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The Ultimate Guide for Leaders on Improving Emotional Intelligence

Let’s talk about leadership and emotional intelligence.

What are some of the ways to determine if you may have low emotional intelligence? Let’s take a look;

  1. Are you replacing staff on a consistent basis?

  2. Do you have high absenteeism?

  3. Do you feel you are dealing with low morale?

  4. Are you dealing with a lot of performance issues?

  5. Do you have a few grievances and/or harassment complaints against you?

  6. Have you heard through the office gossip mill that you are a difficult person to work for?

  7. Have you had the discussion with your manager that they would like you to take some management courses, sensitivity training, respect in the workplace, or civility workshops?

  8. Do you feel you spend a lot of time holding people accountable for tasks that they should be able to do no problem?

Now I’m not saying that all of these factors are your fault just because you may have low emotional intelligence in certain areas; that’s not what I am saying at all. The point that I am trying to bring forward is that if you are experiencing one or more of these challenging areas, it might be worth looking into. What could you change or do differently that may have an impact on any of the above challenging areas of management?

I feel that without the elements of emotional intelligence you have management, not leadership. When people define what is a leader in their mind, they describe many of the behaviors that are directly associated with competency in emotional intelligence.

Management encompasses people that have been given a title or a job to do and they do it to the best of their ability and sometimes that can look pretty scary. Now I don’t want to start by blaming managers or saying that they have low emotional intelligence, but the more you understand the elements that make great leaders, and are willing to do some self-reflective exercises, you will realize that everyone has the capability to increase their emotional intelligence.

I have met many managers promoted into the role of supervisor, team lead or manager without one tool given to them to support their success. The only guidance for these new managers may be the HR department, their boss or a previous boss, hoping that they are being given the right guidance to be successful. Sorry to say, sometimes these factors fail.

The information reveals that only  5% of people are born leaders. They just have the right mindset and temperament, the ability to build trust and inspire employees to follow them and they give back by empowering every employee to be the best they can be.

When scanning the internet, you may see some sites quoting a few various styles of emotional intelligence. I will provide 2 samples of the various styles and then use the EQ-i2.0, which is the worlds leading self-assessment tool for assessing social and emotional intelligence, as that is the one I am most familiar with and certified to offer the assessments and coaching on.

To all of you who are either a manager or leader, my hope for this blog is to give you more tools and more areas that you can look into within your current techniques and see where there is an area or areas that you may be able to improve. We live life by always looking for ways to improve because we are in a constant state of discovery.

EQ-i 2.0 model define the 5 elements as:

  1. Self – Perception

  2. Self- Expression

  3. Interpersonal

  4. Decision Making

  5. Stress Management


Daniel Goleman defines the 5 areas as:

  1. Self-awareness

  2. Self-regulation

  3. Motivation

  4. Empathy

  5. Social skills

As you can see there is a variance in the wording but when you look at the behaviors they are very similar.

It’s important to really spend some time with this topic as it will have a great impact on your bottom line, staff retention, hiring the best employee and increasing the level of engagement and output from your employees.

Inspiring emotionally-intelligent, competent leadership has the highest ROI over any other factor within your organization. Fortune 500 companies have now built EI questions into the hiring of their leadership team.

You can’t just take a nurse, engineer, scientist or electrician, all who have spent a minimum of 4 years to be proficient in their roles, successfully performed their job for numerous years and promote them into a position of managing people with little or no education, tools, resources, mentorship or support and just hope that they may be successful.  When speaking with most people who were not given the proper tools, support, and mentorship they would give back their promotion within 3 years of receiving it.  No one wants to be the crappy boss or incompetent manager; they come to work in hopes of making a difference, doing a good job and managing people the best way possible with the tools they have.

If you had one of those managers who you are now role modeling after that may be all you know. You may have taken some of their good traits but guess what, because you don’t know what you don’t know you also take their negative traits. Because they have been at the organization so long people have tolerated their behavior. You’re new, different rules apply and the same behavior or traits may not be tolerated coming from you.

Let’s review what traits fall within each category;

Self Perception

  1. Self-Regard is respecting oneself while understanding and accepting one’s strengths and weaknesses. Self-Regard is often associated with feelings of inner strength and self-confidence.

