8 Signs of an Emotionally Intelligent Leader in the Workplace

There are many types of intelligence that help drive success in business, but in recent years management gurus have increasingly pointed to “emotional intelligence” as one of the key distinctions that sets great business leaders apart from everyone else.

The concept was first articulated by in a 1998 article in the Harvard Business Review, “What Makes a Leader,” by Rutgers University psychologist Daniel Goleman. He argued that high IQ was an “entry-level” skill for great leaders while the most effective ones owe their success to a high emotional quotient (EQ). Goleman and other researchers since have found compelling links between some of these characteristics and business success. One study, for instance, discovered a strong correlation between business leaders with high degrees of empathy and financial success.

Without a high degree of emotional intelligence, wrote Goleman, “a person can have the best training in the world, an incisive, analytical mind, and an endless supply of smart ideas, but he still won’t make a great leader.” Goleman defined the foundation of emotional intelligence as “self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy and social skill.”

Here are the common characteristics that help emotionally intelligent people be stronger leaders in the workplace.


Confidence is certainly an important trait to possess, but should not be confused with stubbornness or an inability to self-examine. Emotionally intelligent people are keenly aware of their limitations and do not seek to cover them up. Instead, they try to learn by asking questions and they invite assistance from those with the skills that they lack.

Similarly, self-awareness is extraordinarily important in shaping how an employer is perceived by workers. Many employers will give orders to employees without considering how it is being received. Workers might then struggle not knowing if they are welcome to offer their own suggestions or criticisms. In contrast, effective managers will acknowledge the different personalities that make up their team, adjusting the way they interact in order to create a positive and productive workplace environment.

 While self-awareness is one of the least visible traits, it is a remarkable predictor of EQ, and it directly ties in to other important traits of a successful leader.

Ability to empathize

Being able to perceive the emotions of workers and truly relate to their feelings is a crucial characteristic for an effective leader. An empathetic manager, for instance, might not have young children, but she still understands why work scheduling is so imporant for those who do.  

Having empathy does not mean that said employee will be let off the hook for work that needs to be done. Instead, a manager that is keenly aware of the stress (that may result from asking that employee to stay late or work on a weekend) is more likely to seek out a mutually beneficial solution. This approach results in a stronger bond between manager and worker and leads to employees who are more enthusiastic about working on your behalf.

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Work-life balance

Emotionally intelligent people make their personal life a priority. Why? Because they recognize the importance of self care and understand that by devoting their entire mind and body to work, they inevitably lose an important part of themselves.

Managers who recognize the value of work-life balance in their own lives are more likely to encourage similar behavior in employees. They see themselves in their subordinates and can therefore sense the point at which employees need a break. As a result, their workers are less likely to experience burn out and will be more productive and engaged in their roles.

Part of promoting work-life balance is allowing employees to have flexible schedules or work remotely. While bosses with high EQ understand the irreplaceable value of face-to-face interaction, they also recognize the benefits of a more fluid work week. Indeed, there are fewer drawbacks these days due to technological innovation, including solutions such as Timesheet Mobile that allow employers to grant employees greater flexibility without sacrificing accountability

Dealing with setbacks

An emotionally intelligent manager is able to put failures and disappointments into perspective. If it’s his own mistake, he tries to learn from it and move on. If it’s somebody else’s mistake, he makes sure the person responsible has learned from the situation, but does not engage in any criticism beyond what is constructive. He knows that brooding over the mistake privately or making others feel bad about it only increases the damage and makes it more difficult to regroup and recover.

Be fair

Bosses can seriously dampen workplace morale when they openly favor some employees over others. When employees feel they are not being judged fairly or appropriately recognized for their work, they often begin to disengage and stop putting in any extra effort.

Emotional intelligence is key to recognizing the individual contributions of everyone in the workplace and making sure they understand that their efforts are indeed appreciated. Managers who understand how to motivate employees reap tremendous benefits.


One of the staples of strong management is the ability to openly disagree with colleagues and employees and to make demands of them in a respectful manner. Those who lack EQ often struggle to balance the need for respectfulness with the need to make their views clear. They feel attacked when people disagree with them, and often lash out with aggression. They may also fail to communicate, backing down to avoid a potential confrontation.

A strong manager does not hesitate to voice opinions, even unpopular ones. She knows how to demand what she wants and explain why, without veering into hostility. As a result, her employees trust her decisions, viewing them as well-reasoned and fair.

Picking your battles 

Those with low EQ are easily consumed by trivial matters and devote valuable management time and energy to winning small battles that distract them from achieving their long-term business goals.

Good workforce management is about give and take, and avoiding micromanagement. That means making concessions as part of a long-term strategy of earning the trust and respect of your colleagues and subordinates.

Social skills

Being able to relate to employees and talk with them about non-work related subjects can help establish stronger bonds in the workplace. A manager with strong social skills helps create a warmer, more welcoming work environment in which employees feel comfortable and develop a sense of camaraderie. They view conversation with their boss and coworkers as making work more enjoyable, which makes them more enthusiastic about their job.

EQ can be developed

If you don’t have all of these character traits down in spades, that's ok. These skills can be developed over time. Recognizing that you have room for improvement is actually a great sign of EQ. As you seek to be a better employer and manager, thinking about how you can further develop your EQ will serve you, your workers and your business well.

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