Emotional Intelligence: how social and self awareness make great leaders

- March 7, 2019 4 MIN READ
emotional intelligence

A common presumption made by people starting a business, or even veteran businesspersons, is that a high IQ goes hand-in-hand with successful leadership: that is, the smartest people make it to the top. But research and general observations show that IQ has little to do with the success of business leaders.

Rather it is emotional intelligence (EQ) that sets great leaders apart from the rest of the pack.[1]

What is Emotional Intelligence?

A concept as old as the foundation of Western thinking, emotional intelligence was actually first theorised by Aristotle himself. He suggested that managing our emotional life with intelligence was instrumental in having virtue, character and a good life![2] Since then, the term emotional intelligence has come to mean a person’s capacity to control, express and be aware of the complexities of their emotions and relationships.

In the last decade, there has been a large amount of research conducted on how emotional intelligence effects business leadership and success. When comparing successful senior leaders against average ones, about 85 per cent of the difference is attributable to EQ rather than cognitive abilities like technical expertise.[3] There is also evidence supporting the statistic that a one-point increase in EQ is equal to a $1750 increase in salary and profit. This means that it is absolutely crucial to understand and implement your own emotional intelligence in order to be a successful leader.

The Five Vital Functions of Emotional Intelligence

Splitting the vague concept of emotional intelligence into five different areas can help you to better understand how EQ contributes to good leadership and what you can work on in your own career or leadership.

1. Self-Awareness

Did you know that it’s a biological fact that our first reaction to any event will be an emotional one? Yet, according to studies, only 36 per cent of people are able to accurately identify their own emotions as they happen. Being able to identify and understand your own moods and feelings, and how they affect others, is called self-awareness. Being self-aware is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence.[4]

The benefits of self-awareness for leaders are extensive. Being able to identify their own emotional reactions, and grasp their own emotional strengths and weaknesses, means they can avoid emotion-based confusion in difficult situations.

2. Self-Regulation

After learning to be aware of your emotions, the next step is to know what to do with them! I call this self-regulation. Being able to think before you act out in emotion or to channel or shake off emotions so that they are appropriate for the situation is a vital part of emotional intelligence.

It is clear that good leaders are good at self-regulation. They don’t overreact to minor stressors, take out their stress on others or hold on to toxic feelings. Instead, their ability to manage their moods and feelings has a calming effect on people who are feeling stressed.

3. Motivation

Motivation is one of those generic terms we throw around, but it is really all about emotional self-control. We delay gratification and fight our emotional impulses because we know that it will make us work more efficiently and effectively. When we give in to our emotional cravings, we destroy our self-control and lose hope of ever being very self-motivated. To battle this, constantly expose yourself to known motivators, while removing the demotivators that inhibit your performance.[5]

Motivation is pivotal for good leadership because without it we would give up. Good leaders keep their emotions in check so that they never settle for ‘good enough’, see challenges as opportunities and do things that they don’t feel like doing.

4. Social Awareness

Understanding yourself is a great start, but to be a successful leader you must be able to identify other people’s emotional makeups. This is often known as empathy. Being able to foresee how your own words or actions will affect somebody else is a key part of being emotionally intelligent. Empathetic people are naturally attuned to the more subtle social signs, and so are able to read other people’s needs and wants.

This makes empathy the perfect trait for management and leadership roles. Leaders who display knowledge of how their workers are feeling makes them great at collaboration, communication and conflict resolution.

5. Social Regulation

Yet, the true mark of an emotionally intelligent leader is the ability to influence other people’s emotions. This is called social regulation. Leadership is not domination, but the art of persuading people to work toward a common goal.[6] This means handling every relationship in a way that is fully aware of the emotions involved.

Having this insight allows leaders to manage relationships with greater effectiveness, use their relationships to achieve results and collaborate well with their workers. This skill is the icing on the cake when it comes to emotional intelligence.

There is good news!

Unlike IQ, your EQ can be improved! With awareness about emotional intelligence on the rise, there are many tests out there that measure your emotional quotient. These are great tools to help you see your own progress.

Now, this might sound like hard work, but I can testify that it is worth it. By implementing these strategies, I have seen clients increase their revenue by 67% in just one year! For example, a real estate worker named Raza was unknowingly limited by his own self-limiting thoughts. By becoming more self-aware and increasing his own emotional intelligence, Raza now owns Raine & Horne Rouse Hill and has increased his profit by 46%.

So start working on being more emotionally intelligent and you will be well on your way to becoming a greater leader.


[1] Goleman, Daniel. Primal Leadership, With a New Preface by the Authors: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence. Harvard Business Review Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence. Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[3] “Emotional Intelligence: A Theory of Performance,” in The Emotionally Intelligent Workplace, eds. Cary Cherniss and Daniel Goleman

[4] Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence (p. 43). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

[5] Tracy, Brian. How the Best Leaders Lead (p. 107). AMACOM. Kindle Edition.

[6] Goleman, Daniel. Emotional Intelligence (p. 149). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.