5 Emotional Intelligence Skills that Great Leaders Possess and How to Help Them Develop these Skills

Chances are you’ve heard the term “emotional intelligence.” As the name suggests, it’s a term referring to individuals’—generally employees’—ability to monitor and manage their emotions in a professional way when interacting with others. Clearly, it’s also a competency that employers tend to value in their employees.

quote on emotional intelligence from business training experts

Emotional intelligence in leadership is critical. Emotional intelligence (also referred to as emotional quotient or EQ) is a concept that was initially introduced by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer in the 1990s, but Daniel Goleman popularized the concept. We define it as: “One’s ability to understand and manage his or her own emotions while simultaneously understanding the emotions of the people around them, and adjusting to those emotions.”

In a work setting, emotional intelligence skills are clearly important when interacting with others, whether those others are coworkers, managers, customers, vendors, or members of the community at large. 

Unfortunately, emotional intelligence isn’t something that’s taught in school and it’s not uncommon for employees—especially those new to the workforce—to lack emotional intelligence. That can lead to conflict, lost productivity, and in some cases a toxic work environment.

For leaders, of course, emotional intelligence is a must-have competency.

Leaders Must Have High Emotional Intelligence 

list of 5 key emotional intelligence skills for leaders

While there certainly are employees who might say they prefer to work alone, the truth is that there is really no role in any industry or organization that doesn’t need to interact with others. Leaders, by nature of their role, interact with others frequently. As a leader, the goal is to manage emotions in an effective way. 

Emotional intelligence involves connecting with people on an emotional level to understand where they are coming from and to communicate effectively with them. Communication skills are arguably the most essential workplace skill. 

There are a number of important components to emotional intelligence. Recognizing emotions is the first.

1. Recognizing Emotions 

Leaders need to be self-aware. They need to monitor and understand their own feelings or emotions when interacting with others. 

For instance, when dealing with a habitually late employee, a leader may recognize that they are feeling short-tempered or angry. When negotiating with a colleague they may feel uncertain or anxious.

In addition, leaders must also be adept at monitoring and recognizing the emotions of others. They need to be skilled listeners and have the ability to accurately read body language.

Recognizing emotions is just the first step. Leaders then need to appropriately handle their emotions.

2. Handling Emotions 

An important element of emotional intelligence in leadership is being able to effectively manage, or handle, emotions. 

Leaders need to convey an aura of calm and stability even in the face of stress, crisis, or disaster. They need to have impulse control and the ability to avoid becoming angry with employees, colleagues, customers, or others. 

This doesn’t mean, though, that leaders should avoid conflict. In fact, one critical element of effective leadership is conflict resolution. Leaders must be able to control their emotions to turn a potentially negative confrontation into a future-focused problem-solving dialogue.

3. Understanding Perspectives 

As leaders interact with others they need to be active listeners and need to work to accurately understand the perspectives of others. 

This means not jumping to conclusions about the motives or concerns of others, but seeking to understand by asking good questions, listening carefully to responses, and seeking clarification to ensure understanding.

4. Managing Relationships 

Leadership is all about managing relationships with others in the workplace and cultivating strong relationships with those around them. This requires flexibility and the willingness to adapt based on the needs and preferences of others. 

The more effective leaders are in nurturing and managing strong relationships, the more they’re able to influence, coach and mentor those around them. Leaders with high emotional intelligence build strong teams.

Importantly, leaders must manage relationships in both positive and constructive ways. They must be able to have difficult conversations with others, be transparent, and proactively address any unproductive behaviors or poor performance among members of their teams.

5. Being Socially Aware

Social awareness is the ability to “read the room”—to understand the needs and motivations of others and to respond effectively and appropriately to those needs and motivations. 

Leaders need to be socially aware to continually measure the level of morale in the workplace and to quickly identify when the work climate might be leading to dissatisfaction and conflict. They need to know when to intervene in situations and need to be committed to taking a proactive approach for dealing with situations that may be trending in a negative way. 

Leadership is a tough job. Leaders with a high degree of emotional intelligence, though, can handle even the most challenging interactions they must engage with. 

Leaders are under continual observation by others and interact with others almost continually. Their ability to interact effectively with a wide range of different types of people from varying backgrounds and with varying opinions, desires, and motivations helps them build strong and productive teams. 

Demonstrating emotional intelligence in leadership, of course, doesn’t happen by chance. The Leadership Journey™ offers a flexible and powerful way for companies to develop new and potential leaders—leaders who are able to generate high performance among team members who are engaged, energized, and productive. 

Through a proprietary burst learning model, The Leadership Journey™ helps leaders learn, internalize, and apply important leadership practices, and through follow-up and accountability achieve measurable results. 

Review 10 core leadership skills this leadership training program develops.

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Categories: Communication, Leadership, Management, Supervisory
Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Author: Lin Grensing-Pophal, SPHR, SHRM-SCP

Lin is a business journalist and communication strategist with expertise in HR and employee relations. She is accredited through the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM-SCP) and Human Resource Certification Institute (SPHR) and writes frequently for SHRM, HR Daily Advisor, and a wide range of trade publications and corporate clients.