The emotional intelligence of leaders

The emotional intelligence of leaders

There are managers who just seem to be naturally more talented than others. They might motivate their employees to deliver better results, build stronger client relationships, or be more successful at implementing complex change efforts than their peers. So, what’s driving these differences? We know that it’s not pure brain power, because smartness alone as measured by IQ does not fully explain managerial success. It could be personality, so someone’s distinctive pattern of thinking, feeling, and behaving that remains fairly constant. But, is there also be an element that is flexible and can be developed over time?

Daniel Goleman gave some answers to these questions nearly 20 years ago when he first brought the term „emotional intelligence“ to a wide audience with his 1995 book.

Goleman, an author, psychologist, and science journalist, showed that almost 90% of the difference between average and exceptional managers can be attributed to emotional factors – and not to intellectual abilities alone.

That emotional intelligence (EI) is important for leaders should not be surprising. The higher the position in a company, the more interdisciplinary skills gain in relevance. In modern working processes executives coordinate and promote the individual resources of their employees. They gather different talents and personalities to ensure the success of the company at all levels. The manager is responsible to establish responsibilities, to bundle different energies, and to develop binding goals. Emotional intelligence is required to succeed in all of these tasks.

Video: Daniel Goleman explains his theories of emotional intelligence.

According to Goleman’s definition, emotional intelligence is a group of five skills that enable leaders to maximize their own and their employees’ performance. Whoever is able to use these five skills correctly, will increase his or her chances to be a better manager.

The EI skills as described by Goleman are: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.


Indeed, many professionals are aware of the role emotions play in their careers. But the problem is: EI is not easy to develop for adults because it is rooted in psychological development and neurological pathways created over an entire lifetime, with many of them formed during childhood.

But still it is worth a try, Goleman says:

„It is fortunate, then, that emotional intelligence can be learned. The process is not easy. It takes time and, most of all, commitment. But the benefits that come from having a well- developed emotional intelligence, both for the individual and for the organization, make it worth the effort.“

Even if it might only be within a certain limit, we can all increase our levels of emotional intelligence with training that activates the brain’s limbic system which governs our feelings and impulses. However, as all deep personal change, to be successful this requires foremost a certain level of discomfort with the status quo – the realization that change is necessary in order to reach one’s goals. Feedback is naturally an important element in this process, be it through a 360° feedback process, through regular appraisals, or through situation-specific feedback.

Consider an executive whose colleagues say she is low on empathy because she doesn’t listen. She checks her phone in meetings, sometimes interrupts people, or disregards differing points of views. When somebody points this out, the executive might at first be surprised. In her point of view, she was just being efficient and direct.

But if the feedback is clear enough she will realize that her way of interacting limits her effectiveness and potential. She becomes committed to change. As a next step, it is important for her to be practical and to focus on concrete behaviors. She might come up with an intentional learning plan that could include turning off her smartphone when in meetings and finding some other clues to remind herself to be fully present in discussions with colleagues. Over time, these behavior changes will start to become hard-wired in the brain and develop into a new habit. So, just as professional athletes train to become better at their sport, also managers can train to improve their effectiveness. To be successful, this requires a cycle of feedback, commitment, and concrete practical actions.

Key take-aways

  • To be effective, leaders must have a solid understanding of how their emotions and actions affect the people around them.
  • The better a leader relates to and works with others, the more successful he or she will be.
  • The use of emotional intelligence can be refined continuously and opens valuable benefits for executives and employees.
  • In order to develop emotional intelligence focus on concrete behavior changes and don’t forget that “it is easier to act yourself into a new way of thinking, than it is to think yourself into a new way of acting.”

About the Author

Stefan Pap

Stefan founded Stefan Pap & Partners in 2008 after a successful career as project manager at two well-known global consulting firms. He is a passionate and dedicated consultant with a unique combination of strategy, business technology, and people management experiences.

Author Archive Page

Post a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *