Emotional Intelligence (EI) is the ability to recognise, understand, and manage the emotions of oneself and others. Daniel Goleman’s profound work on Emotional Intelligence and why it matters more than IQ changed the way we think about EI, and how it impacts our professional as well as personal life. His book The New Leaders explores the consequences of EI for leaders and organisations. It argues that a leader’s emotions are contagious, and must resonate energy and enthusiasm if an organisation is to thrive. Gary Yukl, a prominent researcher in leadership agrees and says "self-awareness makes it easier to understand one's own needs and likely reactions if certain events occurred, thereby facilitating evaluation of alternative solutions".

Numerous studies and texts have highlighted the benefits of EI in leadership which include increased internal awareness and self regulation, increased levels of empathy, collaborative communication, and decrease in stress levels. The benefits of EI in organisations include better team engagement, improved company culture, decrease in employee turnover, and high performance driven results. Organisations, human resources and recruiting agencies recognise the importance of EI skills in leadership roles. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, puts it this way: "research shows convincingly that EI is many times more important (than IQ) in leadership roles". Harvard Business Review states that EI is "the key to professional success".

For EI to be effective, it has to start with yourself. You cannot support and develop other people's well-being, and sense of self without first understanding how you operate on an emotional level.


Having a deep understanding of your emotions, strengths, limitations, values, and motives is all about being honest with yourself. This also means being honest with others about yourself, even at the point of being able to laugh at your own fumbles. A self-aware leader knows their values, what drives them, and where they are heading. They exude confidence within themselves, and the decisions that they make. Take time for yourself and quietly reflect in order to cultivate your self awareness and purpose. For some it could be meditating, yoga or a walk outside. Your self awareness will strengthen you as a leader with authenticity to inspire others to follow.


Empathy enables leaders to build and develop relationships with those they lead and do business with. In the age of the global economy, empathy is crucial for getting along with diverse team members and doing business with people from other cultures. Empathetic leadership means having the ability to understand the needs of others, and being aware of their feelings and thoughts. It encourages leaders to understand the root causes behind poor performance, and allows them to help struggling individuals improve and excel. Empathetic leaders are also excellent at recognising and meeting the needs of their clients or customers. Consider your team members’ feelings, and make intelligent decisions that work those feelings into your response.


In conversations, EI leaders listen for clarity instead of just waiting for their turn to speak. They make sure they understand what is being said before responding. They also pay attention to the non-verbal details of a conversation. This reduces misunderstandings, allows the listener to respond empathetically, and shows respect for the other person. It means listening in a supportive and non-judgmental way, so that the other person feel listened to and understood. Active listening creates a supportive space where people can express and process their thoughts and emotions.

When practising active listening, you can use the following six techniques:

  • Ask open questions - open questions are any questions that cannot be answered with a simple yes or no reply.

  • Summarising - you might say "Let me check if I'm following..." or "Are you saying that..." and then repeat back a quick summary of what you heard.

  • Reflecting - repeating back a word or phrase to encourage the other person to go on.

  • Clarifying - when you are not sure you understood a point they said, you might "say tell me more about..." or "earlier you said...", which can help them clarify these points for you and for themselves.

  • Short words of encouragement - phrases like "yes", "mhmm", "uh huh" and "makes sense" that show that you are engaged and listening carefully but without interrupting.

  • Reacting - is a genuine in-the-moment expressions of the emotions you are feeling as you listen and empathise.


Emotional responses are milliseconds faster than cognitive (thinking) responses. This is due to the lightning fast reactions that bypass the rational brain to serve our survival responses; fight or flight. During conflict, emotional outbursts and feelings of anger are common. Emotionally intelligent leaders know how to stay calm during stressful situations. They do not make impulsive decisions that can lead to even greater problems. Next time you come across a challenging situation, recognise any intense emotions and put them aside. Stay calm and focus on the source of the problem or conflict. The goal is to find a resolution and make a conscious choice to focus on ensuring that your actions and words are aligned.


Managing relationships skilfully comes down to handling yours and others' emotions. As remote working environments become more prevalent, relationship building becomes more important than ever. Emotionally intelligent leaders come off as approachable and friendly. They smile and share a positive presence. They utilise appropriate social skills to find common ground and build rapport. They have great interpersonal skills and know how to communicate clearly, whether the communication is verbal or non-verbal. Here are some suggestions for you to try:

  • Use other people’s names
  • Never eat alone
  • Respect other’s time
  • Pay attention to non-verbal cues
  • Express interest in the person and topic of discussion
  • Adapt your communication style to fit the other person's style of communicating
  • Help the other person succeed
  • Send acknowledging notes
  • Ask more open-ended questions
  • Look for ways to be of help, and then do it


Self-motivation includes our personal drive to improve and achieve, commitment to your goals, initiative, readiness to act on opportunities, and optimism and resilience. Motivation energises, directs and sustains behaviour and performance. Intrinsic motivation pushes us to achieve our full potential. An EI leader not only possesses the skills for self-motivation but also the skills required to motivate others. To maintain self-motivation, re-examine why you are doing your job, and make sure it aligns with your values and purpose. Motivated leaders are also usually optimistic, no matter what problems they face. Be hopeful, find something good in setbacks, and approach failures as opportunities to learn and improve. Adopting this mindset might take practice, but it is well worth the effort.

EI has been shown to be more important than intellectual intelligence, and can be the key to professional success. The benefits are profound, and the good news is that EI skills can be learnt. We all need to make conscious efforts to reflect and practise these skills daily to continuously improve. The digital age of work requires teams, leaders, and organisations to adapt and nurture a culture that promotes EI to ultimately drive business performance.

For leaders who want to enhance their emotional intelligence skills, Blackmill's Inclusive and resilient leadership for diverse teams workshop entails in depth content and discussions to increase your knowledge of EI, and equip you with the tools to lead with your heart and your mind.