What is emotional intelligence and why is it important in leadership?

By Future Talent Learning

What is emotional intelligence and how does it factor into your recruitment process and leadership behaviour?

Hiring for skills alone may seem like the best strategy, but when our teams are comprised of all 'doers' or all 'thinkers', productivity can start to wane. From day one, our online leadership and management courses explore how we can effectively implement self awareness into our leadership styles.

In the following article, Chris Underwood considers the role that emotional intelligence and self awareness have to play in the formation and retention of successful teams.

What is emotional intelligence (EQ)?

Emotional intelligence (EQ) is about self-awareness, understanding your strengths, weaknesses, drivers, values and goals, while empathy enables you to understand the impact your qualities have on others. In an effective team, each member has this self-awareness and empathy, and also appreciates how their colleagues work, how to influence and guide them and how to avoid or manage conflict.

Leadership teams made up of individuals with a highly developed sense of EQ communicate honestly and openly, collaborate effectively, understand their individual and collective accountability, and most importantly, are able to cascade these behaviours, visions and values into their teams.

Why successfully harnessing EQ can give you greater leadership influence 

Building a high performing leadership team is complex – it’s a science, an art and a jigsaw puzzle. One where, when you get it right, the whole is so much greater than the sum of the parts. 

The ‘parts’ are the necessary mix of technical and professional capabilities and IQ, but what makes them into a successful ‘whole’ is EQ (emotional intelligence) – which enables senior leaders to celebrate team balance and diversity, motivate, inspire and influence people as well as make critical decisions and influence strategy.

Soft skills are as important as technical competence

When leadership goes wrong, business performance suffers. Employees feel a lack of purpose and staff turnover increases. Organisations which don’t take EQ into account tend to have people who all think, look and speak in the same way, usually because individuals have been hired purely on the basis of their technical skills. 

Technical competence is not enough; whether you’re looking for an accountant, project manager or marketer. Skills should be a given at interview stage, but they don’t indicate whether an individual can be impactful and effective in their role.

Why a skills balance in teams can aid in problem solving

Using EQ in the hiring process requires careful judgement and doing so will enable you to build a balanced, diverse team with individuals from different backgrounds, culture and industries – who think differently and challenge the status quo, bringing a fresh perspective to problem solving. 

People with EQ aren’t afraid to ask ‘stupid questions’ such as “why do you do it like that?” (Answer: because that’s the way we’ve always done it), and they can bring an element of balance to your team. Put simply, if your team are all ‘doers’, who will think of and bring in fresh ideas? And if everyone is a ‘thinker’, who will actually making things happen? 

Why you should be brave when recruiting senior leaders

Working out what your team needs and making the right appointment is not as daunting as you may think. Rather than refreshing an overly-detailed job specification which probably hasn’t been looked at since the last time you were filling a particular post, spend your time more effectively by thinking about what problems you want the new recruit to solve within your business. 

Given that technical excellence is the basic requirement, ask yourself what else you want your new starter to bring to the team. What do you want them to do, and what are is the success criteria? Keep the doers and thinkers in mind, and be clear about the personal characteristics you don’t need or want.

Explore the capabilities of people from other sectors

The right person for you may not be working in your industry currently – that’s not an issue; their technical skills will transfer over and you may very well find that fresh eyes from a different business sector are able to see your problems more clearly than those who work in it everyday.

Every industry has its own specialisms and technical know how, but almost all technical skills are transferrable. EQ is about looking for evidence of strong leadership – where difficult decisions have been made, where your candidate has had to encourage a team to steer a different course or establish new standards. Ask for examples of a creation, strategy or sense of purpose, and probe to get an idea of how your candidate has used his or her EQ to make these changes a positive experience for their team, regardless of the difficulty of the circumstance. 

How emotionally intelligent and self aware are your candidates?

Discover how much self awareness your candidate has. What do they consider their management style to be, what do they do well and what do they enjoy doing most? What do they think are their weak areas and how do they try and mitigate them, and how do they resolve conflict? Is your candidate aware of the shadow they cast?

No one can be the best at everything. EQ enables leaders to play to the strengths of and mitigate weaknesses in their teams by encouraging individuals to perform at their best. Putting EQ at the heart of a leadership assessment will ensure this happens. 

See our online management courses


See how our levy-funded level 3/5 online management courses have a positive impact on your organisation from day one.

Speak to our team
Download brochure
FTL Website_About Us Page_Contributors_2

Future Talent Learning Insights explore themes central to our changing world of work

We produce regular whitepapers, thought leadership and practical guides exploring themes central to the future of our changing world of work.


Register for insights on learning and how it's shaping the future of work, straight to your inbox.

Subscribe & register

Related articles

Why it’s so hard to change behaviours in the workplace

Trying out any new behaviour can be risky. Just imagine how you might try acting more assertively with a fickle friend or switch...
Read More >

Tags: Leadership advice, Interpersonal and soft skills FTL

Employee mental health is a business priority

Nazir Ul-Ghani, shares why investing authentically in employee wellbeing is key to fostering loyalty.
Read More >

Tags: Leadership advice, Interpersonal and soft skills FTL

Why intrapreneurs are the leaders of the future

Staying ahead of the curve in a rapidly changing global landscape requires us to embrace new ways of doing business.
Read More >

Tags: Leadership advice, Interpersonal and soft skills FTL

Start your journey to transforming
learning experiences

Discover how we can help you reimagine online learning to upskill your workforce.


Speak to our team   Download brochure