Emotional Intelligence and Leadership

What is Emotional Intelligence? 

Emotional intelligence (EI) is not only the ability to understand and manage our own emotions, but also to understand and respond to the emotions of others in a positive way. It is a very important skill required to lead a successful life, whether at home, office or society, because it affects our relationships with family, colleagues and friends. The term was popularized by psychologist Daniel Goleman, who emphasized the importance of emotional intelligence in leadership, saying, “The most effective leaders have a high degree of emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions.” – Harvard Business Review.  

Emotional intelligence is considered as one of the most important skills in leaders and has become the most sought-after interpersonal skills at the workplace. Success and fulfillment in life don't necessarily correlate with high intelligence. It depends greatly on how we interact with others, express ourselves and connect with others. In fact, 71 percent of employers value emotional intelligence more than technical skills when evaluating candidates (as per a report of Harvard Business Review).  

EI plays a key role in helping us become successful as a student, employee and leader. A person with high EI is more aware, has more self-control, is more empathetic, communicates effectively and gets along well with others. On the other hand, people with low emotional intelligence find it difficult to manage and express emotions, often leading to conflict, misunderstanding and unsuccessful project outcomes. Some individuals may excel academically but might struggle socially and find themselves unsuccessful in both career and relationships if they lack emotional intelligence 

The four key elements of emotional intelligence: 

• Self-awareness: ability to recognize our emotions and their effects on us and others. 

• Self-management: ability to manage our emotions in a positive way. 

• Social awareness: ability to recognize other person’s emotions  

• Relationship management: ability to influence and mentor others to foster collaboration  

You can learn about each of these in detail at 

EI and Empathy: 

Empathy helps you to relate to the feelings of other people and being compassionate towards them. It involves putting yourself in someone else's situation and seeing things from their perspective. Empathy helps nurture healthy relationships whether in personal life or work life. Emotional intelligence and empathy go hand in hand. Individuals with high EI tend to be very empathetic with a better understanding of other people's emotions. Empathy is important at the workplace because it affects teamwork and the ability to work in groups. 

Why is EI important in leadership? 

As per the ‘Center for Creative Leadership’, a good leader should have integrity, self-awareness, courage, respect, empathy, and gratitude among other qualities. Almost all of these qualities are related to Emotional Intelligence. Higher EI helps a person connect with the team members well, communicate effectively, respond to their needs properly and build strong relationships within the team. Leaders who possess high EI are good decision makers, excellent problem solvers, and have a higher success rate. Emotional intelligence helps teams collaborate better by building trusting relationships, fostering trust and open dialogue, managing stress better, and creating a collaborative atmosphere conducive to innovation and problem-solving.  

Individuals with high EI acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses, are open to new information and experiences, actively learn from their interactions with others. Additionally, they also have a good sense of humor, confidence in their abilities, and are mindful of how others perceive them. 

How can you develop EI? 

Emotional intelligence is good for personal and interpersonal development, which is an important quality to be a good leader. It is not an innate trait, not everyone is born with high EI. The good news is it can be acquired / developed over time through practice. Developing emotional intelligence is a lifelong process. Here are some questions that can prompt you to think about emotional intelligence to begin cultivating this important trait (you may explore these questions through journaling, group discussions, or self-reflection) 

  • What emotions do you experience most frequently, and how do they impact you? 

  • Do you actively listen to others and try to understand their perspectives? 

  • How do you develop and maintain positive relationships with friends, family, and colleagues? 

  • What strategies do you use to stay calm when things don't work the way you want and stay focused under pressure? 

  • Can you recall a situation where you successfully managed your emotions to positively influence a group or team? 

  • Can you recall a situation where you demonstrated empathy and how it impacted the outcome? 

  • What communication strategies do you use to build positive relationships with peers, teachers, and others? 

  • How do you handle conflicts or disagreements in a way that promotes understanding and resolution? 

  • Do you regularly reflect on your own emotional responses and behaviors? Has self-reflection contributed to your personal growth and development? 

  • Can you identify areas where you would like to improve, and the steps you can take to achieve it? 

Research has shown that emotional intelligence is a key predictor of leadership success. Leaders with high emotional intelligence are better able to build strong relationships, motivate their employees, communicate effectively, and make sound decisions. Not only that, EI also enriches personal relationships and social contributions. People with high EI have long-lasting, healthy, and fulfilling personal relationships. Furthermore, they also tend to be valuable contributors to society, making them participate actively in social causes, volunteerism, and other activities that contribute to the well-being of society. 


MSEd, K. C. (2023b, May 2). Emotional intelligence: how we perceive, evaluate, express, and control emotions. Verywell Mind. 

Emotional intelligence in Leadership: Why it’s important. (2019, April 3). Business Insights Blog. 

Empathy: what it is, why it matters, and how you can improve | (n.d.). 

Staff, L. E. (2023, December 20). 12 characteristics of a good leader. CCL. 

Smith, J. (2023, October 11). The importance of emotional intelligence in business leadership. Forbes. 

Gupta, S. (2023, December 27). How to level up your leadership skills through emotional intelligence. Verywell Mind.,most%20effective%20to%20the%20situation. 

About the Author: 

Bhavani Munamarty has diverse global experience of over 20 years having worked in US, India, and Singapore in non-profits and commercial organizations ranging from small NGOs to large Fortune 500 companies. She has vast experience in implementing complex programs, including project evaluation, vendor / partner selection, planning & development, deployment, project and budget management. Her most recent corporate experience has been with Cognizant Foundation working as a ‘Director – Technology and Programs’ responsible for leading the ‘Education and Skilling’ sector. 

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