- Emotional Intelligence and its Impact on Leadership
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May 31, 2023

Think of the most influential leader you've encountered in your professional journey. What made them stand out? Was it their hard technical skills? Their strategic mindset? While these qualities are significant, something often underpins true leadership effectiveness—emotional intelligence.

Let's take the case of Satya Nadella, the CEO of Microsoft. When Nadella took the reins in 2014, he brought a distinct shift in the company's culture, focusing on empathy and collaboration—a clear sign of high emotional intelligence. He often emphasizes learning from customers and understanding their experiences. "In the long run," he says, "EQ trumps IQ." His leadership approach has seen Microsoft reach new heights. Under Nadella's empathetic and emotionally intelligent leadership, Microsoft's market value skyrocketed, regaining its position as one of the world's most valuable companies. This example stands as a testament to how emotional intelligence can power business success at the highest levels.

First coined by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer in 1990, the term "emotional intelligence" is defined as the ability to identify, understand, use, and manage emotions in positive ways. It's about knowing what you're feeling, why you're feeling it, and how these emotions impact those around you. It's about understanding others' feelings and effectively navigating interpersonal relationships.

So why is emotional intelligence—or EQ (emotional quotient), as it's often known—integral to leadership effectiveness? According to a comprehensive study by the Center for Creative Leadership, leaders lacking emotional intelligence are likelier to fail. They struggle with conflict resolution, decision-making, and building a positive workplace culture.

On the other hand, leaders with high emotional intelligence create environments where employees feel valued and understood. They are excellent communicators and inspire others to perform at their best.

Indra Nooyi, the former CEO of PepsiCo. Known for her remarkable emotional intelligence, Nooyi made empathy a cornerstone of her leadership. She believed in understanding people's emotions and valued the individual contributions of her team. In an impressive display of her high EQ, she wrote letters to the parents of her senior executives to thank them for the job they had done raising leaders. She created a culture of mutual respect and appreciation, contributing to the high morale and productivity of her team. Under Nooyi's leadership, PepsiCo saw consistent growth and revenue increase, reflecting how emotional intelligence can significantly contribute to a company's bottom line.

Five Core Components of Emotional Intelligence 

According to psychologist and best-selling author Daniel Goleman, emotional intelligence isn't a nebulous concept; it can be broken down into five core components. As a TTI Certified Debriefer, I've placed TTI terminology in parenthesis. 


Imagine a pilot trying to navigate a plane without an instrument panel. It's impossible, right? The same applies to leadership. Without self-awareness, leaders are navigating blindly. They may make decisions based on inaccurate perceptions of their strengths and weaknesses. Self-aware leaders, however, can recognize their emotional patterns, understand their strengths and limitations, and adapt accordingly.


Take, for instance, a kettle on a stove. As the water heats up, pressure builds until the kettle lets out a piercing whistle. Without self-regulation, we're much like that kettle. Leaders who can self-regulate don't allow their emotions to cloud their judgement or decisions. They think before acting, show flexibility in handling change, and maintain integrity in all situations.

You're working from home on a high-priority project with a fast-approaching deadline. Suddenly, an urgent email pops up from a client requesting immediate changes to a past deliverable. The request feels unreasonable and triggers feelings of frustration and stress. However, instead of reacting impulsively and drafting a sharp-tongued reply, you practice self-regulation.

You take a moment to step away from your computer, noticing your emotional state. Acknowledging the frustration, you take a few deep breaths, allowing your emotional reaction to settle. You understand that lashing out won't solve the problem and might damage the client relationship.

After a short break, a walk around the block or a few minutes of mindful meditation, you return to your workspace with a calmer perspective. You construct a professional, empathetic response to the client, acknowledging their request and promising to review it promptly. You then communicate with your team about this new development and reorganize your schedule to accommodate the necessary changes.

Despite the triggering situation, your practiced self-regulation has allowed you to handle the situation efficiently, maintain a healthy client relationship, and also manage your own stress levels. Such moments of self-regulation ultimately contribute to your growth as a resilient professional and an emotionally intelligent individual.


