Emotional Intelligence in Leadership: 15 Hacks to be a Better Leader

Emotional intelligence in leadership is a key requirement to being a leader that everybody loves, and one that gets things done.

Many software engineers are expert programmers. But how many could run a business like Bill Gates?

Many modern day political leaders win elections, but arguably none has had a larger following than Mahatma Gandhi or perhaps Abraham Lincoln.

The answer lies in the amount of emotional intelligence they possess.

Emotional intelligeince in leadership is the ability to understand and regulate the emotions of oneself as well as others, in order to bring out the best in them.

They are great at communication and getting their point across, as well as balancing the right behaviours to suit the situation. It is through the filter of Emotional Intelligence that good leaders rise above the crowd and make a positive impact on others and businesses.

Emotional Intelligence in More Detail

Emotional intelligence is how well we understand our emotions and their impact on the people around us. It is also how we connect to others at an emotional level; how we empathise with them; how we motivate them to exceed the limits they had set upon themselves.

The term, ‘Emotional Intelligence’ was coined by John Mayer and Peter Salovey in 1990. However, it was popularised by psychologist Daniel Goleman. He proposed 5 elements of Emotional Intelligence.

  1. Self Awareness: Being aware of one’s own emotions;
  2. Self Regulation: Being able to control one’s own emotions;
  3. Motivation: Keeping oneself motivated as well as motivating others through hard times;
  4. Empathy: Understanding the emotions of others;
  5. Social Skills: Communication and interpersonal skills to bring out the best in others.

You can read a more detailed article we’ve written, called “What is Emotional Intelligence.“

We can split emotional intelligence in leadership into four quadrants.

They form the foundation of effective communication and influence.

  1. We start with mastering ourselves. This means to practice and improve our self awareness in situations. We must understand our emotions and emotional triggers (the things that upset us quickly without much thought), as well as how we are coming across and affecting others, through our moods and reactions;

When we are aware, we can improve our capabilities. These are in the following areas:

  1. Social awareness – being empathetic and really understanding others’ emotions, whilst truly being present in conversations and interactions with them;
  2. Self management – Learning to control our own emotions, so we can improve how we socialise with others, as well as being driven and motivated to achieve the goals we set ourselves;

This then leads us into the last quadrant of emotional intelligence in leadership:

  1. Building relationships – Being able to develop deep relationships, built on trust and respect, comes from mastering the first 3 elements of the emotional intelligence model. We can more readily empathise, accrue respect, and manage conflict better, because we are emotionally more rounded and open in our communication.

Let’s take a detailed look into some of the qualities that differentiate a good leader from the not so good.

Common Emotional Intelligence Qualities of Good Leadership

Self confidence:

A leader must be confident about their own capabilities, and the ability to be aware of their own emotions and how they come across to others.

Once a leader is aware of their emotions, they can effectively regulate them. This means that they can hold their own in the face of all types of challenges, whilst being genuine and fair when dealing with their employees.

Quick Tips to Get Started:

  1. Be aware of your own emotions. Keep a journal and record how you react during the day;
  2. Identify your triggers and begin to take responsibility for how you react;
  3. Challenge your own opinions. We all have filters on the world and how we interpret it. Sometimes they may not reflect how others see it or the real situation. We’ve written an article on this to help you in learning how your mind works.

Problem solving capability:

Problems will surface. That’s life. And the ability to tackle them head on in an organised way is essential as a leader.

Problems require a calm and level-headed mind to understand what’s happening and then consider all possible options to overcome them. There’s no room for being a defeatist and giving up.

And so, a big part of emotional intelligence in leadership is to be able to recognise challenges and overcome them.

Quick Tips to Get Started:

  1. When dealing with a challenge, follow a problem solving process, and remain calm;
  2. Identify the problem. This is a gap to plan. Make it clear what is going wrong;
  3. Research and observe the problem, using data and matter of fact when investigating the issue;
  4. Brainstorm ideas to overcome the problem;
  5. Decide which option to choose. You can use decision making tools to help you;
  6. Take action and observe how it’s going;
  7. Try something new if it’s not quite working.

Self Discipline:

All successful leaders lead a highly disciplined worklife. A leader cannot give in to sudden urges and emotional outburst. Unpredictability in a leader often causes chaos in an organisation.

Such discipline comes only when one can effectively self regulate through the development of Emotional Intelligence in leadership, by understanding their own emotional triggers and how their emotions affect others.

Quick Tips to Get Started:

  1. List those triggers that cause a sudden emotional response. Healthline has written an article to help you get started;
  2. Check during the day to see how you are feeling and reacting;
  3. If you feel heated, take a breather and calm down before reacting.


