Free article: Leadership: Emotional intelligence

Published: Wednesday, 04 September 2019

Thinking about leadership as a set of skills that can be developed, Kenny Wheeler writes about what emotional intelligence looks like, and why it is so important.


  • Emotional intelligence allows you to be more mindful of your emotions and those of the person you are feeding back to. 
  • Leadership involves employing a lot of emotional intelligence.
  • Leaders must be in control of themselves and their emotions before they attempt to lead others. 
  • Keeping a diary or journal will help you in being able to reflect back in order to plan forwards.

You can be an extremely intelligent leader with high IQ but what happens when you just can’t interact with others?

A leader may be highly intelligent but can still have bad relationships due to poor emotional intelligence and low emotional quotient (EQ). It is said that having high IQ might get you a job, but you need high EQ in order to remain and lead effectively.

Emotional intelligence

In short, emotional intelligence is the ability to understand our own emotions, how they affect us and how they might impact on others. It also extends to knowing and understanding how others feel at any given point in time and how this might affect their behaviour, interactions and performance.

Emotional intelligence is not being so ‘touchy feely’ that you refrain from giving constructive criticism or negative feedback. It just means that you are more mindful of the emotions you experience and those of the person you are feeding back to. They need clear and accurate feedback if they are going to improve their overall performance, but this feedback can be constructive and guide towards improvement. Failing to give accurate feedback to protect feelings may get you plaudits in the short term but this will fade once individuals come to realise you have not been wholly honest.

Why is emotional intelligence important?

We work in a fast-paced world which can be highly charged with emotion which can then be exacerbated by competing egos. Workloads are heavy and people are often struggling to do their jobs. The autocratic leader (directive, pace-setting) might get results in the short term but what of the long term and what of the underlying morale within the organisation? We can all give negative feedback, but the emotionally intelligent leader remembers that the person receiving the feedback has to go back and do their job afterwards.

Emotional intelligence in the workplace

Emotional intelligence is not just about how you behave in meetings, it encompasses the holistic you within the workplace. There is the professional you and the personal you, and quite often people don’t want to blur the lines between friends and colleagues. However, you can still enquire about a colleague’s spouse without it appearing you are trying to be best friends. Simply knowing the names of spouses and children just lets people know that you listen, are aware and that they matter as colleagues.

Am I in the right place to lead others?

You need to make sure you are in the right place before you attempt to lead others. If you are not in control of yourself and your emotions, then things can go drastically wrong quite quickly. Leadership involves a lot of emotional intelligence, the first person that needs to be emotionally intelligent is YOU!

Emotional intelligence MOT

This might seem strange, but I like to think of an emotional intelligence MOT as an essential starting point before you even attempt to interact with others. The Hay Group developed an emotional intelligence framework:

p47 Diagram

You can use this as a personal MOT in the following way.

p47 Table

Start with number one and work your way through the list. You can do this in a very literal way, which can involve talking to yourself (maybe do this in private). Essentially, you need to check in with yourself to make yourself you are in the right place to work with others. You can run little scenarios in your head, e.g. if John is negative (again) do I have the resolve to smile and be positive, if Mary says she is tired can I get her back on task?

Tracking emotional intelligence

You cannot become emotionally intelligent overnight, so you need to track your emotions, feelings and responses over a period of time. This will also include noting how others reacted to you and the resulting impact your behaviour had on subsequent productivity.

One of the things to reflect on is how you feel after an interaction: are you happy, are you angry, did you remain in control? If there are negative responses, then this is something to reflect on and use as a focus for change. One question I pose (because it is easy to blame others) is: How would I respond to me?

Framework for a journal

Keeping a diary or journal will help you to reflect back in order to plan forwards. It will also help you to see the journey you have taken.

  • How did I feel before the interaction?
  • Was I clear about what I wanted to achieve?
  • Did I control my triggers/reactions?
  • Did I control my tone of voice/pitch?
  • Did I listen or just talk instruct?
  • How did my colleague interact with me?
  • What was their subsequent behaviour? (Did they do what I asked?)
  • Was I aware of how my colleagues were feeling?
  • Did I adjust my approach in light of group feelings?
  • What will I do differently next time?

It is important to consider what you are going to focus on in the future in order to develop body language, voice, instructions, listening, silence, summing up so everyone knows what you are doing and, importantly, what they need to do as individuals.


Use the following items in the Toolkit to put the ideas in the article into practice:

About the author

Kenny Wheeler has over a decade’s experience as a secondary SENCo and senior leader. He works for the Driver Youth Trust (@DriverTrust) as a senior consultant. He is also a consultant for SEN, Inclusion and Leadership. You can contact him on Twitter @KennyInclusion.


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