Building Emotional Intelligence in Leadership: Why It Matters for CEOs

Emotional intelligence is an often underrated yet pivotal leadership skill. In fact, 71 percent of employers value emotional intelligence more than technical skills when evaluating job candidates, according to a survey from CareerBuilder.

That statistic sounds surprising, but it makes sense. Emotional intelligence helps leaders effectively connect with others, communicate feedback, manage stressful situations, and ultimately coach their teams. It creates leaders who are self-aware, accountable, and empathetic—but how?

Understanding Emotional Intelligence in Leadership

We’ve all heard the quote, “Before you can lead others, you must be able to lead yourself.” The same thing is true of emotions. Before you can really understand other people’s emotions, you have to develop your own emotional intelligence, which is often thought of in four domains.

  1. Self-awareness: Emotional intelligence begins with self-awareness, which is your ability to not only understand your own strengths and weaknesses but to recognize your own emotions and the effect they have on you and your team.
  2. Self-management: Self-management is about managing your own emotions and controlling your impulses. I’m reminded of the Viktor Frankl quote, “Between stimulus and response lies a space. In that space lie our freedom and power to choose a response.” What happens in that space depends on your ability to self-manage. Emotional intelligence eases the transition from reaction to response.
  3. Social awareness: Social awareness is where your ability to read other people’s emotions comes in. As an emotionally intelligent leader, you have to be able to understand what the people on your team (as a team and as individuals) need to emotionally thrive in their work environment. It demands empathy and understanding.
  4. Relationship management: Emotional intelligence also includes your ability to effectively influence, coach, motivate, and mentor others. Conflict resolution, effective communication, and listening skills are key to relationship management—and effective leadership.

Why Emotional Intelligence Matters for CEOs

It’s crucial for business leaders to nurture their own emotional intelligence. After all, emotional intelligence impacts nearly every facet of work—communication, relationships, decision-making, conflict management, productivity, and ultimately, success. Consider how emotional intelligence affects culture, connection, motivation, and resilience in the workplace.

Culture: Emotional intelligence promotes psychological safety and compassion. People who work in an environment of psychological safety feel more engaged and motivated, more comfortable speaking up, and more comfortable sharing and learning from mistakes, according to Harvard Business School professor Amy Edmondson.

Connection: Emotional intelligence encourages empathy. Shared understanding of emotional experiences unites people, an especially important factor within today’s remote and hybrid workplaces and distributed workforces.

Motivation: CEOs with strong emotional intelligence have an easier time figuring other what motivates other people. When you understand others’ motivations, you can tailor your leadership approach to appeal to those motivations.

Resilience: Emotional intelligence affects how people handle adversity, setbacks, and uncertainty—and there’s a lot of uncertainty in the world right now, especially in the economy and politics. Having a resilient workforce is beneficial for every CEO as they navigate challenges and steer their company forward.

How to Build Emotional Intelligence

Some people are born with innate emotional intelligence, and others aren’t. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t strengthen your emotional intelligence—quite the opposite, in fact. CEOs, other executive leaders, and business professionals at any point in their careers can benefit from doing the work to build their emotional intelligence.

Strengthening your emotional intelligence happens in two parts: knowing yourself and knowing the people around you. You have to understand what motivates you and makes you tick. Most people don’t realize that the thing that makes them tick doesn’t make everybody else feel the same way.

You can use executive coaching tools like the Culture Index Survey, CliftonStrengths Assessment, DiSC, or WHY.os to better understand both yourself and your team. These tools will help reveal strengths and weaknesses in your leadership approach, on your team, and in your organization. Developing responsible leadership qualities goes hand-in-hand with fostering emotional intelligence as well.

Refine Your Own Emotional Intelligence

The role of emotional intelligence in the workplace is here to stay, and it’s crucial for leaders to adapt accordingly. It’s the way of the world now; the old approach of top-down leadership is over and gone. As attention on mental health and well-being continues to expand, expectations for leaders are shifting. Today, people expect their leaders to exhibit—and lead with—emotional intelligence.

Questions to Consider

  1. What emotional intelligence tools have you used personally or with your team?
  2. How would you rate yourself on your own self-awareness and emotional intelligence?
  3. Is emotional intelligence helping or hurting your workplace culture?

Contact me if you’re ready to strengthen your leadership abilities and improve your workplace culture by investing in your emotional intelligence.