Emotional intelligence in leadership

In part three of our series on leadership, learn how to exercise these core competencies for strong management.


Effective leaders have certain characteristics in common. While intelligence quotient, or IQ, and technical skills are important — and certainly should be considered as requirements for any executive — another critical trait is emotional intelligence, sometimes known as emotional quotient, or EQ.

Emotional intelligence is a person’s ability to accurately perceive and manage her emotions and those of others, according to Harvard Business Review.

Seeing yourself as others see you and understanding how you instinctively react to stressors — both good and bad — are valuable tools. The outward representation of this can be seen in an environment of confidence and trust with those you lead.

Common competencies of an EQ leader include:


The ability to be genuinely humble is perhaps the most important and attractive personality trait in a leader. Intellectually humble people may have strong beliefs “but recognize their fallibility and are willing to be proven wrong on matters large and small,” says Mark Leary, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at Duke University. In research conducted by Duke, people who were intellectually humble were better than their intellectually “arrogant” counterparts at evaluating the quality of evidence and distinguishing strong arguments from weak ones.


Recognize who you are — your values, your emotions, your moods, your strengths, your weaknesses — and understand how these traits impact those around you (on your good days and your bad days). When your team members come to know what they can consistently expect from you, and, therefore, trust you, you lead from a position of strength. In InterBusiness Issues, Mike Compton of the Excel Leadership Group recommends identifying the source or “trigger” of negative feelings, such as anxiety. “Once you can identify the source of a feeling and see it on paper, it becomes clearer what you need to do to improve your response to a trigger,” he writes. This self-awareness also helps us empathize with coworkers.


Control emotions and mood swings in a manner that allows you to redirect those negative impulses into positive, effective energy. When you can maintain a certain level of calm, you can think and communicate clearly with your team. “When a new database system is announced, for instance, a self-regulating leader will steer clear of snap judgment, focus on the steps for implementation, and lead the way by example,” writes Daniel Goleman, psychologist and author of the book “Emotional Intelligence.”


This is ability to listen and to understand. Respect that your team members may each be wired a little differently and may not necessarily see the world through the same lens. This includes situations in which your team members react to a situation either positively or negatively — for example, new work hours. A study of direct-care nurses showed that empathy for others’ negative emotions was associated with greater compassion satisfaction — that is, the pleasure one derives from being able to do their work. Empathy with others’ positive emotions was associated with reduced fatigue and burnout, according to the same study, “The role of emotional intelligence and empathy in compassionate care nursing,” which was published in ScienceDirect.


Motivation is the ability to mobilize your positive emotions to drive you toward your goals — a true passion for the work that you do, that goes beyond financial gain or status. Motivated leaders demonstrate passion for their work — they seek out creative challenges and are “eager to explore new approaches to work,” writes Dr. Goleman. Employees draw from the purpose and passion of their leader.

Relationship management

This is the ability to maintain healthy, productive and lasting relationships both professionally and personally. Empathy and self-awareness play a strong role. The right relationships should challenge you to stretch and to grow. Notice and identify those relationships so that you may help to nurture them — both for yourself and your team — and discard those relationships that are not.

Effective communication

Express your thoughts and feelings in a positive manner such that your messages provide clarity and create stronger working relationships. When employees have clarity in the mission, know their roles, and understand how they impact the goals of the organization, there is a sense of value, alignment and purpose. Gallup research from 2016 found that, even when employees are motivated, “those who lack clear expectations and spend too much time working on the wrong things can’t advance key initiatives to create value for an organization.”

Create these habits

This list of competencies is certainly not exhaustive. But, it describes key tools emotionally intelligent leaders should have in their toolkits. To instill them, take time to reflect each day. Return to this list of core competencies and think about how you may have done things differently and how you can grow to do it better next time. Plan an apology, if necessary, to right a wrong or smooth over a situation you may not have handled very well. At the same time, quietly and quickly celebrate the things that went well. This purposeful, consistent self-improvement is the cornerstone of exceptional leadership.

In our industry, it has become the expectation to exceed goals, stay on the cutting edge of emerging technologies, develop and improve working relationships, and, of course, to enhance our workplace culture through service, staff engagement, and overall improvement of the patient experience. These market pressures demand we stay current, and it takes an emotionally mature and intelligent leader to navigate the challenges. OP