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Can Emotional Intelligence Make You A Better Leader?


Barnaby Lashbrooke

Founder and CEO of Time etc, author of The Hard Work Myth

6 minute read

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There are so many cliches about what it means to be a good leader. I’m sure there have been many times where you’ve heard that “being nice gets you nowhere” or “you’re there to be their boss, not their friend”, but just how true is it? Is there another way?

According to experts, toughness will only get you so far.

What is emotional intelligence?

First coined by professors Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer in 1990 and popularized by psychologist Dr. Daniel Goleman in his bestselling book, “emotional intelligence”, also known as EQ or EI, is commonly defined as the ability to recognize, understand and manage your own emotions, as well as the emotions of others.

In recent years, increasing numbers of experts have been taking note of the apparent link between emotional intelligence and success in the workplace. For example, internal research by PepsiCo found that managers with high emotional intelligence saw a 15-20% increase in performance in their annual targets.

Dr. Goleman states that what sets a truly effective leader out from the rest is not how knowledgeable they are or how technically skilled they are, but their EQ skills. This isn’t to say that intelligence or technical skills aren’t important. On the contrary, they are essential for executive positions. But once in these positions, it is emotional intelligence that makes the difference, according to Goleman.

Why is emotional intelligence significant?

There’s no doubt that recent global events made workers across the world reevaluate their priorities, and location and schedule flexibility, workspaces that prioritize good mental health, and more fulfilling work that aligns with their values are at the top of people’s minds. So, in the age of the ”Great Resignation”, business leaders and team leaders alike have a crucial role to play in making their companies competitive and engaging places for both current and prospective employees.

According to experts, emotional intelligence holds the key. A Gallup study of two million employees at 700 companies found that employees who had managers with high emotional intelligence were four times less likely to leave than those who had managers with low emotional intelligence.

Emotional intelligence in business and leadership

The following skills are crucial for navigating every complex situation you come across at work — from salary negotiations to difficult conversations with colleagues.


This refers to the ability to be aware of your emotions as they happen and how they affect the people around you.

Self-awareness might not seem like something you’d need to develop. After all, you know yourself better than anyone, right? However, a recent study found that only 10-15% of its participants were self-aware, even though 95% claimed to be. According to the study’s leader Tasha Eurich, a lack of self-awareness in leaders can be harmful to their teams and performance to the point the team’s success is reduced by half.

The first step in bringing out the best in others starts with bringing out the best in yourself. One way to develop your self-awareness of your own strengths and weaknesses is by completing 360-degree feedback. By evaluating your performance and matching it against other perspectives, you’ll learn much more about yourself.


In the face of a stressful or negative situation, our ability to think clearly and make rational decisions can be compromised. But those situations are likely to be when we need this the most.

Simply put, self-management is all about staying in control. Let’s be honest, leadership can be tough, but being able to handle pressure and effectively manage difficult situations is vital.

Regulating emotions may come easily for some, but if you often find yourself reacting in the “heat of the moment”, or you struggle to pick yourself up out of a low mood when things don’t go as planned, there are some simple actions that you can implement right away or start building into your habits that can make a significant difference.

In most cases, stopping to collect yourself is all you need. That way, when you’re better prepared, you can address stressful situations and adversity much more purposefully and positively. For example, if you get an email or message that upsets you, pause before you reply. Replying to a message while angry is almost never a good idea — just like in a face-to-face conversation, you may end up saying something you don’t mean, and once something has been said (or sent), you can’t unsay it.

Instead, take a step back. You could send an initial response to acknowledge the email and let the other person know you’ll get back to them shortly, then, leave the message be for a while. Give yourself time to ride out the powerful emotion, and you’ll find that the words you send are much different from those you planned on writing while upset.

Social awareness

This is a key component of empathy, or “the capacity or ability to imagine oneself in the situation of another, experiencing the emotions, ideas, or opinions of that person”. Without empathy, there’s no room for collaboration, conversation, and connection -- all of which are crucial parts of getting work done as a team.

Recognizing and understanding the emotions of others is valuable in more ways than one. It can help you be more proactive in offering guidance and support, and while no one likes to have those difficult conversations at work, strong social awareness can also help you manage issues tactfully and sensitively.

Relationship management

Relationship management refers to “the ability to influence, coach, and mentor others, and resolve conflict effectively.”

You may know exactly what drives you forward, but it’s hard to achieve your goals or deliver your vision alone. Being a leader doesn’t mean much without the people around you. In other words, relationship management takes your understanding of your own emotions and your teams’ into a practical sphere. By knowing what motivates every single member of their team, they're able to unlock their full potential and make sure that each individual is engaged in the work that they're doing. How do you encourage development? How do you make others feel like their voice will be heard?

What’s The Bottom Line?

Technical skills and intelligence are not the only characteristics of a good leader. According to the World Economic Forum, emotional intelligence is one of the top 10 skills needed for professional success in 2020 and beyond. In business, leaders who display emotional intelligence inspire trust and confidence among their employees, empower them to work well with each other and keep motivation and engagement high. To get the best out of your team, and your business, as a result, consider your self-awareness, self-regulation, social awareness, and relationship management.

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About the author

Barnaby Lashbrooke is the founder and CEO of Virtual Assistant service Time etc as well as the author of The Hard Work Myth, recently recommended by Sir Richard Branson. Barnaby is a Forbes Columnist on productivity and is also an accomplished entrepreneur, selling more than $35 million worth of services.

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