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Why Great Leaders Typically Have High Emotional Intelligence

February 8, 2023

By Catherine Turner
Emotional intelligence is the ability to recognize and understand our emotions as well as the emotions of others.

Researchers Peter Salavoy and John Mayer originally coined the term “emotional intelligence” in 1990 and the concept gained even more attention following Dan Goleman’s 1995 book Emotional Intelligence. The measure of emotional intelligence is sometimes known as “EQ” (a counterpart to IQ or intelligence quotient). Decades later, emotional intelligence continues to be an often overlooked or underestimated concept, especially in the workplace.

What is emotional intelligence?

Essentially, emotional intelligence combines a particular set of what we might otherwise call “soft skills.” Most researchers and psychologists agree that emotional intelligence includes:

  • Self-Awareness: Recognizing and understanding one’s emotions are the foundation of emotional intelligence.
  • Self-Management: This involves having the ability to regulate one’s emotions, find intrinsic motivation, and behave respectfully toward others.
  • Social Awareness/Empathy: Being adept at reading and understanding the emotions of others is key to understanding different perspectives and making fair, inclusive decisions.
  • Relationship Management: The ability to understand and influence the emotions of others. This is what often leads to excellent conflict-resolution skills and compassionate leadership.

Why is emotional intelligence so important?

High emotional intelligence improves the employee experience, helping us communicate, connect, and lead better. When it comes to leadership in particular, emotional intelligence is linked with better results in many key areas, including changing corporate culture, building strong team culture, effectively coaching and motivating others, and creating a team culture of collaboration.

When business leaders demonstrate high emotional intelligence, the culture of the organization shifts to a positive culture, which increases efficiency and productivity. This has always been an advantage, but we’ve learned from our experiences during recent years that emotional intelligence in organizational leaders is especially needed in uncertain times. Whether that’s a global health crisis, unprecedented talent movement, or confusing economic conditions, emotional intelligence in leaders translates into happier, more productive employees and a more positive employee experience.

While there may be a great deal of focus on emotional intelligence in organizational leaders, emotional intelligence is a valuable quality in employees at all levels and positions within your organization. Higher levels of emotional intelligence are tied to improved communication, increased accountability, lower stress levels, and better conflict resolution.

How to identify emotional intelligence.

There are countless formal evaluations leaders and human resources can use to measure the skills and abilities that comprise emotional intelligence, but it’s easier to identify than you might think. Often, you can get a general sense of a person’s emotional intelligence by looking for key attributes in their responses to difficult questions or situations or by asking about past experiences. Generally, this centers around observing ‘appropriate’ responses — and in order to conduct a successful evaluation like this, the person doing the evaluation should probably also have high emotional intelligence.

During the hiring process or in employee evaluation scenarios is where role-playing or other on-the-job simulations might be useful. Pointed questions can also help reveal a person’s emotional intelligence. Here are some examples:

  • What are your strengths and weaknesses?
  • What motivates you?
  • How do you handle disagreements with colleagues?
  • Recall a time when you made a mistake at work. What did you do next?

In the responses to each of these questions, look for clues that demonstrate the individual's capacity to manage their emotions, troubleshoot problems, work toward the best solution, and ask for support when it’s needed.

Helping employees develop their emotional intelligence

It is possible to help employees improve their emotional intelligence during their employee journey. Just like other types of soft skills, training is a good first step but having the opportunity and support to practice and develop their emotional intelligence on a daily basis over time is the key. Recognizing and rewarding employees on an employee engagement platform like Connects for behavior that demonstrates high emotional intelligence is a great way to positively reinforce what you’re seeing in the working environment — and perhaps even inspire other team members to act accordingly.

Some psychology experts say that emotional intelligence has a greater impact on one’s success — at work and in life as a whole — than intellect, training, education, and other skills. And not by a tiny margin. Many believe emotional intelligence is responsible for 80% of success, while IQ accounts for the remaining 20%. There’s no denying that emotional intelligence is crucial for effective leadership, and having high levels of emotional intelligence throughout your organization makes for a great team culture, elevates employee satisfaction, and improves business performance.