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Why is Emotional Intelligence crucial for effective leadership?

Guest blog from HR Consultant, Katie Deacon, from HR Vitalise Solutions.

Emotional intelligence is the ability to not only recognise, understand and manage our own emotions and behaviours, but to also understand how our emotions and behaviours impact those around us, our friends, family and colleagues and most importantly how that can, in turn, make them feel.


Crucially, once we understand how we feel ourselves and therefore how we behave as a result then we can better understand how others feel and behave, thereby enabling us to manage our relationships far better. Having this ability is important, not just in everyday life, but also in our work as a leader of people.

In 1995, in his book ‘Emotional Intelligence: Why this can matter more than IQ’, Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist and best-selling author, developed a framework of five elements that define emotional intelligence:


Element Definition Characteristics
Self-Awareness The ability to recognise and understand your moods, emotions and drives as well as their impact on others. - Self-confidence.
- Realistic self-assessment.
- Self-depreciating sense of humour.
Self-Regulation The ability to control or redirect disruptive impulses, emotions and moods; the propensity to suspend judgement and think before acting. - Trustworthiness and integrity.
- Comfort with ambiguity.
- Openness to change.
Motivation A passion to work for reasons that go beyond money and status; a propensity to pursue goals with energy and persistence. - A strong desire to achieve.
- Optimism even in the face of failure.
- Organisational commitment.
Empathy The ability to understand the emotional makeup of other people; skill in treating people according to their emotional reactions. - Expertise in building and retaining talent.
- Cross-cultural sensitivity.
- Service to clients and customers.
Social Skills Proficiency in managing relationships and building networks; an ability to find common ground and build rapport. - Effectiveness in leading change.
- Persuasiveness.
- Expertise in building and leading teams.


What do these five elements mean in terms of effective leadership?


If we have high self-awareness, we understand our emotions and are more likely to acknowledge and be open about our strengths, our areas for development, what’s important to us and what motivates us (and why). If we’re self-aware, we’ll be confident in our abilities and know when to rely on those who have motivations and strengths different to our own. Using this, we build trust and credibility and this enables not only us but also our teams to make better decisions and perform more effectively.

Leaders with high self-awareness proactively try to understand themselves and their behaviour better, they spend time reflecting on what they do and how they feel about what they are doing as well as spending time reflecting on what they don’t know or haven’t acknowledged about themselves.


If we self-regulate well, we understand that our emotions, moods and impulses are signals and we can then control these and therefore our reactions. We take time to think before we act, we consider the importance of the situation we face and consider our approach to addressing this ensuring that any response is positive, thoughtful, objective and solution orientated. By self-regulating we not only build trust but we also demonstrate integrity. This also helps us manage ambiguity and change, not just for ourselves but also others, things that are ever present in today’s world and crucial in building strong team dynamics and high performing teams.

Leaders with the ability to self-regulate will understand that there is no such thing as a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ emotion. Instead there are only ‘good’ and ‘bad’ reactions to those emotions and they will strive to ensure their reaction is a ‘good’ reaction.


If we are highly motivated, we are often driven to achieve. We have the desire to continuously improve and stretch ourselves in the things we do. We tend to operate with energy, a passion and commitment for the work that we do and have the ability to remain optimistic even if things aren’t going as well as we would like. These traits are often contagious and this enables highly motivated leaders to build strong, driven and committed teams who therefore, get things done and will often go that extra mile. Leaders with high motivation will often be highly self-aware and have the ability to self-regulate.


If we have empathy, we’re able to understand the emotions and behaviours of others and can treat them accordingly and appropriately. If we are highly empathetic, we listen carefully to others and do so with patience and feeling. We demonstrate understanding and a lack of judgement and we build our relationships based on trust, openness and honesty.

To empathise with someone doesn’t necessarily mean that we need to completely understand them, but rather to accept them as they are. We acknowledge their emotions and feelings as exactly that – they are theirs, and we respond with the recognition and respect of one another’s emotional needs.

Leaders with empathy are often effective at coaching and mentoring and therefore extremely effective at not only retaining talent but also building and developing talent. In fact, because of this, others will often want to work with them and get actively involved in what they are trying to achieve.

Social Skills

The more adept we are at the above four elements, to be self-aware, to be able to self-regulate our emotions, behaviours and reactions, be motivated and able to demonstrate empathy, then the greater our social skills will be and the more positive our impact will be.

If we have effective social skills, we are skilful in how we manage our relationships with others, we take time to build rapport and get to know others thereby developing strong and effective networks for collaboration and support. We are clear about what we truly value, where our emotional energy will be directed and what we are passionate about and we actively listen to others.

Leaders who have strong social skills are more often than not effective persuaders, highly engaging and are skilful at bringing people with them on their journey. They are successful in ensuring they have the right people round the table proactively working well together to deliver on their promises. 

Effective leadership and developing a strong culture

To be truly effective leaders in today’s world, having the technical ability for our leadership roles is simply not enough. We must also have emotional intelligence. It’s simple – success relies on people and people have emotions. An emotionally intelligent leader has one key goal; to get the best out of people and to empower those people to get the best out of themselves.

As we’ve discussed, emotional intelligence enables us to not only recognise, understand and manage our own emotions and behaviours but it also helps us to understand how our emotions and behaviours impact those around us, our friends, family and colleagues. And most importantly, how that can, in turn, make them feel.

It helps us understand ourselves and the world we live and work in, it enables us to adapt and grow as individuals and leaders. It empowers and motivates others by fostering a ethos of integrity, authenticity, openness and thoughtfulness and ultimately it embeds a feeling of togetherness, that we are in this journey together.

Finally, how does emotional intelligence link to culture? Culture is how we feel about the organisation we work in, and of course that also includes how we feel about our leader’s behaviour and what they are leading for and why. Leading by example (behaviour breeds behaviour after all) and developing and embracing emotional intelligence as a core leadership skill has to be the key component to developing a strong culture.

An emotionally intelligent leader can enable a culture where trust and positive emotions are nurtured and embedded at every touchpoint with the people in their organisation and beyond. Without emotionally intelligent leaders, organisations in today’s world would simply be left behind.



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