High Emotional Intelligence Directly Linked to Leader Effectiveness

According to Psychology Today, Emotional Intelligence (E.I.) generally includes the ability to:

  • Identify and name one’s own emotions (emotional awareness)
  • Harness those emotions and apply them (to tasks like thinking and problem-solving)
  • Manage emotions (regulating one’s own emotions and helping others do the same)

The “Wise” Ones. . .

Active influencers don’t just “show up” and effectively lead others (or themselves). Physical presence, title or position aren’t enough. Leaders need to be mentally and intellectually aware and available to people. Mental and intellectual availability requires high emotional intelligence. We come across this term a lot these days, but it’s not a new concept. Throughout history, many great leaders were  described as “wise” or “knowing”. These were emotionally intelligent people. In my world, someone with E.I. is:

A self-generated person who is separated and individuated.


In short this means a high level of self-awareness exists. Awareness of your “self” means you have done your homework on how people (certain types and individuals) can tweak your sensory and cognitive neuroscience. Situations may also be the culprit for taking us off our game and being less than our best version of ourselves. Emotions or feelings are strong influences on our being. A person (friend, coworker, spouse, politician) can take us from the present moment and put us into our heads big time. It happens to us in a split second. It’s what happens right after that emotional charging that matters. The choices you make.

An individuated person is someone that can separate themselves from people and situations, so that they can make more appropriate choices. They might also be able to disrupt a pattern of behavior between themselves and a person or team of people. I’m calling those people/situations the “IT”. We all have one. When we are not separating ourselves from “IT” (individuated) we are in “IT”. And when you are in “IT” there is no way you can make a different choice. The choice has already been made on your response a long time ago. Nothing new is possible. Conversely, when we are individuated human beings we can effectively wade into some very sticky situations and be an advocate for new possibilities or better outcomes.

The problem is letting “IT” (the person, place, or thing) affect the choices we make and the actions we take. Getting your choice back on how you choose to act is a big deal. And you will be a “wise one” for making this a priority. Just be aware that it is a practice and not a destination. It can require lots of preparation and self-reflection and a commitment to do deep personal work. Emotionally aware leaders work way more on themselves than they do on other people.

Emotional Awareness

Leaders who are active influencers cherish meaningful, productive time spent with others (employees, clients, family – any relationship). They understand that people want your full attention. It’s invaluable for a leader to gain clarity and understanding about those things that are most important to people and to communicate what they value. This is possible only if you are:

  • Connected with others emotionally and intellectually
  • In touch with your own emotional state
  • Fully attentive and present

In other words, this requires a well-developed sense of emotional awareness. In my experience coaching leaders there is always an “IT”. People bring you their “IT” and expect you to solve “IT”. The biggest part of leading, coaching, and parenting is not always solving the “IT” for someone. Helping people unpack their emotions and feelings helps them begin to use those feelings as a great source of information rather than something to act out of automatically. They can begin to make choices independent of their automatic responses. I’ve confirmed in my own personal work that this is not easy, and it takes an attitude of being in the game of emotional awareness for a lifetime.

Emotional Availability

Effective leaders are continuously assessing  risk.  Many avoid the risk of being vulnerable in sharing—not only what they’re thinking, but also what they’re feeling. There are times when you need to check in with your feelings and emotions and make conscious choices about how you will harness and apply them (e.g., is it appropriate in the moment to share how you really feel about something or someone?). I honestly can’t teach this in leaders, I can have them experience it through coaching. They can practice it and grow their experience. Sometimes emotions just show up and we need to acknowledge them and not let them make us uncomfortable. It’s a part of who we are as human beings.

Emotional availability means more than letting people see that you are just as human as they are. Sharing your feelings gives people a strong sense of where you are as a leader. When they compare that “emotional information” to your actions they will discover whether you acted out of your feelings or your commitments. For example, to tell a team that you “feel challenged” to help them achieve the goals given to them may not be your first play. I’m not saying it’s wrong. It is likely authentic, but you could refine your feelings by saying it is going to take an effort bigger than anything they have ever accomplished prior to this year. That’s authentic and straight.

Often leaders just quote a company leadership line rather than being authentic. Let people know how high the hurdle is and they will decide how to jump it. Teams tend to take off like a rocket when they “truly see” the challenge. It’s freeing and motivating to be challenged by knowing how everyone feels about the challenge, but not being held captive by impossibilities.