  2. Self-Actualization is the willingness to persistently try to improve oneself and engage in the pursuit of personally relevant and meaningful objectives that lead to a rich and enjoyable life.

  3. Emotional Self-Awareness includes recognizing and understanding one’s own emotions. This includes the ability to differentiate between subtleties in one’s own emotions while understanding the cause of these emotions and the impact they have on one’s own thoughts and actions and those of others.

Self Expression

  1. Emotional expression is openly expressing one’s feelings, verbally and non-verbally.

  2. Assertiveness involves communicating feelings, beliefs, and thoughts openly, and defending personal rights and values in a socially acceptable, non-offensive, and non-destructive manner.

  3. Independence is the ability to be self-directed and free from emotional dependency on others. Decision-making, planning, and daily tasks are completed autonomously.


  1. Interpersonal Relationships refers to the skill of developing and maintaining mutually satisfying relationships that are characterized by trust and compassion.

  2. Empathy is recognizing, understanding, and appreciating how other people feel. Empathy involves being able to articulate your understanding of another’s perspective and behaving in a way that respects others’ feelings.

  3. Social Responsibility is willingly contributing to society, to one’s social groups, and generally to the welfare of others. Social Responsibility involves acting responsibly, having social consciousness, and showing concern for the greater community.

Decision Making

  1. Problem Solving is the ability to find solutions to problems in situations where emotions are involved. Problem-solving includes the ability to understand how emotions impact decision making.

  2. Reality Testing is the capacity to remain objective by seeing things as they really are. This capacity involves recognizing when emotions or personal bias can cause one to be less objective.

  3. Impulse Control is the ability to resist or delay an impulse, drive or temptation to act and involves avoiding rash behaviors and decision making.

Stress Management

  1. Flexibility is adapting emotions, thoughts and behaviors to unfamiliar, unpredictable, and dynamic circumstances or ideas.

  2. Stress Tolerance involves coping with stressful or difficult situations and believing that one can manage or influence situations in a positive manner.

  3. Optimism is an indicator of one’s positive attitude and outlook on life. It involves remaining hopeful and resilient, despite occasional setbacks

Now let’s take a deeper look into what each of these means to us.


Let’s be honest, sometimes it’s pretty difficult to look at a situation and ask our self, what part am I playing in creating this situation and what can I do better to improve this situation? Who really wants to do that? Well, we sure don’t want to go to our boss who hired us because we told them we are the most qualified out of all of the applicants for this job; and they believed us enough they gave us the job. There is no way we are going back to them to say “well I might not have had all of the knowledge I need to be completely competent in this area”.

Knowing that we all have strengths and weaknesses. It’s okay to not be the expert in all areas that you are managing. You hire staff that has varying strengths to make your team strong in every aspect.

Knowing you have areas for improvement and are willing to take steps to improve the areas that you have self-identified or that have been identified by someone else.

Following this thought of self-perception is knowing your emotions, tone, and body language and how it impacts your own wellness and also the way that they are perceived by others.

Eg; Someone has told you that your body language when a certain individual stands up to give their update during the monthly meetings is being seen as offensive and dismissive.  Your first thought is “no I don’t”, then in the privacy of your own office, you reflect back to the last meeting you attended and review the details of the meeting and what your reaction is when each person stood up to give their update.  You start to realize that you may have responded differently to this individual. As you start to reflect further, try to understand why you react the way you do to this one individual. Then next what triggered you to react with that particular body language. Once you have all these factors brought to a conscious level, the next step is to learn how to react differently the next time they stand to speak. This is self-perception.


Self-expression is an area that many individuals may view differently. Some do not show any emotion at work and others feel that showing emotions at work is fine. There is a balance that takes time and effort to perfect.

Think for a moment of a staff member who comes into your office crying on Monday morning to tell you they found their partner has been seeing someone else and now they are getting a divorce. Do you start screaming that you knew the partner was good for nothing and that they will be better off without them? Or do you say “well 50% of marriages end in divorce so you are just on the divorce side of that 50%” and then hope it doesn’t impact their work as the project they are lead on is due at the end of the month.

Do you relate to either of these scenarios? Would you use either of these response types? Neither is the proper way to respond.

