Emotional Intelligence and Its Effect on Leaders

When one thinks of an intelligent person, the normal image is of a studious and academically advanced individual. Perhaps their mind conjures up an image of a bespectacled scientist, complete with lab coat, hunched over a lab table somewhere. While these people may be smart, it doesn’t necessarily speak of their intelligence, at least not their emotional intelligence. Emotional intelligence (EI) is one’s ability to recognize, deal with, and utilize other people’s emotions.

A high emotional intelligence is necessary to succeed in leadership positions, according to most experts. With a high emotional intelligence one can inspire, empathize and motivate those around them. This leads to a workplace environment that is healthier, more motivated and more inclined to perform at or above exceptions. Highly important in a business environment, a leader’s emotional intelligence can make or break the performance of an entire team.


What is Emotional Intelligence?

The term emotional intelligence was first coined in 1964 by Michael Beldoch, then again in 1966 in a paper by B. Leuner. The concept was further extrapolated on by Howard Gardner and Stanley Greenspan. Psychologist Daniel Goleman wrote one of the most popular books on the concept in 1995, creating a tiered model that looks at the different types of emotional intelligence. Goleman’s work is perhaps the most important work on the subject when utilizing it in terms of how it can lead to effective leaders in a business environment.

In short, emotional intelligence is a person’s ability to recognize and understand the emotions and the emotional needs of those around them, whether those people around them are friends, family, co-workers or employees. EI is important in a leadership position because a high level of intelligence in this arena allows the leader to better understand how each of their employees operates on an emotional level. Through such an understanding, the leader then has the ability to adapt and change the way they present themselves to the team and how they can motivate individual employees. This understanding leads to better numbers overall.

A 2012 study found that people with high emotional intelligence perform better on the job, are more powerful leaders, and have greater mental health. The same study also found that high EI accounted for well over half of the ability necessary for high leadership performances. In fact, high EI had a bigger impact on a leader’s performance than technical knowledge and traditional intelligence.


What Emotional Intelligence Models are Most Important for Leadership Roles?

Emotional intelligence can be broken down into four subsets or areas of intelligence. In order for a leader to be successful, they must possess each of these types of intelligence. Several models of EI have more than four subsets, but for the purpose of business leadership performance, it is best to use four. The four most important subsets of emotional intelligence for this purpose are: self-awareness, social awareness, self-management and social skills.

  • Self-awarenessdefined as the ability to read and understand your own emotions, it can be deemed the most important of the four subsets. Self-awareness makes it possible for the leader in question to understand their own strengths and weakness, and realize how those strengths and weaknesses impact the workplace environment. Those with a high sense of self-awareness also have a tendency to be highly self-confident without being arrogant.
  • Social Awareness. Social awareness is one’s ability to understand other people, their emotions and their perspectives. This often relates to empathy and can have a huge impact on how the leader interacts with their employees and the morale of the team. People with a high social awareness are often service-oriented and can meet the needs of those around them.
  • Self-management. Best defined as the ability to control one’s emotions for the betterment of the group, people who possess high self-management skills are adaptable to changes, and can deal well stressful situations. Those with high self-management skills are also seen as achievement-oriented and have an innate ability to focus on the end-goal of tasks.
  • Social Skills. Often consider the “salesman” trait, social skills is a blanket term that refers to individuals who have the ability to motivate and persuade those around them. This is highly sought after in business circles. People with high social skills are considered to be “take-charge” types who can initiate and inspire change. They are often seen as articulate, calm and steadfast in their pursuits.

While academic success is thought of as indicative of intelligence, it isn’t the only type of intelligence. When it comes to leadership skills, traditional intelligence might not actually be as important as one thinks Emotional intelligence is. However, for many it is just as important, if not more important, than traditional intelligence when it comes to success in leadership roles. Each type of emotional intelligence cannot stand on its own or, at the very least, the most successful leaders are those who possess high levels of each of these subsets. While it can be argued that people are born with it, that isn’t necessarily the case. Many people can work and develop their emotional intelligence. EI is not something that is fixed, like the IQ of an individual. Instead, people can actively work on developing these skills, although it does come naturally to some.

John Chappelear
John is an award-winning author, consultant and speaker, with more than 30 years experience as an executive and entrepreneur. He is recognized internationally as an expert in individual and organizational wellness. His book, The Daily Six, has helped individuals and organizations across the world become more positive and productive. He is the founder of Changing the Focus, LLC which creates and delivers programs that builds positive, powerful, and balanced individuals, and more productive, creative, and profitable organizations.