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Emotional Intelligence the New "Must Have" Skill for Leaders

Updated: Jan 24, 2023

Business Meeting

You’ve probably heard it a thousand times … business is business and what’s personal should stay personal. Keep those parts of your life separate. Don’t let your personal life affect your work or spill into the company’s performance. That’s the prevailing thinking in a lot of organizations. And we couldn’t disagree more. Thankfully, we’re not alone. Recently, the narrative has been shifting (for the better). There’s a growing body of compelling research correlating high emotional intelligence with success at work. Emotional intelligence in the workplace (EQ) is becoming a pretty hot topic for business, maybe even bordering on buzzword territory. But don’t be tempted to ignore this as just another fad. Emotional intelligence in the workplace is critical to being successful in your career and as a whole organization.

[#infographic] #EQ scores have declined by almost 5% in the last decade via @InitiativeOne


Because the truth is we’re whole people, who can’t and shouldn’t separate the rational from the emotional. Emotion is core to being human. And our own research and experience has shown that businesses can only go from good to great when the people inside them can say they’re the same people at work as they are at home.

Healthy emotion absolutely does have a place in business. In fact, it makes businesses better…if you create a safe environment filled with hope for a brighter career future, where high emotional intelligence can really thrive.

Emotional Intelligence Infographic


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[#infographic] Top 5 countries with highest #EQ 1. Ecuador 2. El Salvador 3. Liberia 4. Philippines 5. Guatemala via @InitiativeOne



Of course, the logical question is, “How important is emotional intelligence compared to just plain intelligence?” Studies show that emotional intelligence in leadership plays a larger role in our success both at work and in our personal lives when compared to pure Intelligence Quotient (IQ) alone. Even though it’s tempting to think IQ equals success, it’s clear we can't simply focus on IQ as the greatest predictor of success in life and at work. Not anymore. So, let’s dig into the differences between EQ and IQ, because most people have heard of Intelligence Quotient (IQ) and know what it is, but some either may not have heard of or may not fully understand what Emotional Intelligence Quotient (EQ) is.

  • The first IQ test was created in 1904 by Alfred Binet, and most modern tests have a rough scoring range of 0-200, with the average score being 100. It measures how smart a person is.

  • EQ or “Emotional Intelligence” was coined by Peter Salovey and John D. Mayer in 1990, and is generally scored on a scale of 0-100 (average score of 75). This measures how emotionally aware you are of yourself, others, and navigating the emotional side of relationships.

To understand the difference between IQ and EQ consider these core differences:

  • IQ is typically inborn vs. EQ is a learned ability

  • Success in school relates to IQ and accomplishment in life relates to EQ

  • IQ measures knowledge and reasoning while EQ gauges ability to successfully navigate the emotional elements of relationships

Unfortunately, EQ scores among adults have fallen. While the exact causes for this are not fully known, in working with scores of teams we’ve seen that the recent high rate of technological and social change could be playing a part. That exponential change can negatively influence our self-perception, introduce stress, and hinder our ability to deal with the changing world around us.

And yet, EQ has never been more important. Our employees have been under enormous stress, and EQ is critical to helping people navigate challenges. We can no longer afford to ignore it. Emotional intelligence is truly too important. So much so that a lack of growth in this area can lead to a number of negative outcomes for businesses:

  1. Poor internal team alignment

  2. Fatigue and unnecessary emotional energy

  3. Unresolved conflict

  4. Toxic or problematic leadership

  5. Wasted energy on office drama/politics

  6. Low engagement from your team

But when you do put your focus and effort on increasing your team’s emotional intelligence, good things happen. Many studies about EQ point to better company outcomes in several areas:

  • Enhanced company profitability

  • Increased wages and earnings for employees

  • Fewer lost-time accidents

  • Lower employee turnover

  • Quicker job advancement

What company wouldn’t want these benefits for their organization? Plus, when you are successful at recruiting leaders with high emotional intelligence, they naturally help build those skills in the people around them.

Emotionally intelligent leaders foster emotionally intelligent teams. You get a positive-feedback loop as high EQ leaders create happier and more successful employees, which in turn creates a culture engagement where people want to stay and contribute.

That's why companies with high emotional intelligence in leadership perform more efficiently, effectively, and profitably.

And the good news is this tends to be a virtuous circle that continues to feed on itself once you’ve got it rolling.

[#infographic] Employees are 400% less likely to leave with a high #EQ manager via @InitiativeOne


Businessman Leaning Back Against A Couch

Emotional intelligence isn't just good for the organizations we work for. It's good for our own personal success and well-being. Here are five ways individuals benefit when they work to improve EQ skills and capabilities:


Learning more about who we are and how we are wired can help us be more aware of our own emotional triggers. If we are more in tune with the fact that we are sad, angry, anxious, etc., at any given time, and more specifically what triggers those feelings, we are more likely to avoid going to a negative place. Or, at the very least, we can step back from the ledge much more quickly than before.

