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Emotional intelligence in leadership

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There has been a long-held stereotype that leaders should be rational and non-emotional, and that they should deal with challenges and decision-making processes in their role with cool calculation. The expression of emotion has likewise often also been considered to be “unprofessional”.

However, neurological findings suggest exactly the opposite, showing that feelings are necessary to the decision making process (George, 2000) and that working effectively with emotions is essential in healthy workplaces.

To be effective, leaders must have a solid understanding of how their emotions and actions affect the people around them. The better a leader relates to, and works with others, the more successful they will be (Mind Tools Content team, n.d.).

Goleman et al. (2003, as cited in Lazányi, n.d.) assert that emotions, and the exercising of emotional intelligence, are fundamental to the effective leader. Emotional intelligence is therefore vital for leadership success.

As you read through each of these, how might you practice each of them in your role as a leader? Think about your leader or other leaders in your organisation. Can you identify any examples of these characteristics being displayed?


This requires a leader to cultivate a conscious awareness of their thoughts and feelings and be able to understand how their own emotions affect those around them. When considering self-awareness in leadership, it also requires a leader to have a clear awareness of their personal strengths and weaknesses to cultivate humility. This can be encouraged through daily reflections and journaling.


Our behaviour as leaders and the way that we manage our own emotions can have significant impact on those we lead. Good leaders still express emotions, but they are in control of these emotional expressions. This means avoiding rushed or emotionally-based decisions and unregulated emotional outbursts. Self-regulation can be developed through clear awareness of the values you determine to live by, maintaining accountability and humility in the times you may get it wrong, and commitment to practicing “calm” in challenging moments.

Social skills

This includes a range of communication and interpersonal skills that help a leader to effectively work with and influence other people’s emotions. This includes persuasiveness and the ability inspire others to your ways of thinking while being able to equally listen to their thoughts. It involves good communication, which includes the ability to clearly and persuasively convey your thoughts and feelings and conflict management skills, all while being able to build rapport with your team. Gaining skills in conflict resolution, communication, and feedback can all help to build social skills.


The ability to be able to consider how others feel in a given situation, or to “put yourself in their shoes” is an essential element of an emotionally intelligent leader who can successfully manage a team of people and their many idiosyncrasies. Paying attention to facial expressions, body language and really taking time to listen are all essential elements of the empathic leader.


Motivation is an important element of leadership that will provide drive and a sense of purpose. Having high standards and a clear set of goals are vital for purpose-driven work that sets an example for followers. Remembering why you undertook your role and focusing on aspects about your position that bring optimism will assist with the development of positive motivation.

How emotionally intelligent are you? In the next section, take the online questionnaire to find out.

George, J. M. (2000). Emotions and leadership: The role of emotional intelligence. Human Relations, 53(8), 1027–1055. doi:
Lazányi, K. (2009). The role of leaders’ emotions. Applied Studies in Agribusiness and Commerce – APSTRACT. Retrieved from
Mind Tools Content Team. (n.d.). Emotional intelligence in leadership: Learning how to be more aware. Retrieved from
© University of Southern Queensland
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