Emotional intelligence in leadership

There are a few things that are crucial to a well-oiled team: trust in ones leader and recognition and respect for the teams values and norms. This is why emotional intelligence is important in leadership.

In life, we meet different people who all see the world differently. When we perceive other peoples actions and statements negatively – even if they weren’t intended to be so – it can lead to misinterpretation, speculation and uncertainty. This can be difficult to move through. Even more so when we are the ones who are being misunderstood – because how will we know, if we’re not told?

As someone in a leadership position, how can you be sure that what you send out into the world is received as intended? The answer is, that you can’t be 100% sure, but understanding yourself better, being open to feedback and creating safe spaces goes a long way as a leader and as a workplace.

‘Leader’ is not simply a title that gives you the power to delegate work

Good leadership is mainly centered around leading individuals through recognising and understanding factors such as work-life balance, individual motivation and communication styles.

It’s not revolutionary that an inspiring leader is a leader who knows how to lead people. The HR-wave and the modern ‘People and Culture’ are derived phenomena that have taken the business world by storm in recent decades. They are based on the idea of engaging employees’ experiences and building organisations that encourage transparent knowledge sharing across the board.

A corrolation of this approach to management is performance monitoring; taking into account the individual employee and intervening where the real need is. As the digital boom continues, the amount of data points is steadily growing. It is increasingly a manager’s task to recognise patterns, warning signals and to compare the individual’s progress with the group’s development. This is often done through data. 

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A digital organisation is characterised by...

…its ability to adapt to and seize the opportunities offered by a digital age. The organisation typically gains competitive advantage and drives efficient growth, as digital tools allow for accurate and easily-accessible data, that can support performance monitoring of individual employees.

What do leaders with high Emotional Intelligence offer?

Leaders with high emotional intelligence communicate more effectively, build strong relationships, and are better at conflict resolution and decision making. They inspire and motivate others, and are more adaptable and resilient.

01. Effective communication
Leaders with high emotional intelligence can understand and manage their emotions well, enabling them to communicate effectively with their team members. They can clearly convey their thoughts and ideas, listen actively and empathise with others’ perspectives, promoting a positive and productive work environment.

02. Building strong relationships
Leaders with high emotional intelligence can build strong, trusting relationships with their team members, as they can recognise and respond appropriately to others’ emotions. This helps to create a supportive and collaborative atmosphere that boosts employee morale, engagement and loyalty.

03. Conflict resolution
Conflict is inevitable in any workplace, but leaders with high emotional intelligence can navigate conflict in a constructive manner. They remain calm under pressure, manage their emotions and approach conflict with empathy and understanding, paving the way to resolve conflicts peacefully and find mutually beneficial solutions.

04. Decision-making
Emotional intelligence plays an important role in decision-making. Leaders who are emotionally intelligent can weigh the emotional consequences of their decisions for themselves and others. They can also consider different perspectives and use their emotional awareness to make decisions that are not only rational, but also considerate of team members’ needs and concerns.

05. Inspiration and motivation
Leaders with high emotional intelligence have the ability to inspire and motivate their team members. They can build an emotional connection with their employees, understanding their dreams, fears and motivations. By encouraging, supporting and recognising, emotionally intelligent leaders can empower their team members to perform at their best.

06. Adaptability and resilience
In today’s rapidly changing business environment, leaders must be adaptable and resilient. Emotional intelligence enables leaders to navigate uncertainties, setbacks and failures with dignity and resilience. They can recover from challenges, learn from their experiences and adapt their strategies accordingly, inspiring trust and confidence in their team. 

So what exactly is emotional intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence (also known as Emotional Quotient, EQ) is the ability to recognise your own and others’ emotions – not to be confused with Social Intelligence (SQ), which refers to a persons ability to interact with others. Emotional intelligence is a malleable skill, not fixed; it is possible to train for improved EQ.


EQ is categorized into four branches.

EQ is measured through 5 components, where a high score in one component is often associated with higher scores in the others. The 5 components are: self-awareness, self-control, social skills, empathy and motivation.

Why is it important to have self-aware leaders?

Two of the most important components of emotional intelligence are self-awareness and empathy. The former is a prerequisite for the latter, and therefore the development of self-awareness is foundational for the development of empathy.

…is about being aware of how others perceive you and being able to incorporate those perceptions into your own self-assessment. Self-awareness enables the ability to recognise and appreciate the meaning of emotions in yourself and others, and to connect this to the situation that elicits the emotion.  Studies show that the more alignment there is between an employees assessment of the manager and the managers self-assessment, the higher the managers self-awareness and overall emotional intelligence.

Lack of self-awareness hinders the development of empathy
When you lack self-awareness, you can’t distinguish between your own feelings and those of others. In conflicts, you will focus too much on yourself, your own feelings and perspectives – making it difficult to respond in appropriate, empathetic ways.

As an emotionally intelligent leader, you must first remove judgement from your own emotions and instead invest in understanding, acknowledging and taking responsibility for them. Then you can begin to understand others and effectively respond – and empathise – with others.

Why do companies invest in empathetic leaders?

Empathy is about reaching a mutual understanding. Empathy involves a non-judgemental understanding of others’ experiences. Managers have traditionally been divided into different categories based on their empathic approach. A distinction is made between affective and cognitive empathy in leadership: 

Affective empathy
…involves experiencing a situation with someone but does not require cognitive understanding of their feelings. This is a more automatic response to the feelings the other person has.

Cognitive empathy
…involves perspective-taking through imagination or the conscious adoption of another’s subjective perspective. 

There is no one-size-fits-all answer to the degree to which a manager should display affective or cognitive empathy, as leadership can take many forms. The important thing is to become aware of what you feel your leadership style is and to compare your self-perception with that of your team. 

On an individual level, the personalities, abilities and skills of team members play an important role in the working team. Emotionally intelligent individuals can communicate effectively and empathise with others to develop cohesive, supportive relationships. That’s why companies like Google, SAP & Plantronics are investing in EQ training for leaders on a global level.

Developing your own EQ can take you far as a leader

With a higher EQ and thus increased self-awareness, a foundation is created for recognising and using the diverse resources each person brings to the table. Working on developing one’s EQ also creates an understanding of the importance of differentiated communication and knowing appropriate feedback in ways that resonate with the other person.

There is nothing more trustworthy than taking action: show respect, empathy and inclusion. Create space for interactions based on decency and equality.

Create space for EQ-development in your organisation

As mentioned, EQ can be trained. But how? In addition to the vast amount of literature available on the subject, you can take several tests that measure both personality and specifically EQ.

5 well-known tests to measure EQ
  • Mayer-Salovey-Caruso Emotional Intelligence Test (MSCEIT)
  • Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i)
  • Emotional Competence Inventory (ECI)
  • Bar-On Emotional Quotient Inventory (EQ-i)
  • Trait Emotional Intelligence Questionnaire (TEIQue)

As an individual, you can do many other things to develop your EQ: participate in workshops, role plays and simulation exercises centred around developing communication skills, conflict management and interpersonal effectiveness. You can seek coaching or therapy from professionals specialising in EQ, and meditation and mindfulness can be used as tools that focus on developing self-awareness, self-regulation and empathy. There are many paths which can lead you to the same destination.

As someone in a leadership position already, you can provide material on the topic, include it in onboarding programmes or set up forums for discussion and exchange of views on the topic – preferably in a digital environment that allows you to compare the individual’s performance with their interaction with the material. 

Psst…. Our Academy platform can be used to measure the impact of the different initiatives, for example by analysing employee digital engagement.

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