask those questions and to be able to learn from another person’s lived experience, then that means that you become a much more well-rounded person, it means that you’re able to adapt to new situations.”

When leaders are accessible, it creates a sense that everyone is in it together!

Listen to the whole episode here:

7Improves team engagement

Leaders with a high EQ keep their staff engaged. They do so because they know how important it is to keep employees satisfied. Some ways that emotionally intelligent leaders promote team engagement are by recognizing and appreciating their teammates often, offering growth opportunities, communicating frequently, offering flexibility at work, and organizing team activities that will improve teamwork and collaboration skills. They also encourage their subordinates to work on their own EQ! When employees are inspired to practice self-awareness, self-regulation, and empathy, the entire organization benefits. 

8Increases productivity 

Productivity is never an accident; it’s almost always a combination of effective planning and focused effort! Emotionally intelligent leaders focus on progress rather than pain. They acknowledge when they or their teammates are dealing with difficult emotions, but don’t let small roadblocks get in the way of big goals. Self-aware leaders practice good self-control, which ultimately drives their decisions and actions. 

4 elements of emotional intelligence 

According to Harvard Business School, there are four components of emotional intelligence to explore. These include:

1Self-management

It’s self-explanatory: self-management is the ability to manage your emotions! If you can maintain a positive outlook despite setbacks, you’ll be able to keep your impulses in check and continue to encourage your team. Reactions don’t need to be automatic. If you have a high EQ, you’ll be able to make the transition from reaction to response. You can work on your own self-management skills by practicing mindfulness meditation, doing some reflective writing, and giving yourself enough time to more appropriately and intentionally respond to adversity. If you want to be a good leader, practicing self-regulation is a must!

2Relationship management 

Relationship management usually refers to a strategy that companies use to maintain relationships with external partners and clients. Harvard Business School defines relationship management as one’s ability to influence, mentor, coach others, and work through conflict. Leaders shouldn’t shy away from disagreements. Instead, they should actively address problems when they arise. Leaders need to be brave enough to start conversations that matter. If you manage relationships now, there will be less room for negative emotions later. 

3Self-awareness

Self-awareness is the ability to see yourself clearly and objectively through reflection and introspection. While most people believe they’re self-aware, research by organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich shows that only 10 to 15 percent of individuals actually have a high EQ. When you’re self-aware, you understand why you feel and behave the way you do. This awareness can help you make strides towards your goals! When you know what is setting you back, you can make real incremental improvements in your life and work. Remember, it’s so much easier to bring out the best in others when you’ve already brought out the best in yourself!

4Social awareness

We all know someone who lacks social awareness. They may interrupt others during team meetings and probably don’t understand when someone else is offended by a joke they thought was clever. Simply put, this person can’t read the room. A socially aware person is the opposite. They can recognize others’ emotions and the dynamics at play within their company. These individuals are empathetic, great communicators, and effective collaborators. They strive to understand others’ perspectives so they can best support their team and improve their overall performance.

Parting advice

EQ and leadership go hand in hand. American psychologist Marshall B. Rosenberg once said that “we are dangerous when we are not conscious of our responsibility for how we behave, think, and feel.” He hit the nail on the head! Those who lack the ability to understand their own thoughts and feelings will struggle to lead motivated teams. On the contrary, leaders who are able to inspire teams, relate to colleagues, encourage others, and skillfully resolve conflict will always thrive. 

Don’t know where to start? Try observing how you react to others, examining yourself during stressful situations, and examining how your actions will affect others. 

To learn more about how you can leverage EQ in the workplace, check out our emotional intelligence guide for leaders on the Fellow Blog!


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About the author

Brier Cook

Brier is a communications professional and freelance content writer based in Ottawa. She currently works as an Engagement Strategy Advisor for Carleton University. She is passionate about using creative marketing to solve business challenges. In her spare time, she’s either reading fiction, trying out a new fitness class, playing guitar, or cooking a recipe from TikTok.

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