Emotional Intelligence: How Leaders Can Use it to Their Advantage

How Leaders Can Use it to Their Advantage
Organization Development

Ever catch yourself thinking, “Why did I just say that?” or “I didn’t handle that discussion as well as I could have.”

We are all human and can make poor decisions in the heat of the moment. Afterwards, we are often left wondering how managing our emotions could have made a difference in the situation. But for leaders, reacting emotionally can have a negative impact that ripples through the organization. We can all become more effective by understanding emotional intelligence and learning how to strengthen our own emotional intelligence. This skill is particularly important for those in managerial and leadership roles.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence is also referred to as EI or emotional quotient (EQ). EI is a set of emotional and social skills that collectively establish how well we perceive and express ourselves, develop and maintain relationships, cope with challenges, and use emotional information in an effective and meaningful way. (2012, Multi-Health Systems Inc.) EI is not the same as IQ, cognitive ability, aptitude, or personality.

More and more we are witnessing how emotional intelligence truly defines successful leaders, rather than their technical skills or IQ. Think about how often leaders need to use their EI at the organizational, team, and individual levels. Consider these examples:

  • Leaders of international brands who make public apologies for mistakes and how they got right out in front of the issue to admit their shortcomings;
  • Boards of Directors and teams who have had to lead their groups through challenging situations where the ambiguity and tension runs high;
  • Managers and leaders who have what it really takes to listen to someone, while managing their impulse control so that trust can be built.

In such situations, it is the emotional strength of leaders that can make – or break – the difference. The good news is that EI can be developed. Leaders can change their emotional intelligence to become more effective personally, professionally and socially.

Strengthening Your EI

Many leaders have grown in their emotional intelligence because they have made a purposeful effort to accomplish that growth.  A typical path is to participate in an EI leadership assessment, debrief the results with a certified EI practitioner, and then make an action plan to develop specific skills or behaviors.

While there are many emotional intelligence models and tests available, one of the most researched and statistically validated models is EQ-I 2.0 (from Multi-Health Systems Inc.). Let’s take a brief look at the five scales of EI followed by examples of EI in action:

  1. Self-Perception refers to the “inner-self” and is designed to assess feelings of inner strength and confidence, persistence in the pursuit of personally relevant and meaningful goals while understanding what, when, why and how different emotions impact thoughts and actions (The emotional intelligences associated with this are: Self-regard, Self-actualization, Emotional Self-Awareness);
  2. Self-Expression is an extension of Self-Perception and addresses the outward expression or the action component of one’s internal perception. Self-expression assesses one’s readiness to be self-directed and openly expressive of thoughts and feelings, while communicating these feelings in a constructive and socially acceptable way (The emotional intelligences associated with this are: Emotional Expression, Assertiveness, Independence);
  3. Interpersonal refers to the ability to develop and maintain relationships based on trust and compassion, articulate an understanding of another’s perspective and act responsibly while showing concern for others, their team or their greater community/organization (The emotional intelligences associated with this are: Interpersonal Relationships, Empathy, Social Responsibility);
  4. Decision Making refers to the way in which one uses emotional information and how well one understands the impact emotions have on decision making, including the ability to resist or delay impulses and remain objective so to avoid rash behaviors and ineffective problem solving (The emotional intelligences associated with this are: Problem Solving, Reality Testing, Impulse Control);
  5. Stress Management refers to how well one can cope with the emotions associated with change and unfamiliar and unpredictable circumstances while remaining hopeful about the future and resilient in the face of setback and obstacles (The emotional intelligences associated with this are: Flexibility, Stress Tolerance, Optimism).

EI in Action – How Raising EI Self-awareness Helps Leaders

Here are a few examples of how business leaders raised their self-awareness with an EI leadership assessment and, as a result, are improving in their leadership effectiveness:

  1. “Greta” caught herself immediately saying no to a new business line that her business partners suggested. Upon reflection, she realized that she often said no to new things, because new ideas challenge her and change her routine. Because her impulse control was low, she would react quickly and appear impatient in decision making. Now with her new awareness of low impulse control, she can better manage her emotional response to new business ideas that come forward from her business partners.  Rather than immediately declining the ideas, she listens and asks questions before offering her opinion.
  1. Working with a team of leaders in Canada, I observed the team having some candid conversations with each other regarding their Group EI Team Profile.  The team’s EI strengths in empathy and social responsibility are two reasons why they are so effective in delivering on their mission; however their collective EI weakness (decision-making when emotions are involved) interfered with their effectiveness and purpose as a team. It was very useful for them to see their top EI strengths and top EI weaknesses as a group, and to talk about how difficult it can be to approach emotionally charged situations with a more logical and factual mindset. Their collective willingness to explore the group EI and to take action is why this team increased their effectiveness.
  1. “Dillon”, a business leader I was coaching, has a high level of assertiveness and self-actualization, and is open to thinking about how he uses emotional information to make decisions. He said, “I like how you don’t solve my problems for me. You ask tough questions without giving me your opinion.” Even without participating in an EI assessment, leaders can raise their awareness of how they use their emotions in decision-making through the process of working with a business coach.

The “inner” work of improving your emotional intelligence isn’t for the faint of heart.  Choosing to improve your EI is about changing one’s behavior – and changing behavior is hard work. It takes time, energy and a commitment to becoming more emotionally effective overall. The EQ-I 2.0 leadership assessment, for example, compares a leader’s result with the scores of the top leaders in the sample across North America. This provides leaders with the unique opportunity to compare results to those exceptional leaders who demonstrate high EI.  If one wants to be on par with top leaders, then this can be one way to do that by giving them something to aim for and compare to; however, it can also be a humbling and surprising experience for leaders who may have expected to already be on par with the high performers – yet, taking time to self-reflect on the results proves to be invaluable to leaders. Many leaders would say that focusing on becoming more emotionally effective is one of the most rewarding journeys.

When was the last time you reflected on how emotionally effective you are?


About the Author

Linda Allen-Hardisty

Linda Allen-Hardisty is an ICF-certified executive coach, organizational development professional, and a chair at The Executive Committee (TEC) Canada. She’s built a reputation as a vibrant, contemporary voice in the business world by blending her grounding in organizational effectiveness with a practical approach to solving problems. She has extensive experience in executive development, organizational change and culture, team effectiveness, organizational design and strategy, and emotional intelligence (certified practitioner EQ-I 2.0 and EQ360). With a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Regina and a certificate in Organizational Development from Queen’s IRC, Linda’s corporate leadership experience includes the role of Director of Organizational Development in a company listed on the Hewitt Top 50 Employers in Canada, and becoming the first Manager of Strategy and Performance for a municipal government undertaking cultural transformation.

Linda is a facilitator for the Queen’s IRC Building Trust in the Workplace program.

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