How to Become an Emotionally Intelligent Leader

Emotional Intelligence (EQ or EI) is a label that was created by Peter Salavoy and John Mayer (both researchers) and then made popular by Dan Goleman in his book, Emotional Intelligence, 1996. EMOTIONAL INTELLIGENCE is much more than understanding how to be likable, sociable or sensitive. EI is the ability to "recognize, understand and manage" one's own emotions as well as the emotions of others.

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According to Travis Bradberry, author and expert on EI, here's how emotional intelligence works:

"Unlike your IQ (intelligence quotient), your EQ (emotional quotient) is highly malleable. As you train your brain by repeatedly practicing new emotionally intelligent behaviors, it builds the pathways needed to make them into habits. As your brain reinforces the use of these new behaviors, the connections supporting old, destructive behaviors die off. Before long, you begin responding to your surroundings with emotional intelligence without even having to think about it." 

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As you work to improve your emotional intelligence (EI) and become a more effective and desirable manager, here are some specific behaviors and scenarios which may help you better understand EI and how it might play out in the workplace. The articles referred to below also offer several proofs or signs of emotional intelligence, and you will see some of these referred to in the examples I've set forth in this post.

13 Methods for Improving Your Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace

A) Acknowledge the part of any problem that is you. To be sure, you have strengths, but you also have weaknesses. We all do. Consider the time and attention you give to the individuals surrounding you in the office. When you do give them the time of day, are you honest with them? Do you convey genuine concern?

Do you care that everybody despises your bossy, arrogant and rude administrative assistant? Have you noticed that the new guy never has anything to say because he’s super shy and that everyone pretty much ignores him? Does it bother you that you told your accounting assistant that she can’t get a promotion because she has no degree, and that after completing her degree, your company still failed to promote her? Perhaps you weren't being completely honest and forthright when you told her that the lack of a degree was the only thing holding her back from a promotion. Maybe it's her absolute lack of professionalism that is the real issue.

Proof of EI: You recognize your strengths and weaknesses (Bradberry) and then actively engage in improving the areas where you fall short. You also recognize weakness in others and actively engage in helping them grow in their career. 

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B) Look around at each employee. How do you label them? Is it with colorful descriptions behind their backs or as people with real value, feelings, goals and ideas? Stop with the stereotypes and get to know your staff.

The loud, funny lady who is such a joy is currently struggling to pay her bills. That’s why you sometimes catch her crying. The girl at the front desk is new, and she has some great organizational management ideas. But you’ll never know what they are because neither you nor anyone else in the office values her enough to spend time in conversation asking important, relevant questions. The new guy seemed nice during the interview process but now his attitude stinks. You don’t know why because you just ignore him. But by simply addressing the attitude, you might learn that he is offended because his office is beside the men’s bathroom. He was hired in at $90K and honestly feels that he deserves better.

Proof of EI: You are curious about people. (Bradberry) And you treat them in a respectful manner at all times. You are able to show empathy and understand the feelings of others. (Bariso)

C) Explore the true motives and feelings of your staff; don’t assume you know what they are all about.

If an employee is angry one day during work hours, don’t assume that it is because of you or a coworker. Perhaps it is due to a conflict with a friend or family member outside the office. But anger is something you can and should address with an employee because it affects others. Your employee isn’t obliged to share details with you, but they will need to manage that anger in an appropriate manner while at work.

Proof of EI: You are a good judge of character and motivations. (Bradberry) You also address problems in the workplace quickly and effectively.


D) You are either a motivator, building up your team, or a demotivator, constantly bringing them down with your attitude and rude demands. Which kind of leader are you?

Regardless of the money a person makes doing their job, their level of engagement with the job depends on much more than the salary. Having a manager and coworkers who are friendly and pleasant to work with is also a priority. Put yourself if your employees’ place. Would you enjoy working for you?

Proof of EI: You are genuinely liked and respected by your staff.

E) Observe attitudes, moods and stress levels because they usually reflect you and your leadership style to some degree, for better or worse.

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When you give a somewhat stern or undesirable directive, take the time to look around and notice anxiety levels and attitudes. Don’t keep silent but address the negative reactions. One on one is preferable unless the attitude is widespread. But you must take care not to single anyone out or carelessly dismiss what the general feeling / attitude is.

Proof of EI: You don't seek perfection, but you do seek understanding of others and their emotions. (Bradberry, Bariso)

F) Hold your temper and choose to listen to others. Practice holding your tongue and being patient and calm when unfortunate circumstances arise.  Be mindful of reactive expressions, careless words that attack others, mean-spirited behaviors, negative attitudes and quick, emotional decisions. Avoid them.

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When you are angry at a staff member for making a costly mistake or for mishandling a situation with a customer, wait at least 30 minutes before responding. Calm down, think about what you want to achieve and how to best to manage the situation, then make your move.

Proof of EI: You're able to let go of mistakes, both yours and others. (Bradberry)

G) Remember how you got where you are.


Why did you take this job originally? If you have been promoted, remember what it was you did that merited that promotion. Why are you a good leader? Or if you aren't, why not? Are you happy in this position? Happy in your personal life? Is it possible you are taking some of your unhappiness and stress out on your staff? If so, this is not right. Do all you can to correct the problem. And by all means, apologize.

