Emotionally intelligent leaders get the best results!

Like learning to drive, leading and managing people is an experiential journey. On this journey, leaders get to learn a lot about their emotions and how to manage them.  I think it’s fair to say emotionally intelligent leaders get the best results. However, it can take a long time to develop the level of emotional intelligence needed to get the best out of a team.

My entrance onto the leadership stage was when I was promoted into the role, having stood in for the team leader from time to time   I don’t know about you, but although I had practised at managing people I hadn’t experienced it properly until I had to do it for real.  Having the dexterity, emotional intelligence and experience to successfully manage a team took a long time to develop.  Although I had pretty reasonable interpersonal skills to start with. Unfortunately, these skills did not equip me to deal with the complexities I faced at times. And so I had to continually learn.

People become leaders at different stages

People get into leadership roles at different stages in their lives.  They often aren’t emotionally intelligent leaders because they haven’t had the experience of leading and managing people.  You can’t learn emotional intelligence from a leadership or management textbook.

Junior leaders are appointed because they have displayed leadership skills or are proficient in the specific field they are in.  Some senior leaders may have initially had a most distinguished career as a professional.  Perhaps a doctor,  lawyer or accountant and then they’ve gone on to lead people with the same specialism.  An entrepreneurial business owner may be extremely successful and have acquired commercial business acumen and savvy long before they employ and lead people.   Their level of people skills will often determine their success as a leader or not.  The most successful entrepreneur or mature professional may find the going very tough indeed if they have not honed their emotional intelligence.

People skills and emotional intelligence

One of the most impactful people skills is emotional intelligence.  Wikipedia describes emotional intelligence as” the ability to identify, assess, and control the emotions of oneself, of others, and of groups.”  If you’ve ever been in an office where you have seen people have tantrums of a two-year-old or the rumour mill is the most reliable communication channels, or there is a prevalent blame culture, then you know that the skills of the emotionally intelligent are somehow lacking.  Even worse, if conflict is commonplace, and your people aren’t firing on all cylinders or even are openly disengaged then you have may have a problem which stems from limited or poor emotional intelligence.   All is not lost, however, because emotional intelligence can be developed, it just takes experienced emotionally intelligent leaders to show the way.

Emotional Intelligence challenges

My first challenge as a young manager was learning how to control my own emotions.  In the early years, I had to manage some larger than life characters and I found this quite daunting.  Managing my fear was one of my first and probably my longest lessons.  I still feel afraid sometimes, but now I know how to deal with it, and it doesn’t faze me.  My second challenge was to learn how to manage the emotions of my team.  This stage was a long one and a steep learning curve.  The journey was interesting, thought-provoking and a necessary one.

The final stage in my learning came when I had to think about engaging large teams.  Some of who I didn’t see for months at a time.   Although I did try to do the best I could to have physical contact as much as I could humanly manage.  Trying to encourage people to feel good, fulfil their potential and understand how much I appreciated them was more difficult.   Although there are many skills attached to managing remotely, my own emotional intelligence was a key player in making remote management a success.

Attitudes of emotionally intelligent leaders

I have worked with and supported many leaders.  I have led and managed teams locally, regionally and nationally.   During this time, I practised and observed attitudes and behaviours which have been the most successful in getting the best out of a team.  These attitudes and behaviours are most commonly adopted by emotionally intelligent leaders who have honed these skills and have the best people skills as a result.   I have practised these in the latter years and wished I had access to and learned them in the early years.

The Nine Attitudes are:

  1. Accepting people completely for who they are
  2. Always looking for the good in people, there is always some
  3. Dealing with negatives in an impersonal but practical way and getting over it!
  4. Not judging – we all make mistakes.
  5. Giving people the benefit of the doubt
  6. Listening to what people need and wherever possible – obliging
  7. Responding neutrally to anger or other attacking behaviour and helping the person to reframe it in a positive way.
  8. Pivoting negative situations to achieve a positive outcome.
  9. Caring about people, even when they were difficult.

Adopting the attitudes

Depending on your own levels of emotional intelligence, adopting these attitudes might sound unrealistic.  Especially given some of the “difficult” people you might be managing.  But I can guarantee if you are able to practice these attitudes, the people problems which keep you awake at night will disappear.

Unfortunately, we aren’t born with an instruction manual. Navigating and improving our own emotional intelligence often comes through our own life experiences and self-reflection.  However, the good news is that there are some clear and easy steps to improving our own emotional intelligence. And so also improving that of your team and organisation.


This Post was updated in December 2018

I help leaders develop self- mastery, helping them to become confident in their own inner guidance.

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