Emotional Intelligence: Why do Leaders need it and how do they develop it?

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence, or EQ, is a person’s ability to understand and manage their own emotions, while being able to recognize and influence the emotions of others. It is comprised of self-awareness, self-management, relationship management and social awareness.

While arguably any of these competencies are crucial for building and managing interpersonal relationships, the combination builds the base for strong emotional intelligence that takes leadership from good to outstanding.

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EQ in Leadership

While technical skills have long been valued for leadership candidates, there is an increase in demand for excellent interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence. This can be related back to the fact that leaders with high emotional intelligence have been found to outperform their less emotionally aware counterparts and therefore have re-defined outstanding leadership.

  • Low self-awareness can cut a team’s success in half, while leading to increased stress and reduced motivation among colleagues.
  • Leaders with low self-management skills tend to react to situations rather than responding thoughtfully, and therefore often struggle to manage a crisis in a calm and collected manner.
  • Failing at relationship management by avoiding conflict can have very significant effects on the company’s resources, as it has been found that for every unaddressed conflict about eight hours of work time are lost to gossip and colleagues venting about their frustrations. Further, the situation also negatively impacts morale and motivation of the team.
  • Leaders who fall short in their social awareness will struggle to build authentic relationships with their team as they will not pick up on social cues from their colleagues. This causes an inability to support the team as needed and unlock their full potential.

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Strengthening EQ

  • Self-Awareness: Implementing 360° feedback is an effective method to unlock new perspectives on behavior and potential blind spots. Alternatively, actively asking trusted colleagues and peers for feedback can be a great place to start.

This can also be an opportunity to raise self-awareness in other aspects of life, such as at home, with family or friends, to create a well-rounded understanding of oneself.

  • Social Awareness: In order to become more socially aware, leaders should actively practice empathy, for example by asking colleagues about their wellbeing in informal check-ins. Becoming a mentor can also be an effective way to practice the focus on someone else’s needs and social cues.

Empathy is more than acknowledging someone else’s feelings: It is showing compassion for others and recognizing that their state of mind matters. This is a skill that needs to be practiced regularly, so forming new habits of checking in with others is a great start.

  • Self-Management: This skill heavily relies on resisting the urge to react instantly and pausing to explore emotions before jumping into action instead. This can be a lengthy process of unlearning and re-directing and requires the person to hold themselves accountable.

This skill is essential for anyone who tends to react instantly to both good and bad situations and has a hard time masking their emotions. Emotional responses are normal, however, leaders also have the responsibility to effectively lead their teams through a crisis. This requires them to take a step back and reflect on their emotions before expressing them in the moment.

  • Relationship Management: Setting a focus on continuously monitoring the emotional climate of a team can be a great help in developing better relationship management skills.

This skill requires leaders to take action by addressing interpersonal issues head-on, while role modelling caring and inspiring behavior towards colleagues during challenging times. They will prioritize team spirit and seek opportunities to empower individuals outside of formally structured reviews.


Did you know that mentoring is a great way to develop a leader’s soft skills and strengthen their EQ? Schedule a call with us or watch our demo to find out how our tailored digital mentoring programs can support your leadership team!

Anna Berenbrinker
DE&I Expert and Content Marketing Manager at Volunteer Vision. With a background in psychology and HR management, Anna's expertise lies in challenging and elevating the business world to become a more inclusive and diverse version of itself.

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