5 ways effective leaders use emotional intelligence

June 27, 2019

Emotional intelligence (EQ) can have a significant impact on a person's ability to function and succeed in their personal and professional life. According to a 2019 article published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, emotional intelligence is positively correlated to both salary and job satisfaction.

Sheila Schmitz, PhD, former adjunct faculty member in the School of Business at Capella University, explains how successful leaders are attuned to their own emotional intelligence and how it helps them be more effective.

What is emotional intelligence?

Often referred to by the acronym EI or EQ, emotional intelligence is a person’s ability to recognize, understand, and manage their own emotions and those of others. EI can affect how people manage their day-to-day lives, including at work.

“The term ‘emotional intelligence’ covers a variety of traits, insights, and capabilities that professionals use over the course of their careers,” says Schmitz. “Those with high levels of it typically rise in their organization in leadership roles. They’re able to leverage EI in order to inspire others, get coworkers to support their initiatives, and create positive work environments.”

Schmitz notes that there are five aspects of emotional intelligence that effective leaders use to be successful:


Being self-aware means understanding your motivations, emotional responses, and how you make decisions. “People with self-awareness have an accurate view of their own abilities and are able to match them to the task at hand,” says Schmitz. “Those with self-awareness tend to have higher levels of confidence, which can inspire others to become allies. Self-awareness also involves having a strong moral compass, and those that lead with integrity are highly valued in any organization.”


Self-awareness can help with self-regulation, which is the ability to control emotional responses, even in times of stress or crisis. “Leaders who can control their emotional responses don’t overreact and create further complications,” says Schmitz. Instead, they think through problems and are able to address issues quickly and effectively. Bonus: It sets an example and a tone for colleagues, who can see the value of that kind of level-headed approach and try to adopt it for themselves.


This comes into play two ways for leaders: They must have a personal motivation to achieve the goals of their team and company, and they need to be able to instill that motivation in others around them. “By staying motivated, leaders inspire others to do likewise, which creates positive outcomes whether it’s completing long term initiatives, creating lasting and positive change, or keeping all team members engaged with their work,” says Schmitz.


It’s not enough to be self-aware. Leaders also need to be attuned to the emotions of the people around them, because people’s feelings can have an impact on the organization overall. For instance, if an employee comes to work and seems distracted or just not doing well, a leader with a high level of EI will step in and see if they’re okay. They can also help talk through the problem and explore solutions. By being proactive rather than ignoring what’s going on, the leader could successfully minimize their employee’s distractions, which might otherwise lead to a difficult work environment.

Social skills

Being able to successfully socialize and connect with coworkers is a critical function in leadership, and for that, people need social skills. It’s not just a matter of being friendly and getting along, though. Leaders with strong social skills are able to use social situations to network or to develop camaraderie that can ultimately help achieve the goals of their organization. Developing cooperation within teams is essential for project and business success, and good social skills are a critical component of that. “A good leader will be friendly, open, and conversational,” says Schmitz. “An ineffective leader is one who shies away from conversations and is hindered by their inability to connect with others.”

Emotional intelligence is not just a set of skills or abilities. EI also functions as a tool leaders can use to manage their teams, motivate others, create better work environments, and achieve successful outcomes.

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