How Emotional Intelligence can make you an outstanding leader

Emotional intelligence is so important for leaders to be able to navigate the waters of emotion that are present in the workplace.

The waters are sometimes smooth and sometimes choppy. When you take the helm, steer with awareness of your own and others’ emotions, collaborate with the people who are travelling with you, and maintain awareness of where your colleagues are going. Steer purposefully, appreciate the skills others bring to the journey, inspire those who wish to follow, and enjoy the ride!

Emotional intelligence in leaders is more important than ever before because of the complex and uncertain times we live in. While this is not a new idea, the pandemic has exacerbated feelings of stress and anxiety in the workplace. Many people are feeling insecure at work, and their health and wellbeing have declined significantly. 

The capacity to manage your own emotions in this environment, and to support the people you lead as they grapple with their own emotional challenges, is what distinguishes outstanding leaders from those who are just Managers. 

The evidence is in to confirm that emotional intelligence improves leadership effectiveness and that it is a highly valued leadership skill.  In 2020, Emotional intelligence skills featured for the first time in the World Economic Forum’s Top Ten Vital Skills for the future of the workforce

There is also a direct link between the way people feel and the way they perform at work. Druskat, Mount and Sala’s excellent book, Linking emotional intelligence and performance at work (2016), is full of evidence to back this up.  The implication of this research is that your emotional intelligence as a leader will have a significant impact on how members of your team feel and perform at work. This fact alone should motivate you to seriously consider how emotionally intelligent you really are. The success of your team and your organisation depends on it.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional intelligence (EI) involves a set of skills that help us perceive, understand, express, reason with, and manage emotions, both within ourselves and others. This comes from Genos International’s definition of EI which I find to be the most useful approach. Seeing EI as a set of skills means EI is something any-one can learn. It just takes practice! 

Rather than measuring actual emotional intelligence, the Genos EI Inventory measures how often leaders demonstrate 70 emotionally intelligent workplace behaviours that reflect emotional intelligence in the workplace.

The work of Emotional Intelligence guru, Daniel Goleman (1995), may be more familiar to readers, with his three personal EI competencies and two social EI competencies, another 25 related competencies, and numerous behaviours that express these competencies.  Both approaches are organised around EI competencies and related workplace behaviours.

I have pulled together a new model of emotional intelligence that draws on learning from the Genos and Goleman approaches to emotional intelligence.  

The Growing Edge EI Model

The horizontal axis illustrates the inward and outward dimensions of emotional intelligence, (Self and Other) while the vertical access illustrates the reflective and action-oriented aspects of emotional intelligence (Reflection and Action). This gives us four quadrants at the intersections of the axis points. At the centre is emotional reasoning because we use emotions to make decisions in relation to all four quadrants.

In the Emotionally Intelligent Leaders’ Program I have developed, I drill down into these five core emotional intelligence competencies by identifying another 20 sub-competencies and a large number of workplace behaviours that express these competencies. 

Workplace behaviours can be expressed in helpful (functional) or unhelpful (dysfunctional) ways. Strengthening your Emotional Intelligence is all about learning to spot and avoid unhelpful workplace behaviours and cultivating the helpful behaviours that reflect emotional intelligence. 

So where and how do you begin?

Develop your EI from the inside out

Emotional Intelligence is grounded in self-awareness. Without self-awareness there is no emotional intelligence. This means emotional intelligence is developed from the inside out.

Of course, most people think they are very self-aware Who would want to admit to themselves or others that they’re not self-aware? Hardly any-one!  This is a blind spot that many people have, and why getting feedback from your colleagues can be so useful. It’s the nature of blind spots that you can’t see them.

In the Growing Edge EI Model, the intersection of the “Self” and “Reflection” axis points is “Self-awareness”. This is the Quadrant in the Growing Edge EI Model is where you can identify practical steps that will develop helpful leadership behaviours. This will strengthen your self-awareness. 

Quadrant 1: Self-Awareness 

Start with this one simple question – what am I feeling right now?

Knowing how you’re feeling is not as easy as you might think. We all have our blind spots. Our life stories and all our conditioning sit beneath these blind spots, and they come out in the way we defend and protect ourselves. Fear is also a big motivator – fear of judgment, fear of failure, and fear of being weak.

You can ask yourself how you’re feeling at any-time throughout your day. It helps to tune into the signals your body gives you. If you notice your jaw is clenched, perhaps you’re anxious. Are you slumped in your chair? You might be feeling low. Are you avoiding eye contact? Perhaps you’re feeling embarrassed or insecure.

It also helps to be curious about what you’re feeling rather than judging your experience. In a sense, feelings are just feelings. As long as you don’t hook into them, they are actually values-neutral. The feelings come and the feelings go. 

As you practice being aware of your own feelings, you’ll also get better at spotting what’s going on emotionally for other. This is empathy, which moves you into the next quadrant where you develop your awareness of others.  More on that in the next instalment – coming soon.

Maria Brett
The Growing Edge

Maria Brett is a former CEO who has been a practitioner of mindfulness for more than 25 years. Maria’s Emotionally Intelligent Leaders’ Program helps participants make deep and lasting changes – from the inside out – to have an impact that really matters. To find out more, contact Maria.


Druskat, V. U., Mount, G., & Sala, F. (2016). Linking emotional intelligence and performance at work: Current research evidence with individuals and groups.

Goleman, D. (1995). Emotional intelligence: Why it can matter more than IQ. New York: Bantam Books.

© Maria Brett, 2022