[#infographic] People with high #EQ earn $29,000 more per year than those with low EQ via @InitiativeOne #EQ


As we learn to recognize our emotions, we can better master how those emotions influence our actions. We learn to respond with intention, rather than react from a place of impulse. As we gain EQ, we're less likely to allow our mood, or the moods of others, Stepping back to look at things more objectively, or from the view of a disinterested party, can allow us to get some perspective and diffuse a tense or stressful situation. It’s just not healthy to allow ourselves to be blown about by every wind of emotion that comes our way.


A Family Playing In Fall Leaves

Higher emotional intelligence at work can carry over into our personal lives. Applying the same skills that enhance our ability to work more effectively with a team will help us better relate to our significant other, children, relatives, etc.


Wouldn't it be nice to get more done in less time? Personal productivity soars when we aren't tethered to negative thoughts or wasting time with workplace drama. The stronger our EQ, the better we are at handling conflict—efficiently and effectively.


Researchers have found that emotional intelligence is linked to higher salaries. Leadership skills are critical for moving up the corporate ladder. In one study of hiring managers and HR professionals, 75% said they were more likely to promote a candidate with high emotional intelligence over one with a high IQ. Plus, emotional intelligence equips you with the skills you need to inspire your team and get the best out of others. As you demonstrate success, you'll put yourself in line for even bigger and better opportunities.


Since emotional intelligence is such a learned ability, we need to actively work on improving our skills. We never fully “arrive” at a final destination of perfect EQ. We're constantly facing new challenges and changing relationships, and that requires continual learning and growth in this area. Plus, we may also improve and then regress in certain skills, reminding us that our work of becoming a better leader is never complete.

Here are 7 concrete actions steps you can take to build your own emotional quotient:

[#infographic] In a UK study, one company saw 22% annual profit growth in restaurant locations with managers who had a high #EQ via @InitiativeOne

Together as a team, create a list of 8-12 norms to establish how you work together. . Then work to hold each other accountable to them through positive reminders. As a group, revisit your norms regularly. This isn’t intended to be something you beat people over the head with when they fail, but a way to come alongside each other and build your capacity to recognize and meet each other's needs in the workplace.


Business Meeting Over Coffee

This one is hard for many of us … It’s tempting to just think about what we are going to say next in a conversation, rather than really listening to what the other person is saying. This stems either from the need to be perceived as smart or make sure to get our point across (usually to rebut the other party’s idea). If we resist this urge, we can make more of an impact by being confident in who we are and allowing ourselves to listen intently to what the other person is saying, thus demonstrating respect.


Most of us genuinely believe we are communicating well, and many times we don’t even realize that we could be misinterpreted or that someone could understand us differently than we intend. Some tips to keep in mind for enhancing our communication:

  • Don’t have meetings after the meeting: Make sure that we say what we need to say when the team is together to make a decision. Otherwise, we are likely to undermine the decision with side conversations later.

  • Get stuff that is “under the table” and put it “on the table”: For items that aren’t being discussed because we feel they are too sensitive, embarrassing, or uncomfortable, muster courage and show some vulnerability by talking to the other person about that “under the table” item. Do this in a non-threatening, kind way with a focus on understanding their side of the issue; it usually helps to do this in private.

  • Deliver the mail to the correct address: Simply put … don’t gossip. If you have an issue with someone, that person deserves to hear it from you directly, in private and with sensitivity. Gossip only tears a team further apart.

Emotionally intelligent leaders work to create a psychologically safe environment where people feel safe to have the conversations that really matter. It's one of the biggest leadership challenges you can face, and one of the biggest gifts you can give your team.

Writing In a Spiral Bound Notebook

Connect your feelings with your thoughts. Some people have no problem with this; others struggle in this area. Sometimes, it helps to write your daily thoughts and feelings down in a journal to tune into your unconscious feelings by reflecting on the day. Emotionally intelligent leaders understand how their emotions could be influencing their actions and the people around them. They know how to slow down, check their feelings, and respond with intention. As you get better at recognizing your own emotions, you'll get better at sensing them in others, too. That can help you gauge when someone needs a wellbeing check-in or extra empathy in moments that matter at work.

[#infographic] High #EQ has been shown to enhance company profitability, increase wages, reduce lost-time accidents, lower employee turnover, and improve job advancement via @InitiativeOne


Choose to relate to others with feeling, not simply as a transaction required to get the job done. Try to connect to what they're saying and take in their concerns. An empathic leader helps someone feel seen and heard. Putting yourself in another person's shoes is often a humbling act, since it requires us to recognize that, perhaps, there is a different point of view at play in the situation.You don't have to agree with someone to practice empathy. But you do have to listen with an open mind and an open heart. If you are weak in this area, consider emotional intelligence training or working with a coach who will help you build these skills.


Stressed Man Looking At Stocks On His Computer.

