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The importance of emotional intelligence in effective leadership

Emotional intelligence is a long-standing aspect of effective leadership. The business world is gradually becoming more complex and interconnected, and the importance of leaders who are not only technically competent but also emotionally intelligent cannot be overstated.

Emotional intelligence is vital for students studying and aspiring to be future leaders, as it arms them with the necessary skills to understand, empathize and effectively engage with individuals and teams in various settings.

Emotional intelligence also helps leaders navigate the dynamic landscape of their organizations. Enrolling in a master’s in leadership program enables aspiring leaders to develop a deep understanding of emotional intelligence. This article will discuss the importance of emotional intelligence in effective leadership.

The benefits of having emotional intelligence as a leader

Effective leadership is not just about strategic planning or achieving goals – it is also crucial to successful leadership. Below are various benefits of having emotional intelligence as a leader.

  • Decision-making and problem-solving

Emotionally intelligent leaders who can recognize and manage their and others’ emotions are at an advantage in critical leadership tasks. Their emotional intelligence helps them make more informed and rational decisions. How does this work? It’s simple: these kinds of leaders don’t make decisions based on their emotional biases. They consider their team members’ circumstances before passing judgment.

Leaders must understand the potential consequences of their choices to develop effective solutions. A leader who prioritizes empathy and understands the emotional impact of their decision on others is more likely to make thoughtful choices. This makes it easy for their team and organization to accept and implement their decision.

For instance, imagine a scenario where a company facing a financial crisis needs to cut costs to stay afloat. An emotionally intelligent leader might choose a mix of temporary salary reductions and flexible work arrangements rather than laying off employees. This decision not only addresses the company’s financial issues, but also takes the employees’ wellbeing into consideration.

On the opposite side, a leader without emotional intelligence might make hasty decisions based on the company’s financial metrics alone, without considering the emotional fallouts. This impulsive decision could lead to reduced employee motivation, less productivity and a less effective solution for the struggling company. Emotional intelligence helps leaders balance rationality with empathy, creating a more effective solution.

  • Building and maintaining strong relationships

Emotional intelligence helps leaders understand and validate team members’ emotions. This ability is vital for building and maintaining strong relationships within teams and across organizations.

Leaders with high emotional intelligence can quickly create an environment where team members and employees can trust, collaborate and stay loyal to each other. How? A team leader who notices that a team member is stressed or overwhelmed with work and takes the time to listen and offer support sets an example.

This example shows other members that their leader is committed to their wellbeing and that they can also act in that way. Addressing the emotional needs of your team fosters an atmosphere where individuals feel comfortable enough to share their thoughts and feelings.

  • Conflict resolution

Every leader knows the importance of conflict resolution. It’s almost impossible to avoid disagreements between employees in an organization. However, recognizing the emotions involved in conflicts and addressing them helps to provide a solution.

Consider a situation where two team members disagree on resource allocation for a project. Emotionally intelligent leaders would try to understand the emotions fueling this disagreement, which could be anything from frustration to security, and address these emotions head-on. They might encourage team members to write down their thoughts, exchange these thoughts, and try to see reason in them. They might also suggest finding common ground from each individual’s point of view and create a solution from there.

The trick is acknowledging their opinions and guiding the conversation toward finding a mutually beneficial solution. Focusing on the shared goals and interests of the conflicting parties can help them identify common ground and develop a collaborative plan of action, resolving the conflict and strengthening the relationships.

  • Motivating and inspiring others

Recognizing what drives and motivates your team members is a sure-fire way of inspiring and energizing them. Emotionally intelligent leaders encourage their teams by understanding each individual’s unique needs, values and aspirations. While this might be challenging, it helps them to tailor their communication and management style to suit each member.

Teams are made up of different people from diverse backgrounds, and each person might have other motivation channels that help them stay productive at work. One employee might be motivated by personal growth, while another might be driven by achieving tangible results. Acknowledging and supporting these varying motivations differentiates an emotionally intelligent leader from any average leader.

Another way that leaders can motivate others is by displaying genuine passion and enthusiasm for their work. Leaders are role models, and should demonstrate a positive attitude, resilience and a strong work ethic, encouraging team members to emulate these qualities.

  • Managing change and uncertainty

Emotional intelligence gives leaders the ability to navigate challenging situations. It helps them remain resilient, and support their team members. It also helps them stay flexible and open-minded when dealing with change.

If an organization decides to implement new technology or processes, an emotionally savvy leader will find it easier to embrace these changes and might also adapt faster than others. Leaders with high emotional intelligence understand that their attitude can influence the rest of the team members’ receptiveness to the change, which is why they accept these shifts faster than others.

These kinds of leaders are also skilled at managing their emotions during periods of uncertainty, blocking out negative feelings such as anxiety or fear in their decision-making process. This teaches their team members to maintain composure and never lose focus, even in challenging circumstances.

  • Developing talent

Emotionally intelligent leaders are adept at developing talent. This is because emotional intelligence revolves around discovering people’s strengths, emotions and weaknesses. These leaders identify their team members’ strengths, unique abilities and potential, encouraging them to maximize their talents. For example, if a team member has excellent problem-solving skills, an emotionally intelligent leader might assign them a challenging project to help them develop their ability.

These leaders are also skilled at providing constructive and honest feedback. They understand the importance of balancing praise with areas for improvement to give their team members the necessary confidence boost they need while correcting their mistakes. This approach creates an environment where team members are more open to feedback and are willing to learn from their mistakes.

Emotionally intelligent leaders also prioritize ongoing professional development for their team members. They facilitate training sessions, provide access to relevant courses, or encourage mentorship relationships to contribute to their team members’ personal and professional growth.

