Emotionally intelligent leadership, and why it’s crucial right now

Right now, emotionally intelligent leadership is more crucial and relevant than ever. Tamson Amara tells us more.

Emotionally Intelligent Leadership is known to correlate with job satisfaction, employee performance, organisational performance and lower levels of employee burnout. Teams need leaders who can empathise with personal predicaments and inspire them towards a shared purpose, whilst rolling with the ongoing uncertainties for business. This takes EQ.

What is EQ?

EQ has become a familiar term in the workplace. It stands for Emotional Intelligence Quotient – a measure of emotional intelligence, as comparable to IQ (Intelligence Quotient).

Emotional intelligence grew out of a 20s definition of ‘social intelligence’; the ability to act wisely within human relations. By the 80s psychologists had recognised multiple intelligences, including intrapersonal and interpersonal.

‘Emotional intelligence’ – the skill to manage emotions and deal effectively with others- emerged in 1990, coined by John Mayer and Peter Salovey, and popularised by Daniel Goleman. Goleman, an American psychologist, defined five key areas of emotional intelligence:

  • Self-awareness
  • Self-regulation
  • Motivation
  • Empathy
  • Social skills

EQ and leadership

Goleman believed that to be a great leader, a person must have a high degree of emotional intelligence. He suggested that IQ accounts for only 20% of the factors determining a person’s success, whereas EQ likely accounts for the rest.

Relating that to leadership, Goleman and subsequent researchers found that high EQ is actually a far better predictor of effective leadership than IQ, and that overall success or failure of an organisation can be determined by the level of EQ skill of its leadership.

In a nutshell: understanding and managing your and your team’s emotions, connecting and empathising with your individual team members, communicating effectively and inspiring their trust, creativity and shared purpose – are all essential, high EQ traits for contemporary leaders to influence behaviour, attitude and success.

Six low EQ leadership behaviours

  1. Poor self awareness

Poor self-awareness makes leaders less likely to understand their inner drivers and anxieties and their origin. After a disruptive and stressful year, agility, flexibility and resilience (grit) have become essential organisational behaviours. Unfortunately, a low EQ mindset is more likely to have become pessimistic and even embraced victimhood in the face of setbacks.

Organisations and teams need clarity and decisiveness right now. Low EQ leaders, with their inability to grasp, process and utilise their own emotional states, are not best placed to provide this. Clear decision-making requires a calm state, rather than an angry, hurt or fearful one.

On the flipside, being less able to harvest important emotional information, and combine it with reasoning, makes low EQ leaders less astute decision-makers. We’ve witnessed this amongst many ‘strongman’ heads of state during the pandemic.

Low EQ also means people are more likely to seek external validation rather than act from an authentic internal compass, and are less able to see and mitigate their unconscious biases.

  1. Minimal self regulation

Poor self regulation means an inability to feel, process and manage emotions before they become overwhelming. It can lead to overreaction, impulsive action, ignoring risk or reverting to control strategies that hinder performance.

Without stress management skills, low EQ leaders, like everyone else, are more prone to outbursts or meltdowns, and their flying off the handle is exactly what employees don’t need as they manage the uncertainties and stresses of their own lives.

  1. Low empathy and social awareness

It’s imperative right now that leaders can read the emotions of their teams. Lacking the skill to recognise the emotional and social dynamics at play within their teams and organisations, they will be far less effective at using them as a resource in strategic decision-making and goal-setting within the post-Covid landscape.

Empathy is a key trait of high EQ leaders. Low empathy leaders are unlikely to recognise the impact of their own behaviour or look very far beyond their own experiences and needs. Judging, lecturing, interrupting or telling people to ‘snap out of it’, rather than listening and empathising with people’s issues won’t help.

In fact the added invalidation will damage confidence, morale and trust, and inevitably diminish focus and productivity. It’s well known that people tend to leave bosses more frequently than jobs.

  1. Rigidity and control

Low EQ leaders are more likely to have reverted to old school control-based forms of Leadership during the past year. Struggling to shift perspective and navigate the bumpy emotional terrain, they may have turned to lean on the rules: to rigid policy and procedure.

This inflexibility will have likely failed to meet the differing needs of team members during the pandemic, stifled innovation and creativity, and diminished their team’s emotional investment in their work.

  1. Poor relationship management

Low EQ Leadership styles tend not to prioritise relationship-building and collaboration. More self-centred and lacking humility, low EQ Leaders are less likely to welcome the suggestions and expertise of others, nor readily accept help, nor seek out and incorporate alternative perspectives.

They’re generally less open to being constructively questioned or challenged, and as a result, their people can feel creatively and intellectually stifled and resentful.

Low EQ Leaders have limited skill in listening to, mentoring and coaching their people, or mediating or resolving conflict. Naturally this has a knock-on impact for workplace culture. We’ve all been in meetings where no one is willing or able to actually listen to one another.

Low EQ tends to lead to generally lower levels of trust, inclusion and collaboration in the workplace, with knock on effects for performance and productivity. A poor quality workplace culture is going to exacerbate pandemic burnout and lead to loss of talent.

  1. Rubbish communication

As purpose emerges as one of the defining features of business in the 21st century, it’s increasingly important for employees to find meaning in their work, and participate in a positive, nurturing work culture. Communicating a clear vision and purpose for their team and organisation is one of a leader’s crucial roles.

Low EQ Leaders tend to communicate less authentically and emotionally, and therefore have less power to influence and inspire their employees. Unable to get behind a well communicated shared purpose and vision, people’s emotional buy-in to their work and organisation fades – a lose-lose for everyone.

Low EQ and poor communication also tends to result in misunderstanding, conflict, time wasting and general inefficiency.

The good news: EQ can be learned

Research has demonstrated that emotional intelligence training boosts productivity. You can not only learn EQ, but continually develop and refine it.

Emotionally intelligent leaders and teams practice:

  • A clear shared vision and purpose that unites and inspires;
  • A culture of trust, mutual support and collaboration;
  • Higher levels of focus and productivity;
  • An ability to harvest emotional information, and combine it with reasoning within decision-making;
  • Conscious Leadership – in service rather than command;
  • Resilience in the face of setbacks, uncertainty and change;
  • Effective problem-solving;
  • A creative and innovative culture of learning and co-evolution;
  • Higher job satisfaction;
  • Burnout awareness and avoidance.


About the author

Tamson Amara is founder of Amara Coaching and Training 


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