4.1.1 The emotionally intelligent leader

The purpose of this section is to give you an increased awareness and understanding of emotional intelligence and its importance and relevance for leadership in strengthening working relationships with others. As you work through the content of this section, consider how emotional intelligence (or lack of it) at leadership level, shapes your organisation. The two charts on this page suggest that different leadership attributes in terms of emotional intelligence produce very different organisational outcomes. Consider the charts and think of some examples, positive and/or negative, from your organisation or one that you are familiar with. Complete the EI test and reflect on your awareness of the effect your emotions can have on your own and others’ performance. What examples can you give of both negative and positive effects? You will be able to record your thoughts and understanding in the Learning Log question and Reflection Note at the end of this section, but you may find it useful to write down the key points as you work through the content.

Whilst there is a burgeoning leadership profiling industry claiming to identify an individual’s personal aptitudes and preferences, its predominant emphasis is on measuring attributes seen to be fixed. The claim is that people can therefore be matched with job roles to reflect their personal attributes in order to achieve the well-functioning organisation, and that profiling can select effective leaders. Yet the science and practice behind this process are far from perfect and might be considered at odds with the agile and developmental nature of workplace innovation in which learning, reflection and change go hand in hand.

Emotional Intelligence (EI), in contrast, is essentially about how an individual manages their personality rather than deterministically limiting potential to pre-ordained factors. It can be defined as the capability of individuals to recognise their own emotions and those of others, to discern between different feelings and label them appropriately, to use emotional information to guide thinking and behaviour, and manage and/or adjust emotions to adapt to environments or the achievement of goals. Crucially these attributes are not fixed but can be learned and developed with sufficient understanding, commitment and practice.

Daniel Goleman, a founder of the movement, reported that EI accounted for 67% of the abilities deemed necessary for superior performance in leaders, and mattered twice as much as cognitive intelligence (IQ) or technical expertise. To illustrate this, if someone is in an anxious state then their cortical functioning is impaired. If they can bring themselves back into a relaxed state functioning improves; they are able to think more clearly, be more creative and so use their cognitive intelligence and temperament to its best.

Explore the five components of emotional intelligence

Amongst the multiple definitions of emotional intelligence two attributes stand out: self-regard (valuing and accepting yourself) and regard for others (valuing and accepting others regardless of their beliefs and actions). These attributes are, of course, highly interdependent: for example, those with low self-esteem will seek to prop up their own status and be dismissive of the contributions of others, whilst those with higher self-esteem will be more comfortable in valuing and supporting others to maximise their contributions.

A link between creative behaviours and emotional intelligence has also been established by researchers, drawing a clear link with workplace innovation and leadership. Leaders with higher self-esteem would be more willing to try out new ideas with less fear of the consequences and a greater ability to navigate the failures and disappointments that are inevitable within a creative process. Further reading here.

Emotional intelligence is not just about the individual, however. From a workplace innovation perspective, the degree to which these attributes exist within leaders who shape organisational structures and practices becomes critical. Leaders create organisations in their own image, closely reflecting their strengths and inadequacies.

The following figures explore the relationship between leaders’ emotional intelligence and the climate they create around them. The first figure demonstrates the effect of a leader with low self-esteem both on colleagues and on the nature of the organisation as a whole:

Low Emotional Intelligence and Disconnected Leadership

Low Emotional Intelligence and Disconnected Leadership

This person will be highly focused on their own position and status within the company, tending to follow their own interests over and above those of the organisation. This will often be manifested in competitive behaviours with colleagues and a dismissive or blame-focused relationship with subordinates, combined with stress and defensiveness. Such leaders are likely to build or shape organisational structures in which employees are micro-managed with little trust or autonomy and locked into functionally specific (and therefore controllable) roles; likewise employees with ideas for innovation or improvement may be seen as subversive, whilst risk-taking and experimentation will be suppressed by a climate of fear.

We may anticipate in the figure below that a very different climate and structure will be created by the emotionally intelligent leader. A leader with higher self-regard and regard for others will be focused on aspirations wider than those of their own role and status. Hierarchy and authority will not be important; rather the emphasis will be on collaboration and trust, recognising that others have the skills and abilities needed to make things work, and taking us back to the Co-Created Leadership approach described above. Mistakes and failure are learning opportunities rather than something to be admonished, providing the leadership climate in which workplace innovation can thrive.

High Emotional Intelligence and Co-Created Leadership

Of course these two distinct characterisations of emotional intelligence and leadership are extremes. Most individuals will manifest attributes from both sides, reflecting changing contexts and pressures. Yet the strength of emotional intelligence as an enabler of workplace innovation is that it is not fixed; like the innovative workplace itself, the emotional intelligence of leaders is enhanced by learning and reflection on both failure and success.

People Skills Self-Assessment

How emotionally intelligent are you? Evaluate each statement as you actually are, rather than as you think you should be.


After you have completed the assessment, note your thoughts in the reflection box on how you are going to develop your emotional intelligence

Essential further reading

This article from Positive Psychology compares two different perspectives on emotional intelligence, and will help you answer the following Learning Log question on the organisational impact of EI.

For a more in-depth view, download this literature review of the relationship between emotional intelligence and leadership effectiveness.

Emotional Intelligence Snapshot Profile Option

Has this section of the Programme encouraged you to explore your own emotional intelligence in greater depth, and to understand how it can strengthen your effectiveness as a leader and change enabler?

We offer (at a small extra cost) a PSI Emotional Intelligence Profile (EIP3) Snapshot followed by a full hour of one to one coaching to enhance the benefits you gain from our Workplace Innovation Programmes still further. The Profile Report identifies your top three strengths and your top three areas for development, as well as making practical suggestions for moving forward. We then help you to create your own personal emotional intelligence development plan.

Please contact us for more information.


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