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Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

Convey calm amidst disruption, foster inclusiveness and bring out the best in people by growing your emotional competence.

Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

Emotional intelligence – the ability to recognize and manage your own emotions as well as those of others – is arguably the most relevant leadership skill in the future workplace. A leader with high emotional intelligence conveys calm amidst disruption, fosters inclusiveness among a diverse workforce and knows how to motivate people to be bold and creative.

Emotional intelligence is a learnable skill. According to Daniel Goleman, who popularized the term, emotional intelligence consists of five components: self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skills. You can develop in each of these areas – with the help of the following reading recommendations.

1. Self-Awareness

Self-awareness requires ongoing attention to your internal states, including your emotions. Emotions pop up spontaneously, seemingly out of nowhere. Once you become conscious of these feelings, however, you can evaluate and better control them.

Popular belief has it that humans generate emotions in reaction to external events. Yet the latest research doesn’t bear this out. According to a leading scientist in the field, Lisa Feldman Barrett, the brain creates emotions in reaction to what happens inside the body. Emotions are a way for the brain to make meaning of internal sensations. They signal to the brain what it needs to do next to keep the body safe. In other words, the brain doesn’t have direct access to reality. What are the practical implications of this finding? Your emotions are real, but they may not necessarily be based on an accurate interpretation of the sensory input that preceded them.

Self-awareness involves taking a step back and observing your emotions before acting on them. Does an increase in heart rate really mean that I am in danger, or is the anxiety I am feeling just the way my brain interprets the sensation based on past experience?

To grow self-awareness, neuroscientist Alan Watkins suggests keeping an “E-diary” in which you record your positive and negative emotions and feelings over the course of the day. This will help you identify emotions when they recur in the future and recognize an oncoming emotion in time to process and deal with it at the experiential level rather than the thought level.

The more information you gather, the clearer your picture will be of the triggers that set off your automatic responses. As clinical psychologist Lara E. Fielding explains, keeping a written record of emotional events will strengthen your capacity to consider your behavior objectively. It will help you to sort out the feelings, thoughts and actions that cause you to over- or under-regulate the internal system that connects your emotions, thoughts and actions.

Image of: Mastering Adulthood
Book Summary

Mastering Adulthood

Practicing mindfulness helps you form better habits and reframe past events that still provoke anxiety.

Lara E. Fielding New Harbinger Publications
Read Summary

A great way to become more aware of your emotional and thinking patterns is by adopting a formal meditation and/or mindfulness practice. The getAbstract library offers plenty of resources on the topic here.

2. Self-Regulation

The ability to recognize your emotional reactions opens up a window of opportunity to engage more evolved portions of the brain. Self-regulation involves using the little space you create between trigger and action to fashion a sound response.

In Coherence, Watkins suggests using his “SHIFT” technique to elevate your thinking. If you’re stuck in a challenging situation, stop doing what you’re doing and shift your attention to your heart and breathe rhythmically to “induce a positive emotion,” Watkins advises. This allows you to gain a fresh perspective on the situation and have more clarity of thought on how to handle it.

Image of: Coherence
Book Summary


Breathe, think and – only then – respond.

Alan Watkins Kogan Page Publishers
Read Summary

3. Motivation

The ability to restrain emotions and delay impulses, to defer gratification, is a critical life skill and the key to a host of endeavors, from dieting to achieving a career milestone. Positive motivation is crucial to achievement. Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to feel motivated before doing something. Motivation often kicks in after you’ve started the activity you want to engage in.

Self-help blogger Mark Manson suggests following by the “Do Something Principle”: Take action regardless of whether you’re in the mood for it. More often than not, getting started will spark the motivation you need to keep going.

Motivation starts with finding your purpose and formulating your goals. As Jeff Hayden explains in The Motivation Myth, day-after-day motivation derives from completing the daily work your goal requires, not from flashes of inspiration. 

