Let Us Count the Ways Emotional Intelligence Helps Leaders Run Their Businesses


We are writing this article to help leaders understand how boosting their EQ (Emotional Quotient) will help them be better leaders and benefit their businesses, families and teams.

In his seminal article “What Makes a Leader,” which was published in the Harvard Business Review in 1998, Daniel Goleman explained how his research showed “direct ties between emotional intelligence and measurable business results.”1 In the ensuing 20 years, numerous studies have also shown that the biggest predictor of career success is not education, skillset, experience, or IQ.

It is emotional intelligence.

There is no question emotional intelligence helps leaders, and the good news is that it can be learned.

What is emotional intelligence?

Emotional Intelligence is about two things: understanding the cause and effect of your emotions and managing them. It’s about self-awareness and self-control.

The byproduct of understanding and being in control of your own emotions is that it makes you more likely to understand and tolerate other people’s emotions. In other words, emotional intelligences gives you empathy—a foundational component of trust. Trust is a critical component of all relationships developed by a leader—business, family and personal—and is a prerequisite for high-functioning teams and high-performing cultures.

How exactly does emotional intelligence help leaders and their businesses?

To understand how emotional intelligence helps leaders and their businesses, we think it is helpful to look at the four key tasks leaders must do over the life cycle of their businesses:

  1. First, they must get their own mindset in order and aligned with the vision for the company.

  2. Next, they must put together the right team.

  3. Then, they must lead the team to execute the vision.

  4. Finally, they must retain employees and develop leaders, many from within the company, as they grow the business.

The Mindset of a Great Leader

A mindset built on self-awareness and self-control is the foundation for great leadership. Understanding and being able to control your emotions allows leaders to feel their best and function at their highest level in every situation. They understand the relationship between their thoughts, emotions, and bodies, so they take care of themselves, mentally, emotionally and physically. Instead of being compromised by stress, they are focused and energized with stamina to spare. Instead of making emotional decisions they might later regret, they stay calm and make good decisions even under pressure.

Leaders with high EQ understand that thoughts and beliefs drive their behavior, so they clean up limiting beliefs and operate from empowered self-talk. This allows them to behave in ways that move them toward their goals, instead of allowing blind spots to sabotage their plans. Self- awareness about their weaknesses allows emotionally intelligent leaders to live their lives—and lead their teams—from their strengths while surrounding themselves with people who mitigate and help them develop their weaknesses. Self-awareness around their personal needs allows them to create work/life balance that keeps them aligned with their values.

Putting together the right team

The best teams are greater than the sum of their parts. This happens when each person is working in their strengths, getting their needs met, living in alignment with their personal and with corporate values, and has beliefs that empower them to achieve their goals. Leaders with high EQ demonstrate these traits and understand how to assess for them in potential hires.

For leaders to put the right people in the right seats, they must be trustworthy enough to have candid conversations that include discussions about strengths, weaknesses, setbacks, failures, needs, values, and beliefs. Leaders with emotional intelligence are forthcoming about their own setbacks, failures and weaknesses because they have learned from them. Their own candor promotes honest conversations about the weaknesses of potential team members, which allows them to build a team with complementary strengths. Similarly, their alignment with the needs, values and beliefs that will empower the company allows them to discern whether candidates are truly a good fit.

Leading the team to execute the vision

Great teams and cultures are built on trust. Leaders with high EQ are masters of five skills that allow them to develop cultures of trust:

  • They communicate well.

  • They delegate well.

  • They listen well.

  • They are honest.

  • They understand how they are perceived by others.

Good communication is honest, direct, and constructive. Leaders with high EQ demonstrate empathy and know how to deliver feedback and criticism in a way that does not make people defensive. They are comfortable with uncomfortable conversations because they are in control of their own emotions. Their awareness about strengths, needs, and human behavior allows them to resolve conflict in a way that allows all parties to feel heard and validated. This awareness and the empathy that comes with it also allow them to communicate in ways that motivate, inspire, and coalesce people around their vision.

Great leaders delegate. They are secure enough to want others to be better than they are at their jobs. Because they are not plagued by self-doubt, they have the ability to trust others, let go of control, and allow others to succeed without micromanaging. Because they are confident in their own strengths and abilities, they never take credit for other people’s work. They allow others to shine and are quick to recognize and reward other people.

A hallmark of high EQ is the ability to listen... well. Listening well is listening without always having the answer, trying to solve the problem yourself, or debating the issue. Leaders with high EQ understand the power of silence. They do not interrupt. They do not make every situation about themselves. They genuinely consider other perspectives, and they never make people regret contributing an idea—even an outrageous one—to the conversation.

Leaders with high EQ are also honest. They admit what they don’t know, and they talk openly about what they have learned from their challenges and disappointments. They also admit when they are wrong. This candor, authenticity, and vulnerability allows people to connect with them. It makes people feel safe. It engenders loyalty.

Finally, the best leaders understand how they are perceived by others which is critical to building trust. People who are unaware of or fundamentally wrong about how they come across to others miss opportunities to connect and instead make people feel uncertain and often insecure. Leaders who care about how their interactions affect others and make an effort to address their shortcomings have better relationships, which should lead to higher satisfaction in the workplace and better retention of employees.

Retaining and developing leaders from within

Emotional intelligence gives leaders the tools to develop other leaders. It gives them a growth mindset, which is a belief in the human capacity to learn. In fact, great leaders actually encourage failure, because they know it is a catalyst for learning and growth. They know that great ideas come from cultures where stretching, trying new things—even at the risk of failing, and learning are valued.

Furthermore, emotional intelligence gives leaders the confidence and wisdom to be great coaches and mentors and the credibility to teach others because they have earned trust and respect by modeling alignment, authenticity, and courage.

Summing it up

Emotional intelligence can be learned but it takes courage for leaders to open themselves up to honest feedback from others and to own their blind spots. Doing so, however, will have long term benefits for the leader—both professionally and personally, because emotional intelligence gives people control over their emotions and improves their relationships in business, within the family and with their community.