Respond with acknowledging that they are experiencing a hardship and then offer various resources, like time or an employee assistance program. You can then circumspectly make them aware that if they need any other assistance or help to complete the project you can help or make resources available for help.  Let them know that you can’t really understand what they are going through just that it appears to have a strong impact on them. State the emotion if you perceive it. I see you’re upset, frustrated, angry, devastated; even if you have to guess they will confirm or correct you if you guess wrong. Most people will feel that you really have heard them when you identify the emotion they are feeling.

The other element is when you are experiencing something that has a deep emotional impact on you.

  1. I have had staff tell me oh don’t speak with their boss in the morning as they are not a morning person. Guess when I booked my meeting to interview them? 8 am

  2. If the staff plan their day based on what mood the boss comes in each morning, this is low emotional intelligence in understanding your own emotions and how they impact your staff.

You will know you have achieved high emotional intelligence in this area when you have experienced something in your personal or work life and yet there is little to no awareness by your staff that you are going through something.

We are emotional beings so to say we can never express emotions in the workplace is an unreasonable ask and will never be 100% achievable and should not even be a goal.

The other aspect of emotional intelligence in dealing with emotions is to keep your personal experiences out of the conversation when someone is revealing what is going on for them. If someone comes in and states their mother just passed away, don’t go right into your own story of when your mother passed away and at the end of the conversation the staff member feels like they are consoling their boss.

This factor doubles over with the interpersonal side of showing empathy.


Do you have the ability to build a trusting environment, where staff can rely on being treated equally? An environment where staff feel that they have your support and can take any challenges they may be facing to you, knowing that you value confidentiality and privacy.

Listen to the opinion, perspective/perception of other members of your team, whether it be your leadership team above or the team that reports to you. Be open to sharing your perspective and needs in a way that leads to resolving the situation together.

Is it all about you succeeding all on your own, or knowing that you are where you are today because you had assistance from other people? Be humble enough to give back to your community, groups that you believe in and causes that are dear to your heart. Most people say that the feeling of satisfaction, happiness and inspiration they get from giving far outweighs what they give.

Show genuine concern for another person, knowing that you may never be able to relate to what they are going through, yet wanting to be there to support in any way you possibly can to see them through whatever they are currently experiencing.

Decision Making

Decision making is critically important yet many managers, team leads, directors defer away from making a decision. Cause guess what? If you never make a decision you cannot be held accountable for it. The lack of decision making can really frustrate your staff. The expectation is not that you make all high-level decisions on your own, there are certain decisions that are within your job description to make. When a team is faced with a leader that just won’t make the decision and they resort to going above the manager, and are sent back down to your level because that’s where the decision lies, they become very frustrated. I have been involved in a situation when a director came upon a situation where 2 staff members wanted time off at the same time, so they just chose not to approve either in hopes one of the team members would just change their mind. That’s not leadership at all. Decisions are made every day by leadership and not all will be viewed as positive by all staff. Make sure you have the conversation as often as possible before the decision is final with all the staff that it will impact. Let them know their opinion is important, yet in the end, it will be up to you to make the final decision.

The way you handle resolving a problem may create an environment of unfairness or trustworthiness. It all depends on how you approach a situation when it arises. You may avoid it in hopes that it just goes away. News flash, they rarely ever do just go away. Let’s look at a method of handling problem-solving in a way that is beneficial to all involved.

Problem-solving between leadership and staff – if you have a situation that requires your attention, here are a few tips.

  1. Start with addressing the situation as soon as possible.

  2. Let them know the purpose of this meeting is to build an understanding of the situation and then work together to find a solution. Confirm with them that your hope is to come out on the other side of this situation with a stronger working relationship.

  3. Next, and this is really important, seek to understand their perspective first. Please if you remember anything from this blog remember this comment “seek to understand their perspective first, then to be understood”.

  4. Tie in aspects you heard that you know are important to both of you based upon issues and comments that are different from your understanding of the situation then thank them for their perspective.

  5. Now going forward how do you resolve the issue that brought you into this meeting in the first place? Sometimes it can be just to hear each other’s perspective of the situation and why you each reacted the way you did and there is no action plan going forward other than: let’s resolve it sooner.

  6. Write out the actions with as much detail as possible to lessen the chance of further misunderstanding.

  7. Thank them for resolving this situation with them.

Coworker to coworker

Encourage them to speak with each other in a very informal way. Go for coffee together, go for a walk or book a private boardroom on another floor if possible. Find a location that is private and provides the best opportunity for an uninterrupted conversation.