To keep you focused and on task, developing a nurturing morning routine will make the difference between reaching your daily objectives and falling short. Exactly how such a morning routine will look like depends on personal preferences and individual life circumstances. Benjamin Spall and Michael Xander, co-founders of, offer suggestions and dozens of examples to provide inspiration for developing your own early regimen.

Image of: My Morning Routine
Book Summary

My Morning Routine

You don’t have to be a morning person to jump-start a revitalizing, energizing day.

Benjamin Spall and Michael Xander Portfolio
Read Summary

4. Empathy

The more self-aware you become, the better you will become at tuning into other people’s feelings. This ability is called empathy. For Simon Sinek, empathy is the core quality of great leaders, as people will only feel safe to open up and be their best selves if they know their leader understands them.

To grow your capacity for empathy, you must learn to become a skilled listener. Corporate coach Alain Hunkins outlines four actions you can take to increase your ability to be empathetic:

  • Practice active listening – Give the other person your wholehearted attention instead of waiting for your turn to speak. Listen with the purpose of developing a deeper understanding of the other person’s perspective.
  • Be open – Not just toward the other person, but also with yourself. Examine and challenge your preconceived perceptions and biases. Notice whether you try to dominate conversations and push your viewpoint.
  • Cultivate a spirit of inquisitiveness – Develop a deep interest in other people and invest time in getting to know and understanding them.
  • Put yourself into other people’s shoes – Make an effort to see things from other people’s perspective. This will help you gain a better understanding and appreciation of where other people are coming from.
Image of: Cracking the Leadership Code
Book Summary

Cracking the Leadership Code

Draw on “connection, communication and collaboration” to establish your leadership.

Alain Hunkins Wiley
Read Summary

5. Social Skills

The better you are at sensing the emotions of others and controlling the signals you send, the more you can control the effect you have on others. Getting what you want requires building an emotional connection to those you wish to direct or persuade.

Knowing how to respect the differences among people in today’s culturally diverse workforce, while pulling everyone together as a team, is a crucial management skill. If you create an atmosphere of respect for each person’s skills and encourage assorted perspectives, your team members’ differences can lead to more creative problem-solving.

Image of: Working With Emotional Intelligence
Book Summary

Working With Emotional Intelligence

Emotions convey lessons you – and your organization – need to know. First step: self-awareness, for you and the company.

Daniel Goleman Bantam
Read Summary

If you use your listening skills, empathy and sensitivity to understand other people’s fears, you will develop the tact you need to be a leader, especially in tough times. People are inspired to excel when they see clearly that the leader values their individual contributions. This promotes psychological safety.

In Every Conversation Counts, broadcaster and television host Riaz Meghji shares several best practices on how to forge stronger human connections. Among them:

  • Embrace “authentic curiosity” – Research shows that people feel closer to conversation partners who express curiosity. Showcase your curiosity by asking thoughtful questions. Don’t succumb to the urge to fill silence with your own words. Rather than rushing to share your own judgment or advice, create space for others to express themselves.
  • Express vulnerability – A willingness to show others your authentic self is the bedrock of healthy relationships. Share the struggles and moments of conflict you faced before reaching a particular career milestone. Leaders who effectively model vulnerability make people more willing to open up about themselves.
  • Showing gratitude – Strengthen your bonds with others by taking time to show others you appreciate them. Pay people specific compliments about things they’ve done. Note concrete ways their actions positively affected you or others.
Image of: Every Conversation Counts
Book Summary

Every Conversation Counts

Learn strategies for fostering the meaningful connections you crave in today’s distraction-filled world.

Riaz Meghji Page Two Publishers
Read Summary

As you mature, so does your radar for sensing the emotional dimension in your interactions. You can enhance your ability in this area with practice, but you must be willing to change old habits. That requires awareness of your ingrained feelings, responses and behaviors. It means developing a plan to replace an old habit with a new one, as well as committing to being patient and allocating time to let a new behavior take hold. Becoming more skilled at these emotional competencies is worth the time and effort. Your life will be richer for it.

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6 We have curated the most actionable insights from 6 summaries for this feature.
6 We read and summarized 6 books with 1719 pages for this article.
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