Why Leadership Needs Emotional Intelligence

Leadership emotional intelligence at board room table

Emotional intelligence is one of the core leadership skills and becoming ever more crucial within the new world of work. In fact, a greater focus on soft skills is identified as one of the top trends for the future of work. We’re taking a deep dive into emotional intelligence and how it can help create better leaders.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Researchers John Mayer and Peter Salovey first coined the phrase “emotional intelligence” in the 1990s. However, it is the work of psychologist Daniel Goleman that demonstrates how emotional intelligence can transform organisations.

Coleman outlines five components to mastering emotional intelligence. These are:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social Skills

When you have high levels of emotional intelligence, you’re able to understand and manage your own emotions as well as influence the emotions of those around you.

Mastering each of these five areas will help create positive leadership that can bring teams together.

How Important are Soft Skills in Leadership?

Satya Nadella, Chairman and CEO of Microsoft, identified the increased need for soft skills as a business priority for the future, alongside adopting AI and reducing productivity paranoia.

Taking a look at job applications, the need for soft skills increases as you go up the leadership ladder and this is only increasing. As more organisations understand what is needed to create high-performing teams, the more these skills are in demand.

Benefits of High Emotional Intelligence

Research finds that emotional intelligence is the strongest predictor of performance, accounting for 58% of successes in all job types. Moreover, it explains why people with an average IQ outperform those with a higher IQ 70% of the time.

Having emotional intelligence means you can read the team around you, empathise with them and lead well. Plus, people with high emotional intelligence are more likely to stay calm under pressure, problem-solve and help resolve conflicts with co-workers. All the key ingredients to effective leadership.

Let’s take a look at the five components.


A five-year study by HBR finds that while 95% of people think they are self-aware, only 10-15% actually are self-aware. Being able to recognise your own emotions is critical to developing high emotional intelligence.

When you’re in a group, you pick up on unspoken cues from those around you. As you recognise emotional responses in others, you start to see them in yourself. This, in turn, makes you more self-aware. A tool that is useful when you need to resolve conflict within a team.

If you are aware of others getting cross, you can be aware of how the situation is making you feel and then work to diffuse the conflict.

In a study by Ashkanasay et all(2006), they found that when team members were asked to review the emotional intelligence of their peers, they rated them lower than themselves. The team found that when they looked at the difference in self-reporting in the study, it showed a greater link between performance and self-awareness.

Therefore, you may not be able to always spot the self-awareness in others but when it is present, it has a positive impact on the whole team.


How well you manage your emotions is key to a high level of emotional intelligence. Self-regulation is not about masking emotions but about making balanced decisions based on how you know you feel.

For example, if you can spot when you’re stressed and therefore having an adverse reaction, you can adjust your response next time you feel under pressure.

In fact, one of the signs that someone does not have self-awareness or regulation is a colleague who always seems happy and is never having a bad day. This can be a sign that they are masking some of their emotions and not tuning in to how it’s impacting their work.

On the flip side, a colleague who is always grumbling and complaining can also impact the overall emotions within the team. It is another sign that they have low emotional intelligence and lack a high level of self-awareness.

Leaders need to leverage their emotions and that of their team to lead well. In this situation, it becomes less about the frustration that a mistake is made and more about what can be learned for the future.


As a leader, you need to motivate your team so they can perform well in their roles. This means being able to maintain that motivation in times of stress or when there is an upheaval taking place.

A study of over 250 students took them through discussions in groups without a leader. The researchers found that those with high emotional intelligence naturally assumed the leadership role. They were motivated to encourage the group to work together in the discussions as a team.

This is why motivation is a component of emotional intelligence. Those in leadership roles need to use the right tools to motivate their teams. Motivation appears to be a signifier of high EI and can help identify those with leadership qualities.


Being able to see things from another person’s viewpoint is an important skill in life. For leaders, being able to see the individual views of a team and bring these differing outlooks together can help the team thrive and innovate.

Empathy is not the same as sympathy. It is about seeing a perspective that sits outside of your own goals and needs. In doing so, leaders can demonstrate the behaviours that they would like to see mirrored in their teams. It also helps create a psychologically safe space where team members feel seen and their voices heard.

In turn, this helps those within the team to speak up when they make a mistake or know that something is wrong.

Social Skills

Finally, developing social skills where you can persuade or influence those around you is key to creating a high level of emotional intelligence. Social skills are not about manipulating people but encouraging cooperation between members of the team.

It also helps aid communication and help team members adapt to new ways of working, new technology or even new members joining the team. Social skills are crucial to developing leadership skills so that you can bring the team together to innovate.

Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

As organisations look more towards the benefits of soft skills within their workforce, leaders will need to continue developing high levels of emotional intelligence to help bring the best out in their teams. Emotional intelligence is also a skill that can be transferred between industries and organisations, so important for developing both leadership skills and a career.

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