  1. Encourage them to be open with each other as to their perception of the situation, and know that each person is entitled to their truth or perception.

  2. The conversation is not about blaming each other, it’s all about finding a way to build an understanding of the incident, why it affected them and going forward what their request is.

  3. They may want you in the room just to ensure that the conversation doesn’t get too emotional (stay focused on the issue). Your role is to allow both parties to say what their side of the story is then moving forward to what has to happen to not have the situation repeat itself.

Now, of course, I am giving you a very brief explanation on how to facilitate a conversation, and if you would like further in-depth info watch for an upcoming blog.

The caution I have for you here is don’t be the ping pong manager. That means having a conversation with one employee than taking your perception on top of their perception and meet with the other employee to give that perception, then hearing that employee’s perception and you filtering it through your perception and then back to the first employee. You will never be able to build a clear understanding that is conducive to building a resolution by communicating through various filters of perception.

The format for the above two examples works when it is to build understanding and was caused by interpersonal issues. If you are looking to build a consensus and get a large snapshot of your team’s opinions, concerns, and ideas we will look at the collaboration model for decision making.

Here is a brief overview of the collaboration model;

  1. Identify what you are there to discuss or resolve.

  2. Go to each individual in the room to ask their overall opinion regarding this topic.

  3. Go back around the room to talk about what would some cautions be to consider regarding the topic.

  4. Then a third time to see what would their hope be for the topic.

  5. Now you have general opinions, cautions, and hopes from everyone, now you can move forward.

  6. Figure out next steps. What has to be in place for you to resolve the issue?

  7. Brainstorming. All answers are written down, none are judged at this point.

  8. Evaluate the brainstorming ideas against what is important to the individuals in the room, taking into consideration the caution mentioned on how to build in risk management.

  9. Writing up the solution with details or come back to the next meeting with how to make it happen. Allow people to reflect on what just happened in this meeting. The introvert will appreciate this.

How do you define if there really is an issue to be resolved?  How do you determine if it is just an emotional response and an old comfortable way of doing things? Here is a quick test.

  1. Does it appear to be an issue just for you and no one else sees a problem?

  2. Is it solvable?

  3. In self-reflection can you see that anyone else may have a point to consider?

  4. Why are you stuck on your perception of the situation?

Do you take the time required to consult your team? Very few decisions in the workplace do not allow for the time required to make a decision unless you are a firefighter, EMS, or military. If you know yourself well enough and feel pressure to make a decision, everyone has time to step away from the current environment, go for a walk then come back with a clear-headed to be able to make the best decision possible.

Stress Management- How to handle stress? Well, the first point is everyone has a different tolerance for stress levels. People have different stress management tools, and people handle stress based on other areas of their life (personal) and what is going on there.

Everyone experiences stress in their life and in small doses stress can be healthy for you (yes I did say that). Prolonged stress is not healthy, unmanaged stress is not healthy and a high level of stress both at work and home is not healthy. What we are looking to bring awareness to is knowing yourself and knowing when stress is starting to impact how you relate to people in the workplace, how you are internalizing stress and how it is impacting you physically.

How you handle a stressful situation in the workplace is what we are speaking about here.  When a situation pushes you to a heightened level:

  1. Does your voice get louder when you are responding to someone?

  2. Do you start to use the language you know is not appropriate for the workplace?

  3. Do you find your staff scatters?

  4. Are you short and curt with your answers to people?

  5. Do you end up apologizing to people for your actions afterward?

  6. Do you become someone you are not very proud of when the stressful situation subsides?

You may need to find a method to take a stressful situation and handle it in a more calm, positive manner. There are many books, tips, and techniques to help you with this if required.

Optimism in the workplace can sometimes be quite difficult if you have been at an organization for any length of time and witness the demise of it, whether it be from a change in management, economic situation or a change in the organizational structure. If you don’t remain hopeful what chance do your staff have?

The impact that low emotional intelligence has on a team or organization can be quite devastating. It impacts every aspect of the company, bottom line, staff retention, motivation, absenteeism and quality of end product. It is worth the investment to ensure your leadership team has the resources to build on their strengths, and improve on their weaknesses.

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