This comes as a result of self discipline. Integrity is the homogeneity of thoughts and actions. A person is said to have integrity when he or she practices what they preach.

Only when a team knows that their leader means what they say, will they trust them. And trust is the most important currency that a successful organisation and its leader banks on.

Integrity is the outcome of self awareness and self regulation. Leaders must have sufficient control over their emotions to know right from wrong. Many organisations have failed due to lack of integrity on the part of their leaders.

A classic example is that of Nike which came to the verge of collapse due to use of child and forced labour by its vendors in South-East Asia.

Quick Tips to Get Started:

  1. When you promise to help someone, always help them. Stick to what you’ve agreed and never drop something because you are too busy;
  2. You must be able to do this even on a bad day. The more you show you are true to your word, the more people will trust you;
  3. Communicate regularly with your team members and employees. Take time to talk things through.


From a leader’s perspective, innovation is not only about coming up with new ideas. It is about keeping an open mind and accepting that the next big idea can come from anywhere – any employee, vendor, customer or even competitor can spur an opportunity or idea.

The trick is to be open minded and not shun any idea or opportunity at face value, and not getting caught into one dimensional thinking.

Quick Tips to Get Started:

  1. Encourage ideas from your team members;
  2. Never jump on an idea and disregard it. Take time to explore it or indeed, ask your employees to explore;
  3. Allow testing on a small scale to see if things work or not – You can follow the PDCA framework to help do this.

Self Motivation:

A leader’s main responsibility is to keep their employees motivated. This can’t be done unless self motivation is mastered. Leaders must have the will to keep going and to persevere, despite facing tough challenges.

If Steve Jobs had given up after being removed from the board of Apple Inc. we may never have got to watch the Toy Story on our iPhones! His self motivation stemmed from his self-confidence, which in turn came from his acute self awareness and great levels of emotional intelligence in leadership.

Quick Tips to Get Started:

  1. Know what you want to achieve. Start with the end in mind and identify the desired outcome of any situation;
  2. If it fits with your goals and values, then pursue this goal. Have the strength to commit to it, even if others question you;
  3. Understand that most people tell others they can’t do something, because they themselves can’t do it. Don’t let detractors turn your head;
  4. Use problem solving skills to overcome challenges as you pursue your goal;
  5. Work on improving motivation of your team members, too.


A leader cannot be rigid in their outlook. Since the business landscape is always changing, flexibility is critical.

Leaders must have a gamut of options available for different situations and also be quick on their feet to respond to a newly evolving situation.

Hence, a leader must be confident in their decision making capabilities and be pretty good at it, too.

Quick Tips to Get Started:

  1. Use decision making models to help you make accurate and fast decisions;
  2. Never dwell too long on decisions – you may lose momentum and the opportunity;
  3. Equally, never make too many knee jerk decisions. Try to be balanced between just enough data but not too much to create sensory overload and procrastination.

Organisational awareness:

A good leader must be aware of the various relationship dynamics in the organisation. They need to know who is best suited for what and where they can get help and answers in tricky situations.

They should also be adept at understanding how people are getting along and where they need help. Be tactful and adjusting their way of communicating is critical to get the best out of each individual.

Quick Tips to Get Started:

  1. MindtheProduct.com offers some insight into improving your organisational awareness. In Particular, step back and observe your team and how they work together. By watching and taking note, you can better understand how they communicate and how you can serve them better;
  2. You can do the same on an individual basis, too. So, take time to observe and you’ll be able to create a better picture of how the dynamics of the team work, how it can be improved, and how you can help each individual;
  3. Look to coach your team members. One of the foundations of good leadership is to coach your team. Learning to do it effectively, will pay dividends.


The days of the hard taskmaster are gone. Today is the age of the humane leader.

Understanding and respecting the emotions, likes and dislikes of their employees can help create a sense of belonging amongst the team. It will also help develop trust and loyalty – the two most important intangible resources for an organisation.

Quick Tips to Get Started:

  1. Try walking in your employees’ shoes;
  2. Don’t judge anyone for who they are or what they’ve done. Try to understand them better by listening intently to them;
  3. When a bad situation arises, ask, “How would i feel in that situation?” Try to understand the other person’s side;
  4. Never react in anger. Take a breather and discuss things when you are less emotive.

Conflict management:

A considerable amount of a leader’s time is spent in conflict resolution. An organisation is a never ending source of conflicts. These may be internal or external to the organisation. How efficiently a leader can resolve conflict determines the success of the team and the organisation.  This in turn comes from the levels that a leader has in emotinal intelligence in leadership.

