Emotional Intelligence for Business Leaders


One of the most important, yet least discussed, traits for a business leader to possess is emotional intelligence. Defined as the ability to recognize, express, and manage your own emotions and the emotions of those around you, it’s a critical skill that can help all other interactions in your personal and professional life be more pleasant and productive. 

In Servant Leadership in Action: How You Can Achieve Great Relationships and Results, a collection of insights and essays by forward thinking servant leaders, Raj Sisodia observes: 

“Emotional intelligence (EQ) combines self-awareness (understanding oneself) and empathy (the ability to feel and understand what others are feeling). High emotional intelligence is increasingly being recognized as important in organizations because of the growing complexity of society and the variety of stakeholders that must be communicated with effectively.”

While this may be a radical departure from previous ideas about the nature of authoritative management, servant leadership and emotional intelligence are becoming increasingly recognized as one of the most effective ways to build effective, creative teams who function well in dynamic environments. 

There are 5 key factors that go into a working emotional intelligence. Having a grasp on each of these creates a balanced awareness of yourself and others that can be a turning point for your relationships. 


Some people are highly skilled in self-management. Often, they are more reserved, slow to speak, and prefer situations in which they are able to consider the whole picture before having a reaction. When others approach them expressing a strong emotion, those with high self-management 

Those with poor self-management tend to say whatever pops into their head, openly express whatever emotion they are feeling, and have little awareness of other people’s emotional states.

This often causes friction, as your team looks to you as an example of how they are expected to act. When you are able to handle your emotions and thoughts with tact, they will do the same. 

Example in a Professional Setting

You have a history of “just being honest.” You pull no punches when it comes to both criticism and praise. People have become increasingly uncomfortable about sharing information with you regarding work progress, as your reaction to that information could either make or break their willingness to continue the project. 

To help fix the situation, you begin asking people to email you project updates instead of coming to you in person. You offer the option to either schedule an in-person followup or receive an email response. In doing so, you are giving yourself more time to manage your thoughts before you share them with others.

Over time, you find yourself able to self-manage in the moment, slowly shifting back to a more casual approach to project updates. 

Self Awareness

One of the hardest aspects of having high emotional intelligence is being aware of our own moods, as well as the way that our moods affect the people around us. Being able to monitor and name our emotions helps us recognize when we might be using body language that is sending a message we don’t want to send.

If you have a good sense of self awareness, you are confident going into interactions with others because you know that, no matter what the circumstances, you will be able to maintain your composure and read subtle shifts in the moods of others.  

Example in a Professional Setting

Before heading into a quarterly progress meeting, you assess how you are currently feeling about your team and your personal life. You recognize that you didn’t sleep well the night before, so you are feeling unmotivated, distracted, and a little sour.

Instead of holding the meeting, in which you would normally be enthusiastic and eager, you let your team know that meetings will be postponed to the next day and why you feel that it is the better option. 


 The catalyst for your emotional intelligence is rooted in your motivation. If you are able to set and maintain goals for constant growth, you are demonstrating perseverance, commitment, and initiative, all of which are necessary components for interacting with others in productive ways. 

Your self-motivation also translates into your ability to motivate others. Enthusiasm is contagious, and when your team looks to you for social prompts regarding challenging situations, the way that you react is going to determine their own confidence in handling their projects.  

Example in a Professional Setting

You decided to take a class in Spanish, as you are seeing an increasing number of Spanish-speaking clients looking for services in your industry. After two weeks, you are frustrated and feel that it is more trouble than it’s worth. 

One of your employees, who is a fluent Spanish speaker, notices your frustration, and offers to work with you on the key sociolinguistics you need to function in the business world. You accept enthusiastically, thanking her for her offer. 

That evening, you go home and look up YouTube videos on common Spanish phrases in the business setting. With a more focused approach, you are eager to pursue your goal. 

Other employees who see you working with your Spanish-speaking employee ask her for a presentation on Spanish in the professional setting. Soon, your whole team is excitedly trying out their newly acquired vocabulary with each other in the office. 

Social Skills

Have you ever been in a situation where you were uncomfortable because someone wasn’t “reading the room? We often think that those people lack the appropriate social skills to know when a particular remark or behavior is acceptable. 

Acquiring social skills is a complicated process that most of us develop when we are in school. As children, we see how adults and peers interact, then model our own behavior on what is seen as acceptable within the society we live in. 

Social skills also require a certain level of humor and abstract thinking. The English language, in particular, is full of idioms, sarcasm, and wry hyperbole. By relating with others through those conversational idiosyncrasies, you can more fully participate in conversations. Recognizing the intention behind turns of phrase helps alleviate misunderstandings and forge stronger bonds. 

Example in a Professional Setting

You walk into the office kitchen, where a group of your employees are speaking in hushed whispers. You can infer from the situation that they are speaking about an issue with another employee, but they stop speaking as soon as they notice you and move around the kitchen away from each other. 

You quickly go about your business, as the room is tense. As you leave, you remind your employees that any concerns they have can always come to you, and you will listen with an open mind. You also remind them that, despite not knowing the specifics, it’s clear that they are distressed, and that you would be willing to take the afternoon to sit down and problem solve together. You don’t pry any further, and let them know they can take an extra 15 minutes for lunch to defuse if they would like. 


Being able to take on a new perspective is absolutely vital when you are a leader. Every human being has personal situations that happen outside of work. They have hardships, celebrations, and changes that they experience. To expect your employees to shed all of their emotions when they walk through the office door is not only unrealistic, it’s also alienating. 

Instead, be the kind of leader who asks questions, who understands your team’s lives, and who prioritizes the overall wellness of the human more than the day-to-day checklists of things that need to be done. 

Empathy does not mean that people get to do whatever they want, or that you allow their emotions to determine the success of the entire team. You simply recognize that most people want to do good work, but there will be situations that take mental, emotional, or physical priority over their jobs. When we approach those situations with empathy and understanding, we are able to connect with our team in deep, meaningful, and motivating ways. 

Example in a Professional Setting

An employee — who is always on time — comes 20 minutes late, missing the front half of a vital presentation on an upcoming project. They are clearly embarrassed, their eyes are downcast, and their normally neat clothing is disheveled. They quietly come in and have a seat, continuing to avoid eye contact. 

After the meeting, you approach them with a cheery smile and let them know you’ve already emailed the presentation over for them to review. You let them know that everyone has tough mornings and share about the day you were supposed to meet a client for coffee, but ended up oversleeping. You ask if they’d like to have a cup of coffee with you and go over what they’d missed. 

In the long-run, despite it being a minor annoyance, you know how disheartening it is when you already feel shameful for a mistake and then are further shamed by others. You would rather approach the situation with graciousness, allowing your employee to “save face” instead of losing their trust and their willingness to be an enthusiastic part of your team. 

Emotional Intelligence Creates a More Secure Team!

As a business leader, you are in a unique position to set the tone for your team. If you are willing to put the work into self awareness, self-management, motivation, social skills, and empathy, your team is going to be more willing to work on those aspects themselves. 

In turn, your workplace will be one that thrives on recognizing that every employee, teammate, and leader is a human being, which is something many workplaces are sorely lacking. It’s as worthwhile a pursuit as any other leadership skill, if not more so. 

If you feel like you struggle with one or multiple of these facets of emotional intelligence, it can help to work with a business coach to see ways it may be affecting your ability to effectively lead. 

Catalyst Group ECR is devoted to partnering with clients to create a creative process that maximizes professional and personal potential. 

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