Leading with Emotional Intelligence: The Key to Effective Executive Leadership

Leading with Emotional Intelligence: The Key to Effective Executive Leadership was originally published on uConnect External Content.

After PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi landed the organization’s top job, she wrote thank-you notes to the parents of every executive team member.

After realizing her own parents had been instrumental in her success, she was inspired to write the letters.

Nooyi explained what she wrote to parents during an appearance on The David Rubenstein Show.

“I wrote a paragraph about what their child was doing at PepsiCo. I said, ‘Thank you for the gift of your child to our company,’” she said. 

The gesture moved Nooyi’s team members and their parents. The CEO explained that her retention strategy rests on emotionally-connecting employees to the company, as well as valuing their lives beyond the workplace. 

Nooyi’s method is one example of leading with emotional intelligence (EI). 

What is emotional intelligence? 

At its core, EI is understanding what you and others are feeling. Then, emotionally intelligent people use this understanding to predict how to react in various situations. 

“For leaders, having emotional intelligence is essential for success. After all, who is more likely to succeed – a leader who shouts at his team when he’s under stress or a leader who stays in control and calmly assesses the situation?” asked Mind Tools.

Psychologist Daniel Goleman identified five elements of emotional intelligence. This guide discusses how to use these criteria to become a more compassionate and self-aware leader.


1️⃣ Self-Awareness 

Organizational psychologist Tasha Eurich found that only 10-15% of people are actually self-aware, though 95% believe they’re self-aware. 

If you’re self-aware, you can identify and name your feelings. However, many leaders may need to work on figuring out what emotion or emotions they’re experiencing and why. 

Your self-awareness “requires understanding how aspects of identity can affect the way you lead, and a willingness to learn and recognize your own emotional triggers and weaknesses,” says the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL). “Leader effectiveness is constrained or amplified based on how well leaders understand themselves, their awareness of how others view them, and how they navigate the resulting interactions.”


2️⃣ Self-Regulation/Self-Management

Self-regulated people can recognize how they’re feeling and can use those feelings either to act – or decide not to act.

If you’re not self-aware, for instance, you might let your excitement spur you into making a reckless decision. 

To improve your self-regulation, aim to lengthen the time between your reaction to a stimulus to your response. The shorter the time between them, the more likely you’ll make a decision you’ll regret. 

“It’s important to remember to pause, breathe, collect yourself, and do whatever it takes to manage your emotions – that means taking a walk or calling a friend – so that you can more appropriately and intentionally respond to stress and adversity,” said Lauren Landry for Harvard Business School Online.


3️⃣ Motivation

Motivated leaders regularly check in with themselves about why their jobs matter.

If you’re struggling to figure out why you’re doing what you’re doing, then you might need to re-assess why you took the role in the first place. 

Motivated leaders also tend to be optimistic. If you have a negative attitude, you may struggle to inspire your team. 

Pessimists may reap benefits from re-train their thinking. 

“Every time you face a challenge or even a failure, try to find at least one good thing about the situation. It might be something small, like a new contact, or something with long-term effects, like an important lesson learned,” Mind Tools noted.


4️⃣ Empathy

Leaders who lack empathy may employ a one-size-fits-all management style that doesn’t account for each employee’s preferences and goals.

For instance, if you use a blunt, critical style during a performance review for a sensitive employee, they’re unlikely to even hear your suggestions. 

Building your empathy makes you a better leader, says the CCL. 

“Empathy has long been a soft skill that’s overlooked as a performance indicator. Our research, however, has shown that today’s successful leaders are showing kindness in the workplace and are more ‘person-focused,’ making them better able to work well with people from varying teams, departments, countries, cultures, and backgrounds,” they write.


5️⃣ Social Skills

Leading with emotional intelligence requires you to mitigate complex situations.

For instance, you’ll need to learn to praise others, resolve conflicts, and remain open to both negative and positive developments. 

Some leaders may not be comfortable dealing with conflict, for instance. But if you’re unwilling to make space for this type of conversation, you’re likely making the situation worse. 

“Some prefer to avoid conflict, but it’s important to properly address issues as they arise. Research shows that every unaddressed conflict can waste about eight hours of company time in gossip and other unproductive activities, putting a drain on resources and morale,” Landry wrote.


Leading with Emotional Intelligence


Emotionally intelligent leaders understand their own emotions and motivations. They also demonstrate empathy towards their employees and manage conflict effectively. 

Many leaders lack at least one of the five elements of emotional intelligence. However, if these qualities don’t come naturally, you can and should prioritize developing them. 

Employers value emotional intelligence, But how can you demonstrate your EQ in interviews? Read Lin Grensing-Pophal’s blog “How to Show Emotional Intelligence in Interviews and Other Soft Skills” for advice.