Leadership & Emotional Intelligence (EQ)

The Cornerstone of Sustained Executive Success


The pressure on organizations grows daily as change races forward at warp speed. Demands are real and resources are tight. So how relevant is emotional intelligence? Is it just nice, or is it critical for results? Organizations need a clear response to these questions to gain clarity about which resources will provide the greatest return on investment.

In 1999 Daniel Goleman and the Hay Group’s worldwide research revealed that:

  • 67% of all competencies deemed essential for high performance were related to EQ.
  • EQ mattered twice as much as IQ and technical knowledge to high performance.
  • EQ was the only “advantage” at the highest levels of leadership.

Research has shown that the need for emotional intelligence in the workplace increases exponentially as:

  • Organizational complexity increases.
  • The pace of change accelerates.
  • Leaders must increasingly rely on others to get the work done.

It is easy to understand why Emotional intelligence is a decisive factor in sustained success of CEOs, executives, and businesses of all types.

Emotional Intelligence (EQ) Defined

Emotional intelligence is “The capacity to be aware of one’s own emotions and manage them effectively in relationships, be aware of other’s emotions, and manage oneself effectively in challenging relationships.”

Emotional intelligence can have a profound effect on one’s ability to handle situations and relationships, both personally and professionally. Although each person’s level of emotional intelligence is – to a degree – genetically determined, and developed in early years, with effort and guidance there are behavioral techniques one can practice to improve.

EQ Core Capacities: Self-Reflection, Self-Regulation, & Empathy

The three emotional capacities: self-reflection, self-regulation and empathy form the foundation for all competencies and skills. They provide the abilities to adjust to change, maintain commitments to people, find satisfaction in relationships, and create balance in our emotional life.

Emotional Capacities and Workplace Behavior

The emotional intelligence matrix below provides a map for understanding the relationship between capacities and workplace skills. Historically, leadership and staff development efforts have focused on unique skill development. This is appropriate and works efficiently in the technical learning arena. In contrast, initiatives that impact people and how they work together to get the job done should, in part, focus on the capacities that are the underlying drivers of workplace behaviors. Giving attention to increasing core emotional intelligence capacities and resulting behaviors can be the key for leadership and organizational success.


Capacity: Self-Reflection

  • Takes responsibility for one’s own feelings, thoughts, wants, and actions
  • Can quickly and easily access and describe thoughts, wants, and feelings under stress
  • Aware of the level of intensity of one’s feelings with ability to separate past intensity from present
  • Able to observe one’s self in situations—particularly difficult or stressful situations—and make choices in the moment
  • Able to access and use one’s feelings (anger, anxiety, fear, jealousy, sexual attraction, excitement, sadness, shame, joy, disappointment, etc) in an appropriate manner in any context to facilitate learning and achieving goals
  • Able to observe one’s self, and use that information in the moment to change course when appropriate
  • Able to focus on self and the other, moving between self and other with ease
  • Values, honors, and trusts one’s own experience

Capacity: Self-Regulation

  • Deals with difficult issues in a straight forward, direct, non-blaming manner
  • Able to take difficult news or negative feedback, staying present and listening without blame or defending
  • Ability to monitor the intensity of responses in a manner that is appropriate for the context
  • Has the competence to use his/her own skills and those within the organization to lead innovative programs that may be challenged by others
  • Can soothe one’s self and separate self from others when being dismissed, diminished, challenged, ignored etc, retaining the ability to let in information and make informed, non-reactive choices
  • Can manage one’s self during times of real adversity, retaining the ability to make informed choices and serve as a positive balance for others
  • Fosters open communication and stays receptive to bad news as well as good
  • Takes responsibility for one’s own actions
  • Can be counted on by others for honesty, trustworthiness in decisions, work, and communication
  • Able to soothe one’s own emotions sufficiently to remain concerned about others and remain committed and conscientious in getting the job done
  • Can cope with the unexpected, chaos, and the predictable high anxiety that results within the organization
  • Able to maintain a “low anxious” presence under pressure, which is a primary factor in helping others cope
  • Able to manage one’s emotions sufficiently to allow for and invite different opinions in the midst of chaos

Capacity: Empathy

  • Is attentive to emotional cues and listens well
  • Acknowledges and rewards people’s strengths and accomplishments
  • Offers useful feedback and identifies people’s need for future growth
  • Mentoring – gives timely coaching, and offers assignments that challenge and foster a person’s ability
  • Understands the power structure within an organization and uses it well
  • Shows sensitivity and understanding of the other’s perspective with valuing other’s perceptions
  • Helps out based on understanding of other peoples’ needs and feelings
  • Respects and relates well to people from varied backgrounds and different perspectives
  • Values and uses diversity
  • Understands diverse worldviews with sensitivity and appreciation for group differences
  • Challenges bias and intolerance
  • Values, respects, and supports individual team members. Protects group’s boundaries to ensure getting the job done
  • Cultivates and maintains extensive information networks
  • Seeks out relationships that are mutually beneficial
  • Builds rapport and keep others in the loop
  • Makes and maintains personal friendships among work associates
  • Articulates and arouses enthusiasm for a shared vision and mission
  • Able to step forward to lead as needed, regardless of the position
  • Guides the performance of others, while holding them accountable

Practices to Build Emotional Intelligence

Many powerful EQ fitness practices have been with us for centuries. Today we benefit from the compelling evidence that moves EQ from the “good”, “nice” and “soft” stuff to critical development practices to be used with a targeted strategic focus. Like building a set of muscles, we can target our EQ development efforts with confidence. Disciplined practice of the behaviors listed below will build new neural patterns, re-allocating resources within the brain. The result is an increased ability to identify and use our emotions for making wise, informed decisions and creating effective relationships.