  • Emotional self-awareness

Emotional intelligence is not only about understanding your emotions, but is also about emotional self-awareness. Emotionally intelligent leaders who recognize their feelings, strengths and weaknesses have a deeper understanding of how these factors may affect their actions and decisions.

A self-aware leader who recognizes their tendency to become impatient in high-pressure situations can find ways to manage this emotion – for example, by taking a short break or practicing mindfulness techniques. Emotional intelligence helps them get their feelings under wraps so that they maintain a calm demeanor that encourages a more positive work environment.

Self-aware leaders can quickly identify their strengths and weaknesses, helping them to leverage their skills effectively while addressing areas that require improvement. They can also demonstrate this behavior to their team members to show the value of reflecting on their emotions.

This self-awareness helps leaders tailor their decision-making. It also allows employees and team members to develop a sense of self-awareness, where they can evaluate the potential impact of their choices and adjust their approach accordingly.

  • Effective communication

Leaders with high emotional intelligence are skilled at expressing their thoughts and feelings clearly and empathetically, and this is vital for effective communication.

One way that emotionally intelligent leaders build effective communication is by actively listening. These leaders pay close attention to their team members, demonstrating genuine interest and understanding. Their attentive listening encourages team members to express their thoughts and concerns openly, ultimately promoting a culture of trust and transparency.

Emotionally savvy leaders are able to adjust their communication style depending on the needs of their audience. They can tailor their messages to resonate with each team member personally. This is why some leaders use more technical language when speaking with engineers and adopt a more conversational tone when discussing the same topic with non-technical stakeholders.

These leaders can navigate difficult conversations tactfully and empathetically, delivering criticism while maintaining a compassionate tone. Their positive attitude toward others minimizes potential conflicts among team members.

  • Team building

Emotionally intelligent leaders excel at creating cohesive teams. They recognize team members’ individual strengths, leveraging individuals’ skills to build a collaborative atmosphere. Leaders with high emotional intelligence assign tasks and responsibilities based on each individual’s strength, ensuring that they feel valued and engaged in their space.

These leaders acknowledge and validate their team’s feelings and offer valuable emotional support during challenging projects or periods of change to help maintain their team’s morale and motivation. They build unified teams by encouraging each member to share their ideas, knowledge and expertise. This way, everyone can make contributions to the growth of the organization. One way to do this is to organize regular brainstorming sessions or team-building activities to promote bonding between team members.

Emotionally intelligent leaders also prioritize team cohesion by actively promoting a culture of collaboration and mutual support. They encourage team members to share their ideas, knowledge and expertise, fostering a sense of collective ownership and responsibility for the team’s success.

  • Stress management

Stress management is a vital skill for leaders, and emotionally intelligent leaders are able to recognize and manage their stress. Stress management promotes a healthy work environment where stress-related burnout happens less often.

These leaders have the ability to identify the early signs of stress in themselves and in their team members. They help team members find ways to de-stress, from adjusting deadlines to planning an after-work party for employees. They also use effective stress management techniques, including practicing mindfulness, prioritizing self-care and maintaining a healthy work-life balance. This way, they can show their employees healthy coping strategies, encouraging them to adopt similar practices.

Emotionally intelligent leaders also maintain a positive work environment to reduce stress. They celebrate their team members’ achievements, appreciate their resilience, and promote team-bonding activities to boost their morale. They also advocate for organizational policies and practices that support employee wellbeing, including flexible work arrangements, mental health resources and professional development opportunities.

  • Cultural intelligence

Cultural intelligence is critical to effective leadership, especially in today’s globalized business environment. Emotionally intelligent leaders better understand and appreciate cultural differences, helping them adapt their leadership style to each culture and effectively manage diverse teams.

These leaders work to increase their knowledge of different cultures, customs and communication styles. This understanding lets them navigate potential cultural misunderstandings better, allowing room for a more inclusive work environment. A leader who understands the impotence of hierarchy in certain cultures may adjust their communication style to acknowledge that information and show respect where necessary.

Leaders with emotional intelligence are skilled at bridging cultural gaps within their teams by encouraging communication and cross-cultural understanding. They create opportunities for their team members to share their cultural backgrounds and perspectives, enabling them to respect different cultures and beliefs. This inclusive leadership style strengthens team unity and promotes innovation by engaging diverse perspectives and experiences.

Ultimately, an emotionally savvy leader is willing to adjust their management techniques to better align with their team’s needs. These leaders introduce initiatives that build a more inclusive work environment, including diversity training, mentorship programs, and recruitment practices aimed at attracting a diverse talent pool.

  • Ethical leadership

Ethical leaders ensure that their actions and decisions align with the best interests of their employees and the organization. Leaders with emotional intelligence are compassionate and empathetic, which is one way that they promote ethical leadership.

These leaders understand that their decision might produce a specific impact on others and strive to make choices that prioritize people’s wellbeing. For instance, a leader who needs to make a difficult business decision may consider the potential consequences of that decision for employees and customers, helping them to create a solution that works for everybody and balancing profitability with ethical considerations.

They also build a culture of integrity within their teams, modeling ethical behavior and setting positive examples for their team members. They hold themselves and their team members accountable for their actions, addressing any ethical lapses promptly and fairly.


Emotional intelligence contributes to various aspects of a leader’s role, from decision-making and relationship-building to talent development and change management. Leaders who understand and leverage emotional intelligence can implement this skill to drive employee engagement and contribute to the overall success of their organizations.

Julien Zeke
the authorJulien Zeke