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3 Traits of Emotionally Intelligent Leaders

October 10, 2022

We couldn’t not talk about emotional intelligence this month - because October is Emotional Intelligence Awareness month!


We use the EQ-i2.0 & EQ360 tools almost every day in our consultancy work so it’s fair to say that they’re our go-to tools when it comes to measuring emotional intelligence - and they’re particularly useful for coaching leaders or those hoping to become leaders.


Emotional intelligence is an element of psychology that can be developed and improved over time. And, depending on which model of personality you subscribe to, that makes emotional intelligence one of the few changeable measures of impactful leadership.


We all know (hopefully) how important it is for organisations to have effective leaders. And while emotional intelligence clearly isn’t the only sign of effective leadership, there’s a lot of evidence to show that emotional intelligence is one of the most important things for leaders to work on. 


In fact, Daniel Goleman (aka, the King of EI) once said, “70% of employees' perception of the organizational climate is associated with the emotional intelligence of the leader” - so knowing what makes a leader effective in their role is pretty important!


So,using the EQ-i2.0 model as our foundation, which emotional intelligence traits indicate effective leadership? Stay tuned…

Leadership Trait #1: Empathy

First up, we have empathy. It seems obvious that empathy would matter in leaders, but let’s take a closer look at why.


In the EQ-i 2.0 model, empathy falls under the Interpersonal Composite - because the more empathetic a person is, the better they’re able to understand the position of others, and therefore the better they’re able to relate to them and lead them in an effective way.


A leader who scores low on an empathy scale is likely to have trouble relating to their team members. They might struggle to see things from any perspective other than their own, which will make leading others challenging. Low empathy leaders are likely to take a ‘my way or the highway’ approach to leadership, being prescriptive of the way things should be done and not understanding the challenges their team members might be facing.


On the flip side, a leader who achieves a high level of empathy will be able to understand, appreciate and make allowances for those challenges. By being more relatable, leaders with higher empathy will likely command more respect from their team members - which in turn will lead to those team members striving harder to achieve positive results for the team.

Developing empathy as a leader

For leaders who aren’t scoring so highly on the empathy scale, here are some pointers for improving empathy and increasing leadership effectiveness.


1// Work on active listening. Focus on listening to words, tone of voice, body language and every element of your team members’ communication. This will help you to better understand them and will help them to feel listened to.


2// Take a personal interest. People want to feel like others care about them -so to develop your empathy as a leader, try asking questions and taking interest in your team members on a more personal level. Not every conversation needs to be about work!


3// Work on leaving judgment out of your interactions. Even if you don’t agree with someone else’s point of view, you need to develop the ability to acknowledge, recognise and appreciate that point of view without judging.

Leadership Trait #2: Flexibility

Next, flexibility. Particularly in the constantly-changing world we’re living in right now, it seems obvious that, as a leader, the ability to be flexible and adaptable to change is incredibly important.


In the EQ-i 2.0 model, flexibility falls under the Stress Management Composite, which concerns a leader’s ability to regulate emotions triggered by stress.Leaders who aren’t able to regulate those emotions are likely to come across to team members as volatile, unpredictable and unreliable. While leaders who can regulate their emotions are likely to be seen as the opposite: stable, reliable and a consistent presence in the face of challenges.


But flexibility is about more than just managing emotions. It’s about being able to adapt to new situations quickly and effectively, and guide team members through those changes with confidence and strength. Without a good level of flexibility, leaders might struggle to lead their teams through change - and in the modern world, change is an almost inevitable part of the workplace every single day. 


Flexibility also matters in leaders' interpersonal relationships too. Faced with a potentially wide range of differing personalities in a single team, a leader who can adapt their communication style and behaviour to suit each individual will see better results than one who takes a ‘one size fits all’ approach to relationships. It’s not about putting your own emotions to the side, but about adapting your expression of those emotions to maximise each team members’ potential.

Developing flexibility as a leader

Like most features of emotional intelligence, flexibility is like a muscle - the more you use it, the stronger it becomes. So the only guaranteed way to develop flexibility is to practice. But here are some specifics to consider as you develop your flexibility muscle.


1// Pause before reacting. When something suddenly derails a plan or poses a new challenge, take a moment to pause and reset before reacting. Even if your instinct is to react emotionally, try not to act on that. Take a step back and consider your response before jumping in.


2// Demonstrate optimism. In the face of change, some more risk averse team members will struggle. To prevent that struggle from derailing the entire team, your role as a leader is to maintain optimism and demonstrate the positives that this change might bring with it. Again, if this doesn’t come naturally to you, pause to take a moment to consider the positives so you can lead with optimism.


3// Be self-aware. Part of flexibility is the ability to adapt your leadership style to particular situations. By being self-aware and understanding your own emotions, strengths and weaknesses, you’ll be better able to tailor your personality to the context. Try to focus on recognising the triggers for your own emotions, so that you can adapt your leadership style to help others do the same.

Leadership Trait #3: Emotional Self Awareness

Finally, the big one: emotional self-awareness. This might be the most important leadership trait there is, simply because being aware of your own emotions makes it much easier to develop any other parts of emotional intelligence that might be lacking at the moment.


In the EQ-i 2.0 model, emotional self-awareness falls under the Self-Perception Composite, along with self-regard and self-expression. Without emotional self-awareness, leaders are likely to come across as volatile and unpredictable- and their decisions are likely to be made based almost entirely on their emotional reactions to situations.


On the flip side, leaders with a good level of emotional self-awareness will be able to interrogate their emotions more objectively, enabling them to make decisions that are guided by reality rather than emotions.


Where team members are working with a leader who does have emotional self-awareness, they’re more likely to perceive the leader as rational and reasonable. Those leaders are able to understand their own emotions and the emotions of others around them, which makes them better able to regulate their responses and lead teams objectively rather than subjectively.

Developing emotional self-awareness as a leader

Increasing emotional self-awareness as a leader is entirely possible. It’s about interrogating your emotional reactions to situations and beginning to identify patterns and triggers, so that you can better manage those reactions for the sake of your team.


1// Ask for feedback. If you struggle to identify your own emotions and their triggers, be open to feedback from those around you. Particularly during stressful situations, ask your team members for honest feedback about how you handled the situation and whether your reaction could’ve been more effective for your team. By understanding how others perceive your emotional reactions, you’ll be able to start identifying those reactions yourself too.


2// Explore your strengths and weaknesses. Whether it’s through psychological assessment, leadership coaching or self-development activities like journaling, it’s important to recognise what you’re naturally good at and what you’re naturally not so good at - so that you can maximise your strengths and mitigate your weaknesses.


3// Learn to be self-disciplined. Emotionally self-aware leaders are disciplined, in the sense that they’re able to override their natural reactions and practice being more objective in their responses. Learning self-discipline is an ongoing challenge, but building regular habits and developing a sense of resilience will provide good foundations.

Emotionally intelligent leaders are more effective leaders

And that’s it! Obviously, many elements contribute to being an effective leader - but by focusing on these three emotional intelligence elements, leaders and potential leaders will be able to practice more effective management in the workplace.


To maximise leadership potential, using a tool like the EQ-i 2.0 & EQ360 alongside leadership development coaching, team coaching and other psychological tests can help leaders to develop better skills and emotional soft skills too - all of which contribute to being an effective leader, even in the face of change and uncertainty.


Want to learn more about emotional intelligence? Join us on our next EQ-i2.0 & EQ360 training workshop or get in touch about emotional intelligence coaching for you or your team!

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