Leadership and EQ


In the past, it might have been true that leaders could succeed simply because they were smart. But that’s no longer all it takes. While technical skills remain important, our emotional intelligence (referred to as EQ or EI) is just as important as our IQ. In fact, research shows that a leader’s emotional intelligence has a direct impact on the success of an organization.

Daniel Goleman, a thought-leader on the topic of EI, says this about emotional intelligence:

“If your emotional abilities aren’t in hand, if you don’t have self-awareness, if you are not able to manage your distressing emotions, if you can’t have empathy and have effective relationships, then no matter how smart you are, you are not going to get very far.”

Although it takes some effort to improve or enhance our EQ, the end results – better relationships, as well as a higher potential for personal and professional success – are worth it. Try these ways of increasing your emotional intelligence:

•  Name your emotions as you experience them.
•  Take note of your inner dialogue. Does it change, based on the emotion you are experiencing?
•  Reflect on the cause of your emotions.

•  Try practicing different responses to emotionally-charged situations (e.g., if you get angry when your ideas are challenged, practice how you can respond without anger).
•  Find a way to relax or redirect yourself before you take action on a negative emotion. (Build Resilience)
•  Use positive affirmations to create an inner dialogue that supports your emotional well-being.

• Aim to use active listening in the majority of your conversations.
• Look for cues about how people feel: watch their face, observe hand gestures and notice their overall body language.
• Seek to understand the other person’s perspective when you aren’t in agreement.

Building Relationships
• Make mutually-beneficial outcomes and solutions your preference.
• Learn from others’ ideas and opinions; openly share your own.
• Invest time in getting to know others in order to build a strong foundation in your relationships.

Understanding and accessing our EI requires practice. (And, even with a lot of practice, it’s unlikely we’ll ever score 100% on the EQ test.) But the emotional and relational benefits in our personal and professional lives make the effort to understand and practice EI worthwhile.

To learn more about emotional intelligence, check out these resources:

Intelligence Is Overrated: What You Really Need to Succeed (article)
Social Intelligence and Leadership: An Interview with Daniel Goleman (video)
Resilience For The Rest of Us (blog post)


  • Sean, I would go as far as to say that EQ is more important than IQ in organizations. You provide an excellent list of ways to improve EQ. These are things we all should do but they are very difficult to improve by ourselves. I encourage people to work on self-awareness, self-management, empathy, and relationship-building with a learning partner and/or a professional (psychologist, counselor, coach, etc.).

  • Sean and Steve, good thoughts… And the title says a lot: key leaders are hired for their IQ and often fail for lack of high skills in EQ, which is disappointing since EQ is learnable, teachable. It takes a bit of courage to explore how one is doing in being empathetic, in managing one’s emotions, are they listening well and treating others with genuine respect, candor and authenticity? Steve has a critical point: get input and partner with someone you trust. Ask for feedback, and then be quiet.

    One example on the power of self-awareness, on awareness of your ‘at the moment’ feelings (your emotions & emotional state), how are you feeling at this moment and what effect is it having on your behavior and actions?… Awareness of one’s feelings (in the moment) increases self-knowledge. Self-knowledge then allows you personal choices in your next behavior/in your next response to the person in front of you (or at the meeting table); Self-knowledge allows you to be in control of yourself… to chose how you behave next…. This is powerful. Finally, self-knowledge allows self-improvement…but you need to decide to take the time, the moment, and make good choices (now that you know how you are feeling at this moment).

Recent Posts