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Leadership Advisory

Disentangling Myth from Reality: Emotional Intelligence for Effective Leadership

By November 30, 2023No Comments

When envisioning the epitome of a perfect leader, certain characteristics immediately come to mind. Perhaps it’s an individual who maintains unwavering composure in the face of challenges, steering clear of emotional turbulence. Alternatively, you might imagine a leader who commands the trust of their team effortlessly, demonstrating active listening, approachability, and consistently making judicious decisions. These qualities are not arbitrary; they are the hallmarks of a leader with a high degree of emotional intelligence.

What is Emotional Intelligence?

Emotional intelligence, as termed by researchers John Mayer and Peter Salovey in 1990 and subsequently brought into the spotlight by psychologist Daniel Goleman, is a notion centered on grasping and handling one’s emotions. It also involves acknowledging and impacting the emotions of those in one’s vicinity.

In an interview with the Harvard Business Review, Goleman asserted, “The most effective leaders are all alike in one crucial way: They all have a high degree of what has come to be known as emotional intelligence. It’s not that IQ and technical skills are irrelevant. They do matter, but…they are the entry-level requirements for executive positions.” Goleman’s assertion underscores the pivotal role emotional intelligence plays in distinguishing exceptional leaders and emphasizes that while IQ and technical skills are prerequisites, emotional intelligence is the distinguishing factor that sets apart truly effective leaders.

Emotional Intelligence In Leadership 

Emotional intelligence in leadership is a critical aspect that goes beyond traditional measures of success. It encompasses the ability to recognize, understand, and manage one’s own emotions, as well as the capacity to perceive and influence the emotions of others. Leaders with a high level of emotional intelligence are not only attuned to their own feelings but also possess a keen insight into the emotions of those around them. This unique skill set distinguishes exceptional leaders from the rest, shaping a workplace culture that fosters collaboration, innovation, and mutual respect.

Emotional Intelligence: Myth vs Facts

Myth 1: Emotional Intelligence is solely about being empathetic and understanding others’ emotions.

Fact: Emotional Intelligence begins with self-awareness. Leaders with robust emotional intelligence (EQ) possess the ability to recognize and manage their own emotions, and they are skilled at responding to the emotions of others—whether it involves uplifting them or calming them down.

Myth 2:  Emotional Intelligence is just a “soft skill” unrelated to success.

Fact: Contrary to common misconceptions, EQ significantly impacts performance and success. Research by Daniel Goleman indicates that while IQ and personality contribute only 20% to performance variance, EQ constitutes a crucial 80%. High EQ enables leaders to motivate employees, communicate effectively, and build meaningful relationships, ultimately driving results.

Myth 3:  Emotional Intelligence is an inborn trait—you either have it or you don’t. 

Fact: Although some individuals naturally possess a higher predisposition for social and emotional learning, emotional intelligence is a trainable skill that naturally evolves over a lifetime. The earlier one starts to interpret nonverbal cues, comprehend conscious and unconscious motivations, and recognise biases, the faster the development and enhancement of their EQ, transforming it into a powerful facilitation tool.

  1. Self Awareness: The ability to recognize and understand one’s own strengths and weaknesses is the foundation for any leader’s strong EQ. It involves a willingness to acknowledge and accept these aspects of oneself, fostering a foundation for personal growth and development.
  1. Self Regulation: How many leaders do we come across who pause and reflect before speaking or acting? As essential as this inward quotient is, it extends beyond managing emotions effectively. Coping with situations beyond one’s control showcases resilience in the face of adversity. 
  1. Motivation: In the context of emotional intelligence, motivation goes beyond mere financial or positional incentives. A deeper connection to work, driven by passion, and a genuine desire to challenge oneself are needed. This intrinsic motivation propels individuals to achieve their goals with enthusiasm and commitment.
  1.  Empathy: The empathetic facet of emotional intelligence emphasizes the ability to engage in respectful and considerate communication with others. This extends to individuals from diverse cultural, religious, and ethnic backgrounds, highlighting an understanding and appreciation of differing perspectives.
  2. Social Skills: The art of advocating for one’s point of view without creating division or alienation is unmissable for leaders today. Social skills emphasize effective communication, collaboration, and conflict resolution, fostering positive and constructive interactions in both personal and professional settings.

Notable Leaders with High Emotional Intelligence:

Here are some exemplary leaders who, beyond achieving success, have garnered respect from their colleagues due to their exceptional emotional intelligence.

Expressing gratitude through thank-you notes is powerful, and Indra Nooyi took it a step further. Inspired by her parents’ role in her success, she wrote letters to the parents of each executive on her team, thanking them for the “gift” of their child to PepsiCo. This unique gesture deepened personal connections, with parents responding positively and some executives considering it the best thing for their parents. 

Nooyi’s approach emphasizes the importance of valuing employees beyond their roles, fostering emotional connections to the company’s values. This strategy has earned her a remarkable 75% in-house approval rating, highlighting the impact of personal recognition on building a loyal and satisfied workforce.

Barack Obama’s leadership epitomizes a comprehensive display of emotional intelligence, evident in key aspects such as empathetic communication, resilience, self-awareness, collaborative leadership, adaptability, and emotional regulation. His empathetic communication style, marked by a profound understanding of diverse perspectives, enhances his relatability and public connection.

A skilled communicator, Obama adeptly conveys messages with clarity and emotion, resonating with themes of hope and inclusiveness. His resilience in the face of challenges, coupled with the self-awareness showcased through acknowledging mistakes, reflects emotional intelligence. Obama’s collaborative leadership, adaptability to changing circumstances, and emotional regulation contribute to his enduring success as a leader.

Microsoft’s current CEO, also a company veteran, Satya is renowned for prioritizing empathy and emotional intelligence in leadership. He stresses their importance in Microsoft’s inclusive and diverse culture. In an interview with CNBC, Nadella highlighted the vital role of emotional intelligence, stating, “I fundamentally believe that if you’re not able to develop empathy and have that emotional intelligence, you’re not going to be able to build the right culture. And if you don’t build the right culture, you’re not going to be able to attract the best talent.”

Nadella’s commitment to emotional intelligence has proven successful, with Microsoft’s market value tripling under his leadership, establishing the company as one of the world’s most valuable brands.

Burns made history by becoming the first woman-to-woman CEO successor in the Fortune 500, taking over from former CEO Anne Mulcahy. Additionally, she played a pivotal role in steering Xerox through a challenging financial period, helping the company avoid bankruptcy.

Ursula Burns exemplified transformational leadership at Xerox, navigating the company through a significant organizational transformation. Recognizing the emotional impact of change, she displayed empathy by addressing concerns and understanding the human aspect of business transformations. 

Additionally, Burns showcased effective communication skills, particularly in times of change, articulating the company’s vision with a focus on both strategic objectives and consideration for employees’ experiences. Her resilience in facing financial challenges and industry shifts highlighted her emotional intelligence in managing stress and adversity, reinforcing her calm and focused leadership of Xerox through turbulent times.


To sum up, the conventional approach of steely determination and a sole focus on profits no longer aligns with the dynamics of modern workplaces. The most successful and humane organizations are now characterized by emotional intelligence (EQ), a quality exemplified by many notable leaders (some as discussed above). Their adept use of EQ not only earns them respect within their companies but also contributes to the expansion of their businesses.

While many leaders recognize the importance of emotional intelligence in business success, its development is an ongoing, lifelong pursuit, not a quick-fix exercise. For CEOs, founders, and entrepreneurs, especially those entrusted with others’ careers, attaining a high level of EQ is not just advantageous but a genuine responsibility.

Authored by Nishka Agrawal

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