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Emotional Intelligence & Leadership Success

Emotional Intelligence & Leadership Success

Why do some leaders experience long-term success? How do they do it, and what is their secret? A particular skill set, mindset, specific personality traits, and attributes differentiate highly successful leaders and the longevity of their overall success. These qualities are known as emotional intelligence (EQ) and have become increasingly well-recognized in recent years. Moreover, with the global workforce changing significantly following the pandemic and employee expectations and priorities shifting, emotional intelligence in leadership has never been more critical than it is now. 

In this article, we will explore what emotional intelligence is, including the four domains of emotional intelligence, how emotional intelligence can impact and enhance one’s success as a leader, and the steps to take to understand and improve one’s emotional intelligence and leadership skills.  

What is Emotional Intelligence?  

Emotional intelligence is the ability to identify, regulate, and manage one’s own emotions and the emotions of others. People with high emotional intelligence accept themselves and others, are not typically judgmental, display empathy, and are highly motivated individuals who understand how to motivate others. 

Leaders with a high degree of emotional intelligence typically display the following characteristics: 

  • They have a high degree of self-awareness and understand their own emotions, strengths, and areas requiring improvement. 
  • They are open to and enthusiastic about professional development and keen to improve their leadership skills continuously. 
  • They know how to motivate and inspire others and are empathetic to the feelings and experiences of those around them.
  • They have well-developed active listening and communication skills and seek to understand, not to respond. 
  • They respect others and build positive and productive workplace cultures and relationships. 

Good leadership means understanding the people you are leading. Therefore, strong leadership skills are essential to success. Emotionally intelligent leaders use their empathy and understanding of the needs and emotions of others to be more effective.  

Four Domains of Emotional Intelligence 

According to Daniel Goleman and Richard E. Boyatzis in the Harvard Business Review, Emotional Intelligence comprises four domains: self-awareness, self-management, social awareness, and relationship management. Within each domain are twelve emotional intelligence competencies, which are learnable capabilities that allow outstanding performance at work or as a leader. 

These include attributes like empathy, adopting a positive outlook, and self-control. However, they also include crucial abilities such as achievement; influence; negotiation; conflict management and resolution; teamwork; and motivational, inspirational leadership. These skills require just as much engagement with emotions as the first set and should be just as much a part of any aspiring leader’s development priorities (Goleman & Boyatzis, 2017). 

Each of the four domains supports a leader in managing any crisis with lower levels of stress, less emotional reactivity, and fewer unintended consequences. 


  • This domain relates to an individual’s awareness of their emotions, behaviors, and reactions in certain situations. Behavior change and effective professional development are complex if leaders are unaware of their feelings and behaviors.  


  • This domain relates to how individuals regulate their emotions, adapt to different situations, and adopt a positive outlook and growth mindset.

Social Awareness:

  • This domain relates to the levels of empathy and organizational awareness a leader possesses and informs how they engage and communicate with others. 

Relationship Management:

  • This domain relates to how influential a leader is, their ability to coach and mentor others, their conflict resolution skills, their ability to collaborate effectively as part of a team, and how inspirational they are as a leader. 

Impacts of Poor Emotional Intelligence 

Someone may be brilliant academically but lack the skills associated with high emotional intelligence – such as empathizing with others and regulating their emotions effectively. It is not uncommon to experience leaders who appear grumpy, moody, or short-tempered, and their impact on individuals, teams, and workplace culture can be catastrophic if not addressed. Leaders who lack emotional intelligence are not empathetic in their approach to leading others, and their communication style is either aggressive or passive aggressive. 

In workplaces where leaders lack emotional intelligence, employees are compliant out of fear for their job security or other consequences, the workplace culture is toxic and harmful, and employee retention rates are low. Another common trait of leaders lacking emotional intelligence is that they are either overtly confrontational, shy away from managing conflict, or avoid confrontation altogether. This includes avoiding providing feedback or constructive criticism to employees, negatively impacting how they manage performance and communicate expectations to employees. Leaders lacking emotional intelligence are also those most likely to tolerate or ignore poor workplace behaviors, resulting in low workplace morale, employee engagement, psychological safety, and belonging.

With high emotional intelligence comes a better understanding of the needs and feelings of others and awareness of their behaviors and impact on those around them. Leaders with high emotional intelligence can better work with, build trust among, relate to, and understand their employees and colleagues and cultivate better relationships because of their heightened awareness of the emotional states of those around them. They communicate performance expectations, and employees understand their role in the organization and are supported to perform their jobs to the best of their abilities and achieve their goals. These leaders also understand their clients’ needs and can respond to them through product and service development and delivery (Morgaine, n.d.). 