Phil Jackson perfectly encapsulates motivation: "The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team." Leaders with intrinsic motivation don't just chase external rewards or recognition. They are driven by a desire for personal growth, the pursuit of goals, and aligning their actions with their values.

Motivation is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence because it fuels the drive to achieve personal and professional goals, regardless of external factors like recognition or rewards. It is the inner force that propels us to persist in the face of obstacles, maintain a positive attitude, and strive for excellence. Leaders with strong intrinsic motivation are often resilient and tenacious, qualities that inspire their teams and creates a high-performance culture.

It is also tightly linked to self-regulation, another critical aspect of emotional intelligence. To stay motivated, we need to manage our emotions effectively, especially during challenging times. When we are able to self-regulate, we can maintain focus on our goals without letting transient emotions derail us. In addition, motivation often springs from a deep sense of purpose or passion. Leaders who connect their work to a purpose greater than themselves often display high levels of emotional intelligence, as they understand the impact of their emotions on their performance and are able to channel them towards constructive ends. In the Scaling Up world, this is why we emphasize setting a BHAG

Empathy (Social Awareness)

Empathy is not about agreeing with others' perspectives but understanding them. Leaders with empathy validate their team members' feelings, understand diverse viewpoints, and use this understanding to manage their teams effectively. A study published in the Journal of Leadership Studies underscores the pivotal role of empathetic leadership in fostering job satisfaction and trust.

Social Skills (Social Regulation)

Just as a conductor harmonizes an orchestra to create a symphony, leaders with good social skills create harmonious relationships within their teams. They are adept at managing relationships, inspiring others, and leading change.

Imagine you're leading a virtual team meeting where tensions are running high due to a recent project setback. Practicing social skills in this scenario would involve first acknowledging the team's emotions and concerns. You might open the floor for them to express their feelings, demonstrating active listening and empathy. Once everyone feels heard, you could guide the discussion toward solutions, encouraging collaboration and constructive input. You could also diffuse tension with humor or share a personal experience of overcoming a similar setback. By managing the team's emotions and facilitating effective communication, you use your social skills to create a positive and collaborative environment. Over time, this skill in managing interpersonal relationships can significantly contribute to your leadership success.

Emotional Intelligence and the Bottom Line

If we want to dive into concrete figures, a research from TalentSmart found that 90% of top-performing leaders possess high emotional intelligence, while it accounts for nearly 60% of job performance.

Imagine the impact of such leadership on organizational culture and, ultimately, on the bottom line. When leaders manage their emotions positively, they reduce workplace stress, increase engagement, and create a culture of empathy, mutual respect, and productivity.

Consider the transformation story of Eileen Fisher, the eponymous founder of a women's clothing line. In the early years, the company was struggling with high stress and turnover. Recognizing the problem, Fisher started down on a path of exercising emotional intelligence within her leadership style. The result? The company experienced a significant drop in turnover and a surge in employee satisfaction and productivity.

Strengthening Emotional Intelligence. It Can Change!

Leadership, at its core, is a human endeavor. And as we move through the complex landscape of human emotions, honing our emotional intelligence becomes paramount.

So, how can you strengthen your emotional intelligence? Start by practicing mindfulness. A Harvard Business Review article outlines how mindfulness helps leaders develop self-awareness and emotional regulation, two key components of emotional intelligence.

Another strategy is to seek feedback. Regular and constructive feedback can provide valuable insights into our emotional patterns and blind spots.

author avatar
George Morris
I use my 20+ years of entrepreneurial experience and training to coach businesses on scaling up rapidly using Verne Harnish's Scaling Up framework. By doing so, my clients are more efficient and profitable, giving them the ability to make bigger impacts in the world. I deeply believe entrepreneurs are the best equipped to be the vehicle for meaningful change, and in the decade ahead, we'll see a substantial shift in how business is done. We'll move to a model where company purpose, impact, curiosity, and team health will be differentiators in overall business success. As Simon Sinek has pointed out, the finite games are the legacy of the past; we're moving to an infinite game.