Quick Tips to Get Started:

Read our articles on conflict management, to help you develop your conflict management skills.

In particular, try the following:

  1. Always remain calm in any conflict situation;
  2. Look for the facts;
  3. Ask the other parties, “What do you want to overcome this problem?”;
  4. Explore ideas to achieve this;
  5. Look to gain consensus and agree a follow up date to see how things are progressing.


This is often the most overlooked skill of most leaders. Delegating properly is a hard thing for a leader to do. It means that leaders have to let go and have the confidence that what needs to get done will be done effectively, without doing it themselves.

Quick Tips to Get Started:

We’ve written a number of articles on delegation, to help you improve your skills.

To get started, here are some quick pointers:

  1. Always look to delegate responsibility to team members;
  2. Never try to be the saviour and take on all tasks and solutions;
  3. Learn to push back to your team members and ask, “What do you think?” Get them to come up with ideas and solutions, rather than them asking for your help all the time.

Communication skills:

Communication is all about connecting with the team at an emotional level. A good communicator has a strong appeal among their followers and can influence them to take action.

There is a reason why Steve Jobs’ keynote addresses were so famous. He had an uncanny way to make his audience believe that they needed the product that he was going to show them.

The case is not much different for intra-organisational communication either. Here you need to understand the prevailing emotions of your employees and address them accordingly.

Quick Tips to Get Started:

  1. Learn the process of communication and how what you say may be perceived differently to others;
  2. Practice active listening to really connect with your team members;
  3. Use different methods to communicate, like stories, visual images, written memos, 1-2-1s, and get people to try new ideas and practice new things.


Consider the somewhat cliched acronym TEAM – Together Everyone Achieves More. The success of an organisation depends on how well it works as a team.

Building a high performing team is essential in leadership. This means that team members should be empowered to learn new things, apply new ideas and work together as a team in an autonomous way.

The leader’s roll is to be a servant to help the team where they need support.

Quick Tips to Get Started:

Teamwork and team development is critical here. In particular:

  1. Understand your team members’ natural motivations. To help, use our guide on what motivates you, to get started;
  2. Practice delegating tasks and solutions (above). Move away from being the saviour, and more on self sufficiency. This means pushing back and getting others to think of solutions first;
  3. Focus on improving employee satisfaction by removing what’s called hygiene factors and improving motivation factors.

Coaching and mentoring:

A good leader is one who creates and develops good leaders under them. These leaders self manage and hold each other accountable, which are prerequisites to a high performing team.

Through coaching and mentoring, leaders can also help improve morale and productivity.

It is well established that leaders developed from within an organisation often perform better than an outsider appointee.

This is one of the reasons why Larry Page and Eric Schmidt handed over the reigns of Google to Sundar Pichhai.

The same rationale is behind the appointment of Satya Nadella as the Microsoft CEO.

The identification and training of tomorrow’s leaders requires a good understanding of their mental capabilities, their strengths and weaknesses to enable them to develop and take over the reigns.

Quick Tips to Get Started:

  1. The best leaders effectively put themselves out of a job. Rather than hold onto things and be controlling, give others the opportunity to learn from you;
  2. Embark in coaching people to develop their skills, using a framework like the situational leader;
  3. Look to elevate people into senior figures, in view of being tomorrow’s leaders and don’t be afraid to let go, so your team and employees develop under your guidance.

Inspirational Leadership:

Last but not the least, the leader must be a constant source of inspiration for their employees. This can only happen if the employees look up to them as a source of support and inspiration.

If you develop and perfect each of the skills above, you’ll naturally become an inspirational leader to your teams.

Quick Tips to Get Started:

Practice the above quick tips and try to make them a habit in your daily leadership routines. The best leaders inspire through trust, commitment, vision, and accountability.

It’s why Winston Churchill was a great example of inspiration during the war.

Spend time developing your leadership skills. Each time you do, you’ll naturally become more effective and inspirational to your team members.


We can see that leadership qualities start in the quadrant of Self Awareness. They then  pass through to Self Management and Social Awareness. This allows you to be a calming influence on your team, whilst getting the best out of your teams and self.

By building on this foundation, you unlock the door to create deep, long lasting relationships, which increase employee satisfaction, motivation, and productivity. In turn, profitability and customer satisfaction will improve as a byproduct.

The above list is in no way exhaustive, but it gives a clear idea about why most organisations are looking for emotional intelligence in leadership and how you can start to develop your emotional intelligence skills.

The days of the detached and coldly rational schools of leadership are gone.