Perhaps your co-worker’s recent outburst was completely unrelated to the task at hand. Are they going through a divorce? Did they just get bad news about the health of a loved one? There are many times when the emotion displayed has little to no bearing on the work involved. It can simply be related to their personal lives. Find a caring way to ask them how they are doing and how you can help, and you might find that their emotional walls come down.

There's nothing like an "It's my way or the highway" attitude to squelch growth and innovation at work. Emotionally intelligent leaders solicit feedback and make a habit of perspective-taking.

To be authentic though, you have to value honesty, even when the message is hard to hear. We grow as people and as organizations when we've built the kind of culture where it's safe for people to say, "Here's what I need" and "Here's how I think we could do better."

Emotionally intelligent leaders ask questions with genuine curiosity and an open mind.


A Man Explaining Something On the Computer To His Team

With more and more research indicating that people and companies who exhibit higher emotional intelligence than others have better personal and professional outcomes, this is an area where we could all develop more. What are the important qualities and outcomes that are a byproduct of having high EQ? If you can see these 7 emotional intelligence outcomes in your people and organization, you know you are on the right track to improving EQ:

[#infographic] Is #EQ or #IQ more important to success at work and in life via @InitiativeOne? You might be surprised by the answer.


It’s not always easy to stay attuned to other people's feelings when we tend to focus on our own ups and downs. If we aren’t careful, this can lead to a myopic and self-centered view of the world, discounting what is happening to others who you work or interact with on a daily basis. But as we become more emotionally astute, we see the patterns of other’s feelings more clearly. This allows us to help others when their emotions are turning negative by politely encouraging them to recognize and change their negative reaction.


Part of becoming a more effective team has to do with getting everyone rowing in the same direction. Far too often, the opposite happens, and factions rip and tear at the fabric of our companies. The result is delay, frustration, and misalignment. But once we get people following the same team norms, looking at the same finish line, and backing each other up, that’s where teams really start performing at their highest level.


3 People Reviewing Something On a Tablet

While it sounds simple, it can be harder to put into practice. But as we hone our emotional intelligence skills, we can change our instinct to react, particularly when we are tired, sick, or upset. The discipline to resist that urge, take a step back, and respond with forethought becomes easier as we progress in our journey. Which leads us to the next point …


When we get stressed, we often have a “fight or flight” response. Demonstrating to our team that we can stay calm in those situations shows our increasing EQ. Sometimes, we may need to take a few minutes, hours, or even days to cool off. Be honest about it. That’s human. Let your team know you need some time, but promise to get back together to discuss once you’ve had time to decompress and reflect to see both sides. Maybe there are other ways you can deal with stress (prayer, meditation, taking a walk, etc.).


Business Associates Talking In A Stairwell

If you’ve ever been part of an office that seems to have drama 24/7, where people are gossiping and complaining seemingly every day (including the weekends), you know it’s not a happy environment. Or maybe you are happy if you’re one of those people who thrives on drama, and if you are, please stop—it’s not healthy for anyone. By increasing emotional intelligence among your team, there will be less and less drama or unresolved conflict among co-workers. Everyone will be happier, and your business will be, too.

[#infographic] US Air Force recruiters increased their ability to predict successful hires by 300% when they screened for #EQ via @InitiativeOne


The less unresolved conflict, the fewer negative emotions swirling around in our heads. Think about how often you spend thinking negative thoughts about a situation that hasn’t even had a trial at resolution. Those thoughts kill our productivity, not to mention leave us emotionally (and sometimes physically) drained.


Businessman Sitting On a Step With a Cup Of Coffee

With less drama and fewer negative emotions weighing you down, it is simply easier to bounce back from adverse situations, whether at work or in your home life.


Emotional intelligence isn't just an individual endeavor, either. As emotional intelligence training specialists, we know how critical it is to raise the level of EQ for your entire team. In doing this, your team is able to accelerate their communication, decision-making, and ultimately faster progress and profitability. Emotional intelligence in the workplace is critical to your team’s effectiveness. It pays huge dividends in your personal life. And since both of those are inexorably intertwined, savvy companies work on improving the EQ of their teams. We hope this guide gave you some actionable emotional intelligence tips for your team to move into a new era of cooperation, productivity, and profitability. That said, we’ve found that most teams need the structure of a reputable team of experts to turbocharge their collective emotional intelligence. Without that focus and structure, the excitement of the moment can easily fade into the grind of the week, long forgotten. At InitiativeOne, we’ve made it our mission to be that trusted, expert partner in emotional intelligence training. We aren’t just another leadership training course. Ours is different. We focus on the people side of things. After all, we are “human beings,” not “human doings.” True transformation starts with the hearts and minds of your team members. We don’t just train leaders; we get in the trenches with you to identify and remove the barriers that are holding your team back, all while following a research-based process. If that sounds good to you, we can help your team develop better emotional intelligence. Contact us today to learn how we can help you become the kind of high-performing team you know you can be.

[#infographic] One company reduced their first year employee turnover and cut financial losses by 92% simply by evaluating candidates for #EQ via @InitiativeOne

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