Practices for Self-Reflection: It’s all about awareness and choice

  • Notice your judgments about yourself and about others.K Know that your judgments are your interpretation, which may be
    very different from others. Practice suspending your judgments and just appreciating the life within and around you. This becomes easier with practice.
  • Practice noticing and naming your experience.N Notice and name your feelings, your wants, and your thoughts. How easy or difficult is it to feel a wide array of emotions? Accessing and naming a full array of feelings provides balance and gives critical information for making wise decisions.
  • Focus on what you want, not what you don’t want.
  • Notice other people as mirrors of yourself.O Our experience, attitudes and feelings are contagious.
  • Notice the “stories” that you are creating, which are your interpretation of any situation. How you react and interact in any moment reflects the stories you have created. These stories grew out of your experience with your family, your community, your traditions, your culture and more. Without discovering your stories you are destined to repeat your past.
  • Notice the degree to which your emotions, thoughts, and wants are positive or negative. It is easy for someone to become a “victim”, feeling hopeless, helpless, and resentful. It is easy for others to feel anger, place blame or become impatient with, or intolerant of others who are perceived as less capable, valuable, or useful. Some of us turn distress into an opportunity to beat up on ourselves. Others choose to beat up on others in a variety of ways. The important step is to notice how often you frame your experience as positive or negative and what triggers your reaction.

Practices for Building Self-Regulation—Trust in Self and the Other

“Knowing self-trust is basic and essential if we are to believe anything at all.” (Solomon & Flores, 2001)

  • Practice inviting feedback from others. The thought of getting feedback often conjures up fear. This fear can quickly build a wall of defense in which we avoid inquiring as a part of our daily living. A good practice is to initiate these conversations by just asking someone directly what impact a situation and/or your comments had on them.
  • Practice mentoring so that you can rely more on others for leadership and support. Mentoring others can be a good method for increasing your self-awareness, your awareness and empathy for others and building solid, high-trust work relationships.
  • Notice when you begin to beat up on yourself, take excessive responsibility and lose trust in yourself. Practice identifying the origins of this response and separating your past from the present. Give yourself a pat on the back for noticing and making another choice.
  • Identify pivotal people who shaped your view of yourself and your view of others. (Positive high-trust and negative low-trust) Who contributed to developing trust in yourself? Who eroded trust in yourself? What were the messages you heard? How do these messages live with you today? Intentionally choose messages of high self-trust.
  • Notice the degree to which you trust yourself in important relationships. Make a list of individuals who are important to achieving your life success. Rate the degree to which you trust yourself in each relationship and the degree to which you trust the relationship itself. Identify key messages that discount you. Be aware and make wise choices.
  • Get to know the people who are important to you.
  • As a leader, practice delegating to others. Delegation without micromanaging takes trust in another person. Track your own experience to understanding your level of trust. Design a structure that supports success, gives you what you need, and allows space for the other person to make it his or her own.
  • Practice assuming the other’s intention is positive. John Wallen wisely said, “We judge ourselves by our intention and others by their impact on us.” Coupling this awareness with a commitment to stay alert to our interpretations and story making is a powerful step in opening ourselves to increasing trust in others and taking action to clarify our intentions.

Daily Practices to Increase Empathy

  • Practice acknowledgment of yourself. Greet yourself in the mirror each morning with honor and generosity of spirit. Genuinely express appreciation for your life and inquire about how you are this day.
  • Practice acknowledgment of others. Simple ways to acknowledge others range from saying “Good Morning”, to using their name while making eye contact. Make a point to touch base with team members weekly – it can be as simple as dropping by their workspace to say hello.
  • Get to know your team members, your direct reports, and other key individuals in your work group. Show interest in them as people. Ask yourself what you know about your team members, your boss or others important to you at work.
  • Practice building your ability to accurately tune in to others. Identify what you believe another person is experiencing. Notice the other person. What do you see and hear? What do you think she is feeling, thinking and wanting? Initiate a conversation to check out how good you are at tuning in to another person. Make it fun and light. You will exercise your empathy accuracy muscles and others will be delighted you attended to them. It’s a winner.
  • Learn and practice the essential elements of “dialogue.” Three features of dialogue that distinguish it from a conversation include: 1) Equality between the individuals at the moment with no coercive influences, 2) Listening with empathy, seeking to understand the other, 3) bringing assumptions out into the open. (Yankelovich, Rosenberg)
  • Practice inquiry and initiate conversations at times of stress with the intention of listening and learning.
  • Practice listening without interrupting. This sounds so easy, but research shows that the average person listens for less than 10 seconds without interrupting and less than 6 seconds for leaders and professionals. Being listened to is a gift. It takes practice to listen. Practice timing yourself.

Increasing emotional intelligence is not easy, but it can be done. It simply takes focused, disciplined practice – just as gaining fitness in any arena. Building fitness takes work, but the rewards can be transformational – not just for the individual, but also for his employees and the organization as a whole.

Written by Jan Johnson, MA, is president of Learning in Action Technologies, Inc.

Photo credit: AnsonLobo