What are the top 5 characteristics of emotional intelligence in good leadership?

By Future Talent Learning


See how to use the top 5 characteristics of emotional intelligence to increase workplace wellbeing and productivity.


Emotional intelligence in leadership is comprised of empathy, social skills, self-awareness, self-regulation and motivation. These are all teachable soft skills that are the focus of our online leadership and management courses.


In the following article, we explore these top five characteristics of emotional intelligence found in effective leadership.


What does emotional intelligence mean?


With the rise of AI in HR, it’s become more important than ever for leaders to display emotional intelligence (EQ). In the context of business and HR, Emotional Intelligence is the ability to recognise and manage your emotions, as well as the emotions of other people in the workplace.


Why is emotional intelligence important to leaders and managers?


Someone needs to hold it together when the workplace erupts, or when negative emotions simmer just below the surface, creating a toxic working environment. A leader with high Emotional Intelligence can also help to foster a workplace culture that doesn’t become toxic in the first place.


As Chris Underwood’s feature on the vital role of emotional intelligence points out, leaders with high EQ can celebrate team balance and diversity, motivate and influence people as well as make decisions using critical thinking and positively influence strategy.


What are the top 5 characteristics of emotional intelligence in leaders?


According to Daniel Goleman, the psychologist who popularised the term 'emotional intelligence', EQ consists of:


  1. Self-awareness

  2. Self-regulation

  3. Motivation

  4. Empathy

  5. Social skills

1. Self-awareness

As a self-aware leader you know how you feel. You recognise how your emotions affect those around you. Your self-awareness isn’t just restricted to emotions, either. You acknowledge your ego and are aware of both your strengths and weaknesses. You aim to ensure your ego and personal traits work for the benefit of the workforce and organisation.

Tip to improve self-awareness as a leader: slow down 

Pause. Slow down. Don’t react to situations immediately. Take time to process and engage in critical thinking (which means challenging your own assumptions as well as those of others). Ensure that your reaction is measured and appropriate, not flawed by emotional responses in the heat of the moment.


2. Self-regulation

Picture yourself as your own boss – firm, but fair. You stay in control of your emotions. You don’t lash out, and you don’t compromise your workplace ethics. You hold yourself accountable to your actions.

When you are calm, other people around you are reassured and motivated to take positive action.

When you hold yourself accountable and act accordingly, you are upholding organisational ethics and leading by example.


Tip to improve self-regulation as a leader: stay calm

When you consistently react in a calm way to pressure it creates a general sense of improved wellbeing in the workplace. In fact, according to Samaritans CEO Ruth Sutherland, emotional literacy is key to mental wellbeing at work.


3. Motivation

Motivation partly stems from understanding WHAT you want to do and WHY you want to do it. Getting to grips with the ‘why’ part often requires a degree of self-reflection, which is where high Emotional Intelligence comes in.

Motivated leaders have high work standards for themselves and work towards goals in a consistent way. Leaders with high Emotional Intelligence also understand what makes their employees and work colleagues tick, and will be able to incentivise and motivate them to find their own reasons for working to the best of their ability.

Tip to improve motivation as a leader: value optimism

Think of optimism as a constructive response to stress. As champions know, optimism doesn’t just mean ‘thinking happy thoughts’. It means being able to perceive the benefits of a situation, and using that constructive optimism to sustain your commitment to succeed.

4. Empathy

As a leader with empathy, you are able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. This ability will help you develop people on your team, challenge stereotypes and unfair assumptions, deliver critical feedback wisely and be a good listener when your team need someone responsive in charge to help them navigate difficult situations.

An empathetic leader builds a positive work atmosphere upheld by team loyalty and mutual respect.

Tip to improve empathy as a leader: acknowledge feelings, not just words

You know how it is with body language. Sometimes, how something is said is easily as important as what is said. The long silences after news is delivered, the sigh an employee tried to hide, or the employee who just looks incredibly tired… these things matter. As an empathetic leader, aim to respond to these non-verbal cues. Address the emotions behind them. Give the employee the opportunity to express the problem or need they are facing, so that you can work through solutions together.

5. Soft skills

Most of us know a leader we’d describe as being a ‘people person’ or having great social skills. Social skills are about the art of making an emotional connection with communication.

Leaders with good social skills are able to deliver bad news and celebrate good news in a way that makes people feel boundless actionable opportunities for improvement exist. Leaders with high communication skills are also talented at resolving conflicts and managing change in a diplomatic fashion that is in keeping with the sensitive nature of the situation.

When people’s lives will be affected by a decision, leaders with high Emotional Intelligence will demonstrate they respect the needs, fears and hopes of the people involved.

Tip to improve social skills as a leader: resolve conflict with care and communication

You can avoid a toxic environment in the workplace by placing a focus on conflict leadership, not just conflict management. As a leader, you influence others, and how you do that is an important element of your abilities.

To see what we mean, read through the 5 strategies for healthy conflict resolution. These strategies can transform conflict and tension into constructive debate and ethical solutions.

Once you have a solid understanding of workplace emotions – including your own – you can lead a team to increased mindfulness and productivity. Emotional intelligence in leadership isn’t a ‘soft option’. It can be the key to success!


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