Emotional Intelligence: The Key to Effective Leadership

Business acumen, leadership experience, and managerial skills are crucial traits that help you rise in your organization and lead a team of professionals, but what differentiates a good leader from a great leader? Simply put, it’s the emotional competencies that make up a leader’s Emotional Intelligence that determine success and effectiveness. According to Oxford’s Dictionary of Psychology, “Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to monitor one’s own and other people’s emotions, to discriminate between different emotions and label them appropriately, and to use emotional information to guide thinking and behavior.”

Emotional Intelligence

First defined by U.S. psychologists Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer, EI is comprised of four groups of competencies: perceiving, reasoning, understanding, and managing emotions. New York Times Best-Selling Author of Emotional Intelligence, Daniel Goleman, took it further and outlined five characteristics of EI:

  • Self-Awareness
  • Self-Regulation
  • Social Skills
  • Empathy
  • Motivation

Just like any skill, EI can be developed if one puts in the time and effort. As leaders, developing these five characteristics is essential to effectively lead yourself, your team, and the organization.


A leader’s ability to understand his or her affect on others is important when creating a strong culture that encourages openness and empathy. Regardless of the amount of interaction you have with your team, your emotions can have a positive or negative affect on your team. It’s important to recognize how you feel about a situation and how it is perceived by others. Stress, pressure, and outside-the-office variables can shift a leader’s emotions, sometimes subconsciously, and can affect the daily actions of a person. Consider taking a daily or weekly inventory of situations at work and at home that may influence your emotions and your interactions with others. Be honest with yourself so you can be a better leader for others.


Understanding the emotions we have and the effects on others that they can cause is the first step in developing a healthy EI; but regulating and controlling those emotions is what makes self-awareness an effective character trait. Self-regulation is the act of managing one’s emotions, redirecting impulses, and adapting to changing circumstances or uncertainty. For leaders, managing the effects of emotions can be a game-changer. Avoiding knee-jerk reactions or outbursts directed at employees or a situation allows the leader a chance for self-reflection to determine why the situation failed or employee made the mistake. Leaders who regulate their emotions tend to make better decisions for their organizations, and a side effect to this approach is that it creates a calming culture in the office. Employees tend to act in line with their leaders. If a manager is calm and collected, his or her employees will follow their example.

Social Skills

How a leader interacts with team members is crucial in creating a culture of open communication, engagement, and employee empowerment. The basic social skills of an effective leader include verbal/nonverbal communication, listening, persuasiveness, and the ability to manage others’ emotions. Employees need an approachable boss they can interact with, and leaders need to understand others’ emotional preferences and adapt to each employee’s method of communication. Being able to read a situation allows the leader to effectively navigate tensions in the office and the internal and external conflicts between workplace relationships. A poor leader may dismiss an employee’s feelings as trivial and counterproductive. But a great leader learns how to defuse situations through care, concern, and persuasion.


Being an empathetic leader is the next level in strong emotional intelligence. The more practice a leader has in understanding the emotions of others through active social skills, the easier it is to empathize with employees. It is one thing to know how a situation or issue makes another person feel; but the leaders who have the ability to put themselves in their employees’ shoes are the most effective. Understanding how a decision can truly affect those in an organization, how they would feel about the situation, and the ripple effects the choice can cause allow leaders to make not just the best decisions for themselves or their organization, but the best decision for the success of their employees.


The final characteristic of a healthy EI is self-motivation. In an article in Psychology Today, Daniel Goleman points out that motivation and emotion both derive from the Latin word “motere,” translating “to move.” Motion is crucial for leading a team and achieving success in business and professional relationships; however, motion without a clear motive can be disastrous for an organization. The two types of motivation are intrinsic and extrinsic, meaning motivation can be driven by internal self-fulfillment or external factors, such as accolades, money, and recognition. While all leaders are motivated differently, intrinsic motivation can help empower a culture of drive and achievement that other factors cannot. If a leader is self-fulfilled by achievement, employees may follow suit.

The Effective Leader

Emotional Intelligence is a key factor in the effective leader who leads self, others, and an organization. It can be the difference between retaining and attracting top talent or struggling with constant turnover. It can also be the difference between an engaged workforce or disengaged employees who aren’t motivated. A healthy EI will make you that next-level leader and help yourself and others succeed.

How has Emotional Intelligence affected your leadership abilities? What have you done to be a more EI-focused leader? Let us know in the comments section below!

5 Responses to Emotional Intelligence: The Key to Effective Leadership

  1. Jason d hunt July 2, 2019 at 8:04 am #

    Emotional intelligence isn’t a script. You don’t have to buy a book or buy videos. Four things are required for emotional intelligence. The Bible, the holy ghost, compassion, and love. Those four things are free

  2. Karl July 2, 2019 at 9:36 am #

    Excellent article! I joined Express Leadership Academy two years ago. ELA really helped me understand and embody these concepts, especially self-awareness.

  3. Denise Smith July 2, 2019 at 11:03 am #

    EI characteristics will help a leader to better relate to employees and develop a better working environment. Your communication and employee relationships are improved and this helps with retention and productivity.

  4. Gary Watson July 2, 2019 at 9:53 pm #

    Very good article.

  5. Susan S. July 6, 2019 at 8:31 am #

    Very true; the quality of an organization flows from top down.

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