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Emotionally Intelligent Leadership (And Why We Need It)

Undoubtedly, effective leadership is critical for achieving business goals and building a healthy and sustainable organisation. In the modern work environment, which is characterised by open communication and teamwork, leaders must understand their followers and teams throughout the organisation to know how to motivate them properly and what will then drive them to reach their full potential both for themselves and for the organisation.

A lack of emotional intelligence (EQ) among a senior management team can be devastating to the rest of the workforce. Leaders prime the emotional state of an organisation, so when they are ineffective, when they set poor examples of how to treat other people, that trickles down through the company. The result could often be low employee engagement, high attrition, or lack of psychological safety, because of the toxic interactions between people.

Lack of EQ is very hard on morale. When leadership lacks EQ, organisations start to lose that discretionary effort that they get from people who love their jobs and work in motivating, comfortable environments. One tell-tale sign of leaders who need to work on managing their emotions is that they frequently have challenging interactions with others. They find people very difficult, and often do not understand that they are part of the problem. On the flip side, leaders with high EQ tend to be uplifted by their interactions with people.

According to Daniel Goleman, author of the original research and work on “Emotional Intelligence”,

EQ is defined by the ability to understand and manage our emotions and those around us. This quality gives individuals a variety of skills, such as the ability to manage relationships and stakeholders, navigate social networks, influence, inspire others, and create followership. Today we find ourselves in a world of continuous uncertainty and it has become apparent that employees look to their leadership for inspiration and guidance, both inside and outside of the workplace.

For individuals to become truly effective and progressive leaders, they will need a high level of EQ.  Here are some key points to consider:


Leaders with EQ are self-aware and able to recognise their own emotions as they happen. This is a vital skill for any leader, as it helps them obtain a clear understanding of their strengths and weaknesses without any obstruction. In addition, great leaders can recognise their emotions as they arise in response to an action or situation and are able better able to address problems and handle any future complications.

Emotional Management

Using self-awareness gives leaders the ability to be mindful of their feelings. The next step is learning how to manage those emotions. Leaders with high EQ can regulate themselves and stay in control. These individuals are unlikely to rush headlong into hasty decisions or let their anger take over their behaviour. It is vital that individuals in managerial positions keep their emotions in check, as it will help them stay in a respected position, often as a role-model to others.

Effective Communication

What is the benefit of emotional awareness and management if you are unable to clearly express your thoughts? Luckily, individuals with EQ also have the skill of effective communication. They can clearly convey directions and know what to say to inspire and motivate others. An important skill for leaders, communication can be a deciding factor in whether the team listens or not.

Social Awareness

Leaders with EQ are well tuned to the emotions of others and can pick up on what is going on around them. They can sympathise with others by putting themselves in the employee’s shoes and giving helpful feedback and guidance. This is a critical skill for leaders, who work closely to inspire and motivate a team. If the leader is unable to empathise with their employees, they will find it difficult to obtain respect, loyalty, or followership.

Conflict Resolution

In the workplace, there is always the risk that emerging conflicts can threaten or disrupt efficiency and productivity. Leaders with EQ are equipped to handle conflicts and provide resolution. With this skill, leaders can quickly placate any disagreements that arise between employees, customers, and other parties. In conjunction with the above skills, leaders can use their EQ to develop a more effective workplace.

Empathy is Crucial to a Successful Organisation

When a leader appears to have little empathy, or a poor ability to recognise, understand and consider how others are feeling, they can be viewed as unapproachable. A leader who excels in social awareness and practices empathy will strive to understand their colleagues’ feelings and perspectives, enabling them to communicate and collaborate more effectively. It also helps them manage a team or organisation by facilitating a culture where coaching and engaging others is the norm. This makes decision-making smoother and more creative and encourages visionary or transformational styles of leadership across the organisation.

When asked to identify the necessary traits for leaders, most would propose answers that fall within a wide range of topics. Charisma, purpose, determination, subject matter expertise – these are just a few traits that would typically be used to define a leader. However, many CHROs and CEOs around the world are building progressive and modern workplaces, by placing a huge emphasis on both developing their current leadership teams, and hiring new leaders with strong EQ. Emotional Intelligence is becoming one of the strongest drivers of leadership and personal excellence. An emotionally intelligent leader is good at working with and managing the emotional climate of their team to build trust and develop relationships.

In our experience, the best CHROs are those who skillfully and surreptitiously develop the EQ of the CEO with whom they are partnering. They are the confidante, the trusted advisor, and one of the only people who can “hold the mirror up” to the face of the CEO to help him or her to  see their areas for improvement, and to facilitate their journey towards being the best version of themselves.  The expression,

He who conquers himself conquers the world

rings true here. To successfully manage this delicate yet crucial process, CHROs themselves must also possess extraordinary levels of EQ. 


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