Emotional intelligence — a phrase coined by two psychologists and academicians, John Mayer, of the University of New Hampshire, and Peter Salovey of Yale University and made popular by Danial Goleman in his best-selling book Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ — is one of the most critical yet overlooked aspects of effective leadership in the workplace.

Too often organizations are headed by visionaries and/or high-performers who rose into leadership positions as a means of rewarding high performance. But being a visionary and a high-performer are not necessarily indicators of effective leadership. 

Leadership is bringing others together toward a common goal, which requires the ability to be attuned to one’s own deep feelings about one’s career and what changes might be necessary to be truly satisfied with one’s work as well as the ability to draw the same out in others. This is precisely why emotional intelligence is critical to effective leadership.

Whether one wants to admit it or not — and let’s face it, most people do not think emotions play a role in the workplace — emotions are behind all decision-making. Research consistently shows that emotions constitute powerful, pervasive, and predictable drivers of decision-making. Emotions direct one’s attention, enhances a person’s memory, organizes human behavior and orientations toward people and play a critical role in moral and ethical development. To not seek to better understand one’s own emotions and learn to attune one’s self to the emotions of others comes at a great cost to the workplace, including:

  • A decrease in organizational productivity
  • An increase in missed deadlines
  • An increase in mistakes and mishaps
  • A high employee turnover

In short, the bottom line suffers when the individuals at the top of the organization have low levels of emotional intelligence. And, when an organization is plagued with leaders who are not attuned to their own emotions, and therefore are unable to manage them, companies can crash and burn.

Emotional intelligence is:

  1. Emotional awareness is the ability to identify one’s own emotions, differentiate them from feelings, as well as identity the emotions and feelings of others
  2. The ability to harness emotions and feelings and apply them to cognition and problems-solving
  3. The ability to manage emotions and feelings, including the ability to regulate one’s own emotions and the ability to regulate emotions in others

Emotional intelligence is comprised of five components — self-awareness, self-management, motivation, empathy and social skills. In his book Emotional Intelligence, Goleman defines these components of EI as follows:

  1. Self-awareness is the ongoing attention to one’s internal states. In this state of self-reflexive awareness, the mind is able to observe, investigate and experience itself.
  2. Self-management is handling emotions in a manner that is appropriate to the situation and one’s specific role in the situation. The goal of self-management is to balance, not suppress, emotions and feelings. As mentioned above, emotions serve a critical role in all aspects of decision-making. The key is to regulate them in the most appropriate and effective manner called for by the situation.
  3. Motivating one’s self is the marshaling of emotions and feelings to enhance achievement in one’s self and others. The degree to which one is motivated by feelings of enthusiasm and pleasure in his or her work affects how well a person is able to propel himself to accomplishment.
  4. Empathy is recognizing emotions and feelings in others, which helps leaders to motivate others, appreciate their contributions (and perhaps the personal and/or professional costs of those contributions) as well as inform how to step in and provide assistance in relevant and meaningful ways when assistance is necessary.
  5. Social skills are the social competencies that make for effectiveness in dealings with others. Social abilities allow one to shape an encounter, to mobilize and inspire others, to thrive in professional and personal relationships, to persuade and influence and to put others at ease.

The chart below demonstrates how emotional intelligence comes to life in both personal and social competencies.

Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

Based on one’s childhood upbringing, one’s innate temperament and other factors, some people are inherently more emotionally intelligent than others. The good news is that emotional intelligence can be learned and the competencies and skills associated with emotional intelligence can be strengthened through use and on-going practice. Professionals who consciously choose to increase their emotional intelligence through training and practice will develop the leadership acumen necessary to be agents of positive change in their work environments and will inspire the same in others.

Robyn Short is a mediator with expertise in transformative mediation practices and restorative justice models for dispute resolution. Whether in a corporate, nonprofit, academic or home environment, Robyn assists parties in discovering the root causes of their conflicts, so they may transform their relationships and create new and productive paths forward individually and as teams. Robyn helps organizations through mediation, facilitation, onsite conflict training seminars, leadership training and dialogue circles. Learn more at www.RobynShort.com.