Many leaders are emotionally aware, yet still expressly avoid feeling or sharing their feelings. That’s generally not a good thing to do. Here’s why:

  • Feelings are a great source of information for leaders, and they often get discounted or ignored
  • There’s a difference between acting out and acting upon feelings (a big difference)
  • Feelings are a strong indicator of energy and commitment
  • Acknowledging your feelings can be the beginning of checking in with your commitments
  • The vulnerable leader is a powerful leader who is open and trusts him or herself as an emotional being
  • An emotionally intelligent leader seeks clarity and understanding of the origins of their feelings

Leaders who don’t acknowledge their feelings as real, or act out of them in an automatic response, are not differentiated. When leaders shut down their feelings to protect themselves, some very important data is no longer accessible. They surrender their power.

Many leaders are emotionally aware, yet still expressly avoid feeling or sharing their feelings.  


Emotional Regulation

Leaders who want to be active influencers must be able to interpret and (sometimes) share what they’re sensing – it’s like a thinking/intuition tightrope. Action taken depends upon what’s occurring in the moment.  It takes great skill to identify your own emotions, the emotions of others in the room, and decide in that instant the best course to take. If you’re in a highly charged situation you can’t just “lose it” and expect to come out unscathed. And chances are you won’t.  If an employee or teammate is ready to lose it, you need to sense that and act accordingly (predictive thinking). It takes well-developed emotional intelligence to be aware of and able to regulate your emotions, while helping others do the same.

If you’re in  a highly charged situation you can’t just “lose it” and expect to come out unscathed.

Areas of “Self”

A fundamental part of E.I. is awareness. True awareness requires knowledge of and access to all of our distinct areas of Self. Anyone familiar with my work knows I talk a lot about “being” and “doing” – the difference, what each looks like, and how they shape our ability to lead.  Below in this section is a model depicting the three areas of Self that we act out of in life and work.  We need to understand all these areas and how they connect. This is essentially a mental model or framework that helps us put language to something that is quite unseen, fluid and hard to distinguish without an outside observer’s or coach’s support. The goal is about self-correction or being able to notice yourself and make adjustments.

As we grow into our mature leadership self we can, through reflective work, become better observers of ourselves. Eventually we can begin to even see if our observing is a bit off base, but this takes a lot of personal commitment to development. There are some important things to take away from this simple model:

  1. It isn’t about right or wrong, but about what is most powerful.,
  2. Use feelings as information and not a place for acting upon them.
  3. Story is just what it says. It’s mostly made up interpretations based on things we’ve brought meaning to over time. They’re not real, but no less influential. This is a big area for reflection. Some, if not many, feelings are derived by these long-lost experiences that we made mean something.
  4. Word is just a simple definition of where we can speak something into existence. This where possibilities exist, and new action can be taken. In the other areas of Story and Feelings, nothing new is possible. It’s all old rehearsal. Commitment lives in the space of Word.

BEING – how we show up

DOING – informed or automatic action 

Why Do We Need to Pay Attention to This Stuff?

Most leaders are doers. In fact, this is not at all a bad thing because leaders are known for the things they do. However, the doing needs to be informed by some transformational aspects that only come from the being side of leaders and leading. You don’t DO Leader. YOU can only BE a Leader. It’s your BEING that wins the day. My mentor/coach, Frederic Hudson said the mantra BE-DO. Once you know who or what you needed to BE the DOING would follow. We get caught up into the DOING mode because businesses and institutions reward it. It is perpetuated like a virus among people who are invested in growing share price rather than market share.

Being a doer may protect us from some deeper personal work too. I’ve come to believe that we know, intuitively or innately, we are the problem we will have to face head on. Doing some personal reflection may unearth some things we would rather not face or unpack. Self-contemplation and self-observation usually don’t come naturally and can be thought of as time-wasters. Here’s why you need to care.  Things are no longer linear. Not at work, at home or in the world at large. We are connected and interdependent whether we like it or not. That being the reality, we have to manage our relationships and build them with a new sense of awareness. The awareness starts with us. Your emotional intelligence (or lack of) can get you hired or fired; it will propel you up, or drag you down. Pay attention, do the work, hone your skills. High E.I. directly links to leadership effectiveness. You won’t be an Active Influencer unless you make this a priority.