Leadership effectiveness requires emotional intelligence

How your thoughts and emotions impact your organization’s bottom line


Leadership in organizations has never been in such high demand. Today’s VUVA landscape (characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity) calls for a new approach to leadership. In an era of ever-increasing competition and technology that develops at a speed unimaginable to the layman just a few years ago, we need a new, more emotionally intelligent style of leadership, one based on cooperation and embodied in attitude and actions.

Leadership effectiveness

Leadership needs to provide transparency and security, strengthen connections, and reinvigorate motivation – now and in the future. Leaders change how people think (without telling them what to think) about the fundamental concepts that inform their worldviews, ethics, and life strategies.

We all know the timeless vital traits of leadership like integrity, competence, judgment and vision. This is what employees are looking for in their bosses, and what effective leadership is. Employees want to know if they can trust their managers, if they are able to make savvy decisions and learn from their mistakes, if they have the technical and business knowledge to help the team succeed and if they can explain the company’s mission, how the team’s work fits into it, and what needs to be done to achieve it.

Fundamentally, the purpose of leadership is to help the team succeed. All of us need to get along, and we also need to get ahead. The team can only grow stronger and achieve its objectives when both motives are managed and balanced. An effective leader is someone who others are willing to follow. New leadership calls for a way of being that gives voice to what is within humans and accepts emotion as a legitimate part of the corporate culture.

We all have different personalities, different wants and needs, and different ways of showing our emotions. Navigating through this all takes awareness, tact and cleverness – especially as we want to succeed in our lives.

Although analytical intelligence is important in life, emotional intelligence (EQ) is key to relating well to others and achieving your goals. Emotional intelligence is an awareness of your actions and feelings – and how they affect those around you. It also means that you value others, listen to their wants and needs, and are able to empathize or identify with them on different levels. Reversely, if you don’t care about EQ, your career may be prone to derailment.

Effective leaders are emotionally intelligent

We probably all know people who are masters at managing their emotions. They are really good listeners, excellent decision makers and unflappable crisis managers who have the complete trust of their staff. No matter what kind of situation they are in, they always seem to know just what to say – and how to say it – so that no one gets offended or upset. They look at themselves honestly, and do not only have a great sense of who they are but are also able to sense the emotional needs of others.

Leaders high in emotional intelligence have four key advantages at the workplace:
1. They understand fast what others feel and why they behave in a certain way
2. Being around them is perceived as valuable
3. They are calm in stressful situations, cannot easily be provoked and can handle pressure well
4. They are enthusiastic and optimistic about their work

Understanding the interplay of thought, emotion and action

Emotions are psychological, behavioral, and physiological episodes experienced toward an object, person, or event that can create a state of readiness from the inside out. It requires a profound understanding of one’s own strengths, weaknesses, aspirations and emotional patterns; deep self-awareness to acknowledge and adjust emotional responses, especially in stress, pressure or trigger situations; attention to others’ emotions and perspectives enabling you to build productive relationships in support of collaboration, learning, innovation and an inclusive work environment.

Most emotions occur without our awareness. We typically pay attention to our emotions while thinking through what we like or dislike. Cognitive and emotional processes don’t always agree with each other, which might cause some dissonance and feeling of discomfort. If for example, you may like to smoke but you know that smoking is harmful, then cognitive dissonance happens as a result of these two conflicting beliefs.

Emotions also directly affect behavior. Certain situations trigger emotional reactions, which in turn affect the way someone thinks. If in danger, people’s initial emotional reaction can allow them to react fast without losing time thinking something through. Emotions trigger thoughts. For instance, if someone feels sorrow over another person’s troubling situation, s/he might think of a way to help the person in trouble. Emotions affect actions because actions allow feelings to be expressed. Repressing feelings is not powerful and could lead to a set of physical and emotional problems. Most people express their feelings by engaging in certain actions, such as having a good cry when feeling sad, frowning when frustrated and giving a “high five” to someone when feeling confident. Learning how to respond appropriately to emotions can sometimes be difficult.

We are not victims to emotional cues and triggers. We can use reason to evaluate our emotions, interpret them, and even reassess our initial reaction to them. We can soften their impact or shift their meaning. In other words, we can control our own emotions as well as the effect that other people’s emotions have on us. The ability to detect, assess, and control one’s emotions is one of the predictors of success in relating to others. So, somewhat paradoxically, connecting with others depends on developing a deep understanding of ourselves — what triggers our strongest emotions, and how the emotions we show impact others.

Emotions for optimal organizational functioning

Successful companies actively create more positive than negative emotional episodes. The emotions-attitudes-behavior model illustrates that attitudes are shaped by ongoing emotional experiences.

Our thoughts, emotions and actions are the keys to understanding ourselves; they have a dedicated motivational energy. Attitude is formed by a thought meeting a feeling, or vice versa. There are two pathways by which thought and emotion typically meet: 1 – The mind thinks a thought. And that thought produces an emotion. 2 – The body produces an emotion. And the mind thinks a thought about that emotion. Action or decision takes place in the intersection where thought meets feeling, or feeling meets thought.

Understanding the interactions of these thoughts, feelings and actions, i.e. enhancing our self-awareness, leads us to discover our own wealth of resources and power and to help others unleash their potential. By being aware of the consequences of our actions, behaviors and thoughts, we can reduce unnecessary drama in our lives, actively manage energy levels and consciously engage others to work together toward a joint cause.

How can leaders develop emotional intelligence?

1. Self-Management

In order for you to engage your EQ, you must be able use your emotions to make constructive decisions about your behavior. When you become overly stressed, you can lose control of your emotions and the ability to act thoughtfully and appropriately. Leaders who regulate themselves effectively rarely verbally attack others, make rushed or emotional decisions, stereotype people, or compromise their values. Self-management is about staying in control.

2. Self-Awareness

Being self-aware when you are in a leadership position means having a clear picture of your strengths and weaknesses and behaving with humility. Being able to connect to your emotions—having a moment-to-moment connection with your changing emotional experience—is the key to understanding how emotion influences your thoughts and actions.

3. Social Awareness

Social awareness enables us to recognize and interpret the mainly nonverbal cues others are constantly using to communicate with us. Social awareness requires your presence in the moment. While many of us pride ourselves on an ability to multitask, this means that you will miss the subtle emotional shifts taking place in other people that help you fully understand them.

4. Relationship Management

Working well with others is a process that begins with emotional awareness and your ability to recognize and understand what other people are experiencing. Once emotional awareness is in play, you can effectively develop additional social/ emotional skills that will make your relationships more effective, fruitful, and fulfilling.


In a nutshell: To identify the heart of our actions, we need to discover the source of our attitude. Understanding what’s at the heart of what we feel and believe is the key to achieving what we want at work and in life. If you regularly reflect on your own thoughts, emotions and behaviors and how their interaction influences team performance and organizational culture, you will often find the answers you seek and increase your leadership impact.


Annette B. Czernik, PCC, is a senior consultant and executive coach at RELEVANT Managementberatung, Authorized Hogan Distributor. It is important for her to encourage people in organizations to be the best versions of themselves using the power of big data and analysis. Annette is a certified member of the International Coach Federation and an enthusiastic practitioner of the Hogan Assessment Suite.