Leadership in times of change: mastering emotional and political intelligence for influence  

influence analysis

Steve Macaulay and Sarah Cook provide an overview of enabling managerial success through EQ and PQ  

In times of instability or sudden and unexpected change, it becomes even more important to manage relationships influentially. Many organisations are in this position now, with a host of change issues, one after another – from recovery from the pandemic to supply chain issues and working in a hybrid way.  

Bluntly: grasp political and emotional skills if you wish to make a success of your career and the organisation you work for  

However, complex organisations seldom line up with the rational expectations of managers. The ability to decipher people’s actions and influence behaviours becomes pivotal for effective leadership. Managing one’s own and others’ emotions (emotional intelligence, EQ) and understanding their political intentions (political intelligence, PQ) offer valuable tools for achieving results in collaborative endeavours.  

The linking of emotional intelligence and political intelligence emerges as a potent force in helping managers achieve their goals. As role models of organisational culture and performance, managers benefit significantly from honing these competencies.  

What are PQ and EQ? 

Political intelligence is vital in these times of change, where organisational progress can be hindered or diverted by political dynamics. Recognising organisational politics as a strategic element, rather than a dark art, a common misconception, is crucial for preventing major frustrations and undesirable outcomes.  

Emotional intelligence  

Often dismissed as soft stuff, emotional intelligence is a manager’s ability to comprehend, manage, and channel their emotions and to recognise the emotions of others. This skillset proves indispensable for fostering a positive work environment, effective communication, and team cohesion.  

Psychologist and author Daniel Goleman breaks down emotional intelligence into four parts:  

Self-awareness: Knowing yourself, your own strengths and weaknesses, and being self-confident.  

Self-management: Managing your own emotional state so that you don’t always behave badly when you are emotional.  

Social awareness: Understanding the environment around you and other people(what’s going on for them) and showing empathy.  

Relationship management: Conflict resolution, influence, negotiations and change management.  

Political intelligence  

However, in the intricate web of organisational dynamics, emotional intelligence alone may fall short.  

This is where political intelligence comes to the fore, enabling managers to understand power structures, navigate office politics, and strategically influence decision making: 

Political awareness: Understanding the political landscape and staying informed about key players, power dynamics, and events to navigate effectively.  

Strategic decision making: Making decisions with careful consideration of their political implications.   

Influence and persuasion: Building relationships and utilising effective communication to gain support.   

Adaptability and flexibility: Being agile and resilient in response to changing political environments.   

The close connection between emotional and political intelligence is particularly useful to apply in managerial roles. Managers equipped with both can build robust relationships, understand individual motivations, and navigate organisational power effectively.  

Practical examples of where EQ and PQ can be applied to L&D initiatives  

1 Customising training programmes 
EQ: Tailoring programmes based on varied learning styles and emotional responses.  
PQ: Identifying key influencers to secure resources and support.  

2 Dealing with resistance to change  
EQ: Addressing concerns and managing emotional aspects during transitions.  
PQ: Aligning initiatives with organisational goals to overcome resistance. 

3 Building cross-functional collaboration  
EQ: Fostering collaboration through understanding emotional dynamics.  
PQ: Strategically building alliances for smoother cross-functional collaboration.  

4 Adapting training to cultural diversity  
EQ: Tailoring training to resonate with diverse backgrounds.  
PQ: Navigating cultural factors to align initiatives with corporate values.  

5 Securing leadership support  
EQ: Connecting with leaders on a personal level for support.  
PQ: Aligning initiatives with a strategic vision to gain executive support.   

To get to grips with political savvy, develop these key skills  

To become politically savvy, it’s essential to develop key skills by working to understand your organisation’s dynamics. This involves observing group discussions and both formal and informal rules to navigate effectively. Additionally, cultivating a strong network across the organisation is vital for comprehending diverse perspectives and fostering mutual support.  

You should also focus on enhancing your ability to influence others through effective communication and relationship building, establishing an open approach in the process. It’s important to show authenticity in your interactions, demonstrating that you mean what you say.   

Moreover, exercise discretion by managing emotions, knowing when to speak, and expressing thoughts strategically to garner support. Developing political savvy requires effort and emotional intelligence is crucial for acquiring and honing these skills by understanding organisational dynamics.  

To tap into emotional intelligence, these skills are required  

To develop emotional intelligence, several key skills must be mastered. These include self-awareness, which involves understanding and recognising one’s own emotions, strengths, weaknesses, and the impact of one’s actions on others.   

Additionally, self-regulation is crucial; this entails managing and controlling emotions effectively, remaining calm under pressure, and adapting to changing situations without impulsivity.   

Furthermore, motivation plays a significant role, as individuals need to channel their emotions to achieve personal and professional goals, maintaining a positive attitude and persistence despite challenges.   

Empathy is another essential skill, requiring an understanding and sharing of the feelings of others, along with demonstrating the ability to connect emotionally and respond with genuine care and understanding.   

Lastly, social skills are important for building and maintaining healthy relationships, communicating effectively, and navigating social situations with tact, collaboration, and conflict resolution. Developing these skills fosters emotional intelligence and enhances interpersonal interactions.  

Extending applications EQ and PQ: Latest developments for HR and L&D  

Here are some important areas of organisational life where new applications of EQ and PQ give valuable additional insights:  

1 Technological integration  
Exploring AI and machine learning for emotional intelligence tools.  
Implementing virtual reality for emotional intelligence training. 

2 Digital platforms for skill development  
Increasing online courses and apps applied to emotional and political intelligence.  
Using interactive content and feedback for enhanced skills.  

3 DEI initiatives  
Integrating emotional intelligence into diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) training for better communication and inclusivity. | 

4 Leadership development  
Emphasising emotional and political intelligence with real-world applications.  

5 Addressing remote work challenge  
Focusing on emotions in virtual settings and facing up to challenges in remote team dynamics.  

6 Ethics of leadership  
Political intelligence as a component of ethical decision-making and responsible leadership.  


No one should turn their backs on emotional and political intelligence: together they enhance leadership effectiveness in handling an unpredictable world where relationships are key.   

In other words, bluntly, grasp political and emotional skills if you wish to make a success of your career and the organisation you work for.  

Mastering these skills enables better handling of relationships, goal achievement, and making a positive impact. While challenging, their lifelong value is undeniable, benefiting both individuals and organisations. Research cited by author Jeffrey Pfeffer confirms that career advancement often correlates with heightened visibility and political acumen.   

Steve Macaulay is an associate at Cranfield Executive Development   
Sarah Cook is MD at the Stairway Consultancy   

Steve Macaulay

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