Proof of EI: You won't let anyone (or anything) limit your joy. (Bradberry)

H) Learn how to be a better communicator.

Here’s a scenario for you to consider:

In the Accounting department of your firm, a new boss arrives. He is highly qualified and somewhat of a quiet leader, but friendly with an open-door policy. He is a supportive manager and assures his staff that he will always address any negative or concerning issues that crop up before he discusses them with others or makes any decisions based solely on the issue. He does just that, and good relations prevail. Both employees and managers are happy and engaged.

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In the Sales department, another new boss arrives. She is highly qualified and very direct. Perhaps a little threatening in the sense that you realize she will be looking closely at every person and position to see who/what is working well or not so well. So, the pressure to perform is high. Her tendency is to point out shortcomings without offering advice for improvement. And that's it, the warning shot. Many people leave, are fired, or get laid off as a result of her leadership and management style. This is worrisome and stressful to the remaining employees, many of whom choose to leave to avoid the same potential treatment.

As a manager, being tough and direct is a part of the job. However, in all of your acts of leadership, remember that kindness, honest conversation, wise and thoughtful decision-making, and a non-threatening leadership approach can also play a role in creating a happier, more effective and engaged worker not to mention a more successful business.

Proof of EI: You don't water down the truth (Murphy), but rather, you convey it with sincere care and concern for the person in front of you.

I) Learn how to praise and appreciate your employees.

When is the last time you said "thank you" to someone at work . . . for anything? Are you too busy? Too ungrateful? Too self-centered? Too distracted and stressed out?

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People want and need to feel valued. They need to hear their supervisors and managers give them credit where credit is due. Simple comments such as, “Good job!” or “Thank you!” can often do the trick but doing and saying more regarding specific tasks or projects is highly recommended.

Proof of EI: You give others the opportunity to shine, whether in the form of attention, appreciation, performance, or praise.

J) Learn how to resolve conflict. However, being willing to face the conflicts in an office is the first step towards becoming a problem solver.

You are a department manager with an office staff of ten. Many of your agents are out of the office daily, but not all. The ones who remain in the office are constantly exposed to the obnoxious behavior of the department’s secretary. Nobody enjoys working with her. She irritates and angers everyone, but no manager has ever been willing to call her out regarding her unprofessional behavior. She offends and hurts others’ feelings constantly. Whether they fear a lawsuit or are simply afraid of her, she has gotten by with that attitude for many years. As the new manager in the office, can your employees trust you to manage ALL your staff or just the ones who are easiest to manage?

Proof of EI: You understand how to manage conflict and you do it to help those involved as well as your department and the company as a whole. (MTCT, Bariso)

K) Be the type of decision maker whose choices are both well-informed and carefully considered.


Nobody wants a hothead or an impulsive manager. Slow down and be mindful; consider all your options. Seek out truth. Be sure your decisions are based on fact, not mere emotional reaction, gossip, or others' false perceptions of reality.

Proof of EI: You pause and slow down long enough to think logically before making any quick, irrational or highly emotional decisions. (Bariso, MTCT)

L) Recognize your values. Is your integrity in tact? Are you a manager worth emulating? Or do you compromise your values when it works to yours or the company’s advantage? Do you compromise your manners or professionalism when you find yourself annoyed and angry? Your employees are watching and will judge you accordingly.

When your company’s cash flow is lacking, do you lie to your creditors? Do you say that the check is in the mail when it absolutely isn’t? Do you speak to collectors in a rude manner? Do you deny others what is honestly owed to them? As managers, we are constantly setting the standard for dealing with challenging situations.

Proof of EI: You hold yourself accountable. (MTCT)

M) Talk with your employees. Engage in everyday conversation with them. Do not ignore them or fail to learn their names and a little about their lives.


Saying hello is good, but it’s really not enough. As busy as you may be, slow down periodically to join in a conversation, make a joke, or initiate a conversation. Your staff needs to know that you are more than a manager. You are person with life, family and fun times outside the office. Share a little of that with your employees. It’s a great way to show that you care and see them as more than mere hires to do your bidding.

Proof of EI: Your conversations with others are authentic. (Bariso)

The 5 Building Blocks of EI: Self-Awareness, Self-Regulation, Motivation, Empathy, and Social Skills

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These are just a few of the myriad signs of high emotional intelligence among leaders in the workplace.

SELF-AWARENESS: Being aware of your emotions as well as those of the people around you is advantageous to a leader.

SELF-CONTROL: Yet learning how to control or regulate those emotions is even more impressive and helpful, especially when working with a socially and emotionally diverse group of folks.

MOTIVATION: Staying motivated as a leader and manager of others is also helpful in maintaining that positive, hopeful outlook which is so important for us as human beings.


EMPATHY: As to empathy in a leader, it's imperative. According to the Mind Tools' Content Team, "Leaders with empathy have the ability to put themselves in someone else's situation. They help develop the people on their team, challenge others who are acting unfairly, give constructive feedback, and listen to those who need it."

SOCIAL SKILLS: Finally, developing one's social skills can make a tremendous difference to those within your circle of influence leading to better communication with employees, feedback that builds trust, and less conflict in the office. Who could ask for much more from a manager? (MTCT)

To learn more about emotional intelligence or to discover what your level of EI is based on assessment, contact Brannon Professionals, an authorized provider of TTI Success Insights' assessments for over 15 years.