Understanding One’s Emotional Intelligence 

Using comprehensive 360-degree assessments helps provide insights into one’s level of emotional intelligence. These assessments collect self-ratings and the views of others who know the person being assessed well. This external feedback helps evaluate all areas of emotional intelligence, including self-awareness (how would one know that one is not self-aware?). In addition, one can assess their strengths and areas requiring improvement by asking those they work with to provide feedback. 

Formal 360-degree assessments incorporate anonymous observations of one’s behavior by people who work with them, including direct reports, supervisors, and colleagues. These assessments best predict a leader’s effectiveness, business performance, interpersonal skills, engagement, and job satisfaction. They also provide feedback as to areas requiring improvement and can form the basis for a professional development plan (Goleman & Boyatzis, 2017). 

Improving One’s Emotional Intelligence 

If leaders are concerned that their emotional intelligence needs improvement to make them more effective and successful, they should not panic. Emotional intelligence constantly evolves and improves as leaders shift their mindset, awareness deepens, and leaders learn the skills to support their evolving emotional intelligence. To excel, leaders must balance their strengths across the suite of emotional intelligence competencies. When they do that, excellent business results follow (Thriving Talent, 2017). 

An excellent place for leaders to start is to focus on how they feel. Leaders must consciously observe their emotions throughout the day and clearly describe them. Similarly, focus on their actions and how they relate to the emotions they are experiencing. Finally, leaders must observe how their reactions and behaviors affect those around them. 

Here are a few questions to conduct a quick self-assessment: 

  • Would you describe yourself as a positive or solutions-focused person? 
  • Do people naturally gravitate to you and enjoy your company? 
  • Do you think your presence energizes, motivates, and inspires those around you?
  • Do your team members often come to you for advice or thank you for listening to them?  

These are subtle feedback clues that a leader’s mindset, behaviors, and attitude typically positively impact those around them and that they have high emotional intelligence. When interacting with people (clients, employees, and colleagues), leaders need to be mindful of and take the time to consider the emotions they are experiencing; attempt to understand their perspectives. It is impossible to know what another person is experiencing in their life. 

As a leader, it is crucial to remember that people bring their whole selves to work and may be experiencing difficulties in other areas of their life that impact their performance, behavior, and interactions with others in the workplace. Leaders with high emotional intelligence will sense that something may be wrong with one of their employees, almost like a gut instinct or intuition. This ‘knowing’ is emotional intelligence kicking in. This guides leaders to follow up with their employees privately to conduct a check-in or welfare check to ask if any support can be provided or merely let the employee know they have support if and when they may require it. This compassion sets leaders apart and builds trust and rapport between leader and employee. 

With the ever-changing work world and the need for leaders to constantly evolve to meet the needs of their employees, emotional intelligence will be one of the key factors contributing to leadership and business success. Emotional intelligence is more than a skill set for leaders to master; it is having conviction in your decisions, genuinely empathizing with others, having a clear purpose and vision, and adopting an open and positive mindset. 

Leaders who understand its importance and how to harness their emotional intelligence in the workplace to inspire, motivate and develop their employees will experience business success and loyalty amongst their teams and colleagues. More importantly, they will coach emerging leaders to do the same. 

The next step for leaders wishing to strengthen their emotional intelligence is to engage with a professional, coach, or mentor who can guide them through areas requiring improvement and shift their mindset. A coach will develop an action plan and hold leaders accountable to ensure they progress and leverage their strengths. The most successful leaders never stop learning and evolving. So, it makes good business sense for leaders to start exploring their levels of emotional intelligence.

You can also watch Kylie van Luyn‘s podcast episode, Resilience and Empowerment: Transforming Workplace Culture on YouTube below.

About the Author

Women Thrive Magazine Article Author - Kylie van Luyn

Name: Kylie van Luyn

Professional Title: Founder

Bio: Kylie is an experienced coach, consultant, and Executive with over 14 years of experience coaching & supporting people from diverse backgrounds. Kylie is passionate about helping people understand the link between mindset, confidence, and success. Her coaching areas of expertise include emotional intelligence, leadership development, fostering workplace diversity, equity, inclusion, and psychological safety, shifting mindset, building confidence, and empowering individuals